Indulge me for a few minutes because I’m not just writing about myself and my parents, I’m also talking about our generation and what’s happening with all of our parents as time progresses as they grow old enough to regret their own neglect.
Since the 20th High School reunion in 2008 and turning 40 the following year, I’ve been examining my life and for the sake of my sons trying to figure out how I can avoid the same mistakes. As a result there have been some good articles to come out of this introspective. I’ve already written one rant on this theme, “The Bad Dad Dilemma,” and I’m planning to write a third one in this series in the near future. This time, I have to discuss “Incomplete Kits.”
I remember one of my first memories of being truly “self-aware” from one afternoon in the sparse apartment at 49 Westgate in West Brattleboro. It was one of those moments when I started having deep thoughts, and was an actual thinking being. I’m a boy, I’m this age, and I have a mom, a brother and sister. I have neighbors who have this, that, and the other thing. I started to analyze my life, even at such a young age, I realized that there were things about my life that was different than everyone else.
And not in a good way.
The longer I compared my life to other kids the more I noticed that there were things these kids were getting at home that I wasn’t. My classmates were more adapt at changes, they could do things I couldn’t, and they had experiences that I could only dream about. There was something missing, and I think it had something to do with my dad not being around to teach me the things that every young American male needs to know.
In the 8th grade I was in my home room and in the back of the room looking at the guys sitting at the table in front of me; at the guys who obviously had a full set of parents waiting for him at home. They’re doing well, they’re getting good grades, they don’t want for anything… it’s like they were given “The Clue” that some of us didn’t get. I resented and hated them for that, and for the fact that I was the object of ridicule for them since I didn’t wear the right clothes or the right shoes or didn't go to the right places.
There was something missing from my life, and I knew it. There was something that I was denied, but I didn’t know what it was that I was missing.
It wasn’t until I saw Chris Rock on “Inside The Actor’s Studio” when he was talking about how his one man show “Bring On The Pain” changed his life. In that context Mr. Rock talked about how Jerry Seinfeld said that when you become a big-time comedian, they give you “The Kit.” And inside the kit you have all these things like a book deal, a HBO special, a show in Vegas, your own sitcom. For the first time, I finally got the metaphor that would help explain what it was that I was missing.
When anyone of us goes through a “Rite Of Passage,” we’re supposed to get The Kit. Sometime, the experience is part of it.
In this “Kit” are the tools, procedures, and experiences that prepare you for what’s to come next. It’s a mental or spiritual backpack, similar to the ones kids are sent off to school with; there are pencils, erasers, spiral bound notebooks, and the binder. There are also the gym clothes and sneakers, and perhaps a packed lunch. Everything the kids need for the day should be in that pack and everything we need as adults are in that “kit.”
When you’re becoming an adult there’s the “Graduating from High School kit,” that comes with the diploma, a token of your parent's affection and a party where your extended family acknowledges that you completed that stage of your life.
Then there’s the “Extended Education” kit, it comes when you go off to college or a trade school – there’s these things you get when you’re going off to that stage that you either buy for yourself or your parents purchase for you… but they make sure you get them. In this “kit” are your school books, your supplies, and life essentials you need when you’re away from home.
Then there’s the kits that you get when you go from being a “college student” to a “struggling twenty-something.” Then you go from “Working a job” to “having a career” kit. Then there’s the “Getting Married” kit, and the “Welcome To Our Family” kit from your new in-laws for around the time before you get married. There’s also the “Getting a New House Kit” and “Having Children” kit… There’s also the “Turning 25,” “Turning 30,” “Turning 35,” and “Turning 40” kits.
There’s also the “Fifth Wedding Anniversary” kit, and the “Tenth Wedding Anniversary” kits.
None of these kits I ever got. I know they exist, because I've seen people in my circle get them.
There are also times when you do get your kit, and you realize that the contents are broken – you’re missing items that you know should be there. I’ll get back to that in another paragraph…
I can go on, but you get the picture. Every time you go through a “phase” there should be a “Rite Of Passage” kit that goes along with it. The kit is somewhat vague and non-specific while at the same time you know there’s something that’s either missing or broken with that kit or its content. You just know it, and so do other people.
I remember some reaction when I told people about what didn’t happen when I didn’t get my kit or all the contents. Some were rude, indignant, or sad for me.
Then there are these other kits. These are the “Bad Kits,” for various reasons. They’re the kits you get for not getting the Rights Of Passage kits. There is the “Homeless Kit,” the “Cross Country out of Desperation Kit,” the “Sleeping In An Abandoned Factory” kit, and the kits you get while doing things you can’t tell anyone about because the things you’ve done might be illegal and definitely immoral.
Then there are stupid kits that you get for socially unacceptable kits except for those in your group that’s populated by other people with similar interests or conditions. Groups that are found upon by society, like trekkies have their own "kits" and "Rites Of Passage" like the first convention. Seeing Kate Mulgrew and getting William Shatner's autograph might have a certain cache in the trekkie circle, but you'll lose points in normal society if you have "The Trekkie Kit."
That and others are the kits that are “given” to you to make up for the kits that you should have gotten. They’re consolation prizes for the kits that you didn’t get, but should have. There are the ones that are in the closet with your good ones that you hope that future girlfriends and wives never find. If they do, you hope they understand. If they don't then they will leave you after looking at your collection of kits.
There is the disillusionment that most of us feel when we look and see that we weren’t given the tools or the experiences we’re supposed to have. That’s the moment when the phrase “life isn’t fair” really comes home.
Right now I’m looking at these incomplete or empty “kits” I’m supposed to have. “Higher Education” is one that I had to fill myself. There is no “Four Year Degree” that I was told I was going to get in exchange for a decision I made back in the late 1980’s that I’m still paying for. I’m looking at the “Career Kit” and it’s not the same as everyone else’s – again I had to fill that kit on my own…
… And I’m looking at my marriage kit. I’m looking into this thing and I see that there are some things that are either broken or missing. There are items that are supposed to be in “The Marriage Kit” that aren’t in there. I was told one of those items wasn’t in there because those aren’t given out in her family. I found pictures in my basement that proves the contrary. I didn’t get one of the items in this kit, so essentially I’m really not my wife’s husband to my in-laws. I’m just this “thing” that my wife doing to get back at her parents. I’m not a person who married into the family, just this hurdle or obstacle that needs to be jumped.
The proof is the missing “Rite Of Passage” that’s missing in my “Kit.” There are photos that prove it existed, but never for me.
I’m not normal, I don’t want to be normal. I loathe the idea that there are people in my world that are indignant to the fact that I don’t want to be average and a conformist. At the same time I expect, and eventually demand the normal experiences that come with being a man living in the United States in the 21st Century.
In essence, I’ve been given incomplete education, career and marriage kits. What are in those kits are things that I had to put in there myself and I don’t know if they are the right ones. I don’t know if I packed my kits correctly, and I don’t know how to fix them. I have other things in my “kit” that I know aren’t appropriate such as “humor” and “sarcasm” when dealing with life threatening situations.
What was missing from my kit was a sense of responsibility, duty, honor, and a commitment to society to be a better person and leave the world (the same world that shunned me for not having complete “kits”) better then I found it. I only got those by mimicking heroes of the picture-tube and celluloid.
Now, the future we’ve all been avoiding is now here… The “Incomplete Kits” is a metaphor for being unprepared for what’s at hand now.
For one, my father who was to make sure that my kits from the time I was a toddler to when I was supposed to have left college is now getting on in years and has had at least one major surgery to correct a serious health problem. There are 8 other problems that I knew he had that he hasn’t taken care of and has chosen to ignore. As of this writing I’m wondering if I’m expected to make up for the fact that he has nowhere else left to go and has burned so many other bridges. The man that made sure my kits were empty might be waiting on me to take care of him, while I’m unable to do so since… well… my kits are empty and I don’t have the proper tools to fill this “obligation.”
Simultaneously, my in-laws are also getting on and I’m deeply concerned for them. Their health is in decline and I’m worried about them being able to take care of themselves 8 hours away from where my wife and I live now. I want to do more, but I look in this “marriage kit” and I see that there are some things that are missing. There are things that were there that aren’t any more but were… there are photos in my basement that prove they were. There are “Rights Of Passage” that I haven’t gone through. And you’re expecting the guy who was invited to the reception late to stay behind and clean up?
One “Rite Of Passage” in particular – I was there for one of theirs, but we were denied one for my wife and I. To say to these people – there are things missing in my kit, causes indignation. Come, on… Eric – be a bigger person. Which translates to – “Be the bigger person we’re incapable of being.”
I don’t have the tools or experiences that are necessary to do what I’m being asked to do, and I certainly don’t have the experiences necessary to cope with the harder tasks that are quickly coming down the road.
Throughout this entire rant so far, I’ve been speaking in vague generalities for a reason. When I say me, I also mean the collective “we.” Looking back at my education it’s clear that the things that you had to know before you were allowed to graduate during my parents generation were not being taught in ours. I know this because the one person who did her best (and sometimes her worst, but she tried) to make sure that my kits were full had kept all of her school books that she had in High School. It’s clear to anyone who would pick up these books with some heft would know right away that nobody is being taught as much the things that were taught before. What my mother studied in High School would be considered “advance placement” or “college level” by today’s standards.
It’s clear to me that the “High School Graduation” kit that people of my generation got weren’t nearly as substantial as the ones my parents generation earned.
From talking to people my age that I went to school with, I’m not alone in this sense that there was something missing. Call it a “clue” or “The Kit,” the people whom I most identified with back then told me recently via Facebook that they also felt they were denied some kind of insiders’ information and experiences. I wasn’t alone in feeling “clueless.”
I can only determine from the conversations that I’ve had from younger people that there’s even less being taught in schools, fewer clues and emptier kits. Then we expect them to tackle the bigger problems our parents’ generation couldn’t solve. They (Meaning the older generations) want us to solve the problems they created, but not give us the tools and experiences necessary, I would say it’s obvious that we’re not up to the task, thanks to them.
You want us to be Superman, but without giving us the super-abilities… while still saving the world?
At some point we have to say – “Look… I’m not accepting these empty kits.” And give some of them back. There are Incomplete Kits that need to be made whole and reparations need to be paid, if not by the people or parent who didn’t do the job, then at least by myself, or by yourselves according to your own situations. While pursuing a two or four year degree in my chosen field isn’t going to help my twenty-something or thirty-something year old self left in the past, my counterparts in the here and now who frequent the retrocentric hubs need to be shown that it’s not too late to fill these kits and make the most of the present and the future. As of this writing I'm shopping for a college or university in my area to alleviate the discrepancy on my resume, nobody else is going to do it for me. Nor should they.
As I’ve proven most of my life, not only to myself but to you my readers, I can be more self-reliant and have the experiences and learn the skills I need to make a way in this world without the help of those who were supposed to help me with those “kits” I’ve been talking about. I’ve more than made up for what I’ve missed out, the biggest obstacle I have is learning from the mistakes and get past the inadequacies of those who came before me.
And my own.