Midlife Something

By Sal Haque 2023-07-27 11:25:09

A journey of fatherhood.

The new Zelda just dropped. It’s awesome.

It also marks a solid 36 years since I’ve been playing Nintendo. At a smooth 41 years old, I can pretty much track the milestones of my life based on Zelda, all the way back to primary school in 1986, through high school and university, my professional life, and now fatherhood. A lot’s happened in that time, and much like Zelda, I’ve been reshaped, beginning as a pixelated blob, coming of age, sharpening my look, and continually striving for a clearer image - a clearer sense of self.

It seems the older I get the more I miss the past, nostalgic for the original “Me”. Part of getting old, is having to give up parts of ourselves to facilitate life. Which is fair. Life is essentially compromise, and to a certain extent it’s that compromise which defines us. We start out 100% us, and trust me, 100% Sal Haque was an absolute force of nature. Unstoppable from the club to the library. Then life picks up pace and you go from girlfriend to wife, balding, marriage, kid, single dad. By the time I hit single dad, I was a modest 30% me. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a natural part of life. Every piece of responsibility we endure requires compromise, and to be fair I gained back some Sal-percentage points in my divorce. Nothing thrusts you back into the world like a mid-life crisis-divorce in the heart of 2017 Shanghai sin. Good times... no, weird times...just, times. It was like Jean-Claude Van Damme roundhouse kicked me with existentialism. Waking up with cartoon birds circling my head, wondering who I am.

Who am I? I’m definitely a dad. I love being a dad. It’s an awesome introspective process, delving into emotional management, psychology, pedagogy, culture and philosophy. I’m pretty sick at it. But it does mean a lot of what use to make me “Me”, I’ve had to put on pause. Potentially a really long pause. Given that I work, and parent, I don’t really have time to pursue my interests as much as I used to. An issue I see with a lot of parents. I try to cling to the last remnants of my musical passions, and manage the occasional DJ set, but the uninhibited joy of playing music is more or less gone. That kinda sucks, cause that was a large part of who I was. That was a big part of what I presented to the world, and ultimately a defining characteristic of my image.

But is our sense of image really that important? Must we care how the world perceives us? As functional adults (or at least semi-functional) do we still need to curate our image?

I think so. I think it’s important to remember who we are, and not lose ourselves in the overwhelming compromises of life. We need to still do the things we love, the things that give us character. At least as much as we can. Dance. Listen to music. Play music. Rock Climb. Paint. Hang out with your friends. Go out. You’ll never have time for all of them, and compromise is cruel that way. It may give you, one, sometimes. If you’re lucky. But do what you can to maintain your dopeness. Because what are we, if not dope-ass individuals? Real talk.

Being a parent is a responsibility and an identity, but I’m not sure if it should be a hobby. People have been having kids since the dawn of humanity-literally. I wanna say being a dad is my defining characteristic. Except, fatherhood isn’t a characteristic. It’s nature, or perhaps a responsibility. I’m also not lucky enough to call my profession, my passion. I will never enjoy waking up at 6 a.m. Never! That’s still night. I should be sleeping. I can’t say there’s ever been a day when I’m on the subway to school thinking, “wow, this day is gonna be awesome.” It might not suck, but it probably won’t be awesome. But there was a time when I really did love my work, back when I was producing television and interviewing RunDMC and Tony Bennett. But alas, that too gave way to compromise. Private schools are expensive and tuition is no joke, especially on a single-parent income. Teaching was an acceptable answer to that problem, another compromise, and hit at my self-image of TV producer-DJ, to middle school teacher-parent. The transition was hard, physically, emotionally, and psychologically.

I had to gracefully accept my place in the world. I’m probably never gonna have a six-pack again. It’s gone. It’s never coming back. My mane of beautiful locks...gone. I looked like an 18th century Persian prince. Can I play a 7-hour DJ set at Dada this weekend? I’ll probably die. Can I skate the half-pipe with my kid? Maybe. But my knees will feel like concrete for a month. All of those things made me “Me”, and they’ll forever be a part of me. But now, it’s no longer what I do which defines me, but perhaps what I’ve chosen to give up for my family. There’s honor in compromise, and it’s those compromises which make up a large part of who we are.

So while parenting might not be a personality trait, the compromises we make for our family definitely build character. But I’m still not sure if that’s enough. As individuals we need to reconnect with ourselves. Our interests help us do that. They remind us who we are, beyond the nature of parenting or the grind of work. They separate us from the pack, build our confidence, give us release, give us joy. They help bring our image into focus.

With the new Zelda here, I mark a notch in my belt, well on the way into fatherhood. Hustling hard. But I’m still doing my thing. At least as much as I can. Sailing at smooth 60%. That’s pretty good. I’d say I’ve got about another 7 years before the next Zelda drops, giving me ample time to build myself into the newer, updated version of “Me”, with enhanced features and a clearer image.