An ode to structure and the first half of life

Image: Stephen Radford

As of the date of this writing, I’m 37.

It’s an interesting age... I don’t feel old, but I don’t feel young. I seem to be rounding the second base of life with two more to go before I slide into home.

I’m closing Act One — the first half of my life — and turning to Act Two.

*Like I recently wrote, I’m just learning this two-halves structure from Fr. Richard Rohr and it’s clearing up a lot of the stirring questions I have about this stage of my human existence.

As Rohr says, the first half of life is about structure. It’s about building a strong container to pour yourself into. Nice bold boundaries are healthy. I was blessed with just enough of them to keep my ego in check without suppressing my spirit to the point of wanting to blow it all to smithereens too early in life, as some do.

As I reflect on Act One (damn, I feel old by saying this), I see how fortunate I am to have been blessed with a structure during my childhood years as so many my age and younger have not.

I had just enough religion to keep my morality in line without making me rebel against it. My parents were just as honest as they needed to be with me without revealing more than my young mind could handle.

It could have easily gone the other way. Outside of my nuclear family, my extended family was self-destructing through addiction and poverty. I saw it up close and personal. Eventually, it would close in on us, but my parents always guided me through the jungle in the best way they could.

They gave me what Rohr calls the ‘voice of the loyal soldier’, which gets us through Act One. Here’s what he says about it:

The voice of our loyal soldier gets us through the first half of life safely, teaching us to look both ways before we cross the street, to have enough impulse control to avoid addictions and compulsive emotions, to learn the sacred “no” to ourselves that gives us dignity, identity, direction, significance, and boundaries.

He goes on to say…

Without a loyal soldier protecting us up to age thirty, the world’s prisons and psych wards would be even more overcrowded than they are. Testosterone, addiction, ego, promiscuity, and vanity would win out in most of our lives. Without our loyal soldier, we would all be aimless and shapeless, with no home base and with no sustained relationships, because there would be no ‘me’ at home to have a relationship with.

Even though my mom would meet her passing at an early age, before she left, she was the yin to my father’s yang. She was the artful, soft (but just firm enough) polarity to my father’s old-school farm boy mentality.

My dad was a very direct man. He wasn’t abusive, but I feared the wrath of his verbal lashings with my life. He saw how chaotic our life was and knew he had to be a strong presence to keep my young spirit from obliterating itself.

He pissed me off like no other. We had some epic verbal battles in my teens. Some nights, I’d go to bed wondering why I was assigned this grouchy old prick.

But now it all makes sense. And I’m grateful as ever for the boundaries of my youth.

It gave me a nice structure to study and reflect on — and eventually, to light fire to.

Towards the end of Act One (quite recently, actually — within the last decade) I’ve committed idealogical arson of a radical sort when I discovered flaws in the religion and politics of my parents.

I went from Catholic-ish to agnostic/spiritual.

I went from Republican to Anarchist/Liberal (and they told me it was supposed to go the other way).

Now, in the first glimpse at Act Two, I see a rebuilding being done. A lot of that fire from the last act is still burning. But a large portion of it is being reconstructed. I’m seeing more of a structure emerge that serves me in my current state of evolution.

I’ve toned my anarchism down and become more politically liberal. My agnosticism has turned into a Christian atheism of sorts. And I empathize with people who oppose my ideals more — I actually welcome it.

And then came the kiddo…

Being a father accelerated the turning of pages towards Act Two. It’s an interesting challenge wondering how to get my daughter through the first act of her life.

She needs structures. She loves them. Knowing what I know now, it’s so clear.

But I’m faced with a dilemma…

Since I’m coming out of the stage of having just obliterated the old structures in my life, it’s hard to find ones that I find suitable for her.

Do I want her to go to a Catholic church like I did? Not really…

Do I want her to go to a public school like I did? Not really…

Do I want her life to be stifled by a multitude of rules? No…

Do I want her to watch FOX News for endless hours like I did? Definitely not…

These are choices, as parents, we must make.

The problem I see with my parents (and it’s very typical) is that they were great at setting up Act One for me, but by not being aware of it, they were still in Act One themselves.

They weren’t aware of Act Two, so they saw my unintentional Act One upbringing as the end-all-be-all of my life.

Maybe if they’d been aware of a second act, they’d have been more… Deliberate?

I leave this post as a salute to the first act of my life. Now that it seems I’ve made it through, I look back on it with a warm nostalgia — every grueling last breath of it.

As for now, I’m meditating on several things…

How to purposefully begin Act Two. 
How to stay away from turning the pages back to Act One. 
And how to usher in Act One for my little one.

Here’s to you, Act One. You’ve made me who I am today, Father Structure. May you die a wonderful death and live on knowing your work was worthy.

Jonas writes short daily stories and preachments on the daily here in Higher Thoughts. Get one to enjoy with your coffee every morning by subscribing below.