Reality Sets In

It’s been ten days since the U.S. presidential election. Given the outcome and what’s been happening in America since, the last thing anyone needs is another thought-piece by a white male with an upper-middle-class upbringing who lives in Canada. I’m writing this anyway for one reason: I expected Donald Trump to be elected.

I was told from a young age that I was too cynical. My retort would always be that I was, in fact, realistic. I don’t think it’s cynical that, even in 2016, I thought Hillary Clinton wouldn’t be elected president because she’s a woman. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, I think that falls under a realistic point of view.

Before I go on, I should make it clear that I would have voted for Hillary. But I don’t think it’s realistic that a woman can’t be president. I think it’s realistic that far too many people in the world struggle with the idea that a woman is as qualified (or so, so much more qualified) to do a “man’s job.” Or that women can be confident. Or that they can be opinionated. Or that they can make mistakes. Or that they are entitled to respect. Or that they are men’s equal and often much more.

I would call all of this realistic thinking, but I think I need to explain why. My parents divorced when I was very young and through joint custody I grew up primarily under my Mom’s roof. My mother came from a very traditional family yet knew that being a woman did not dictate what job she might have or how she might live her life. This was the example I was raised under. It’s why I remember from an early age thinking it strange that boys would make so much fun of girls. It’s why I’ve had never thought twice about having a woman as my boss. Most of all, it’s why I’m dumbfounded by the casual and ingrained sexism I witness on a near daily basis.

I’m sure any woman reading this is rolling their eyes at another man being “surprised” that sexism exists. But being raised by a woman that made her own way meant that I, by default, looked up to women. I looked up to my Dad as well, but I honestly can’t remember distinguishing between the two. My exposure to men believing themselves to be superior to women came from everything else I experienced outside my home. I became aware that it existed, even if I couldn’t always understand or appreciate what I was seeing.

What I’m trying to say is that I’ve never taken it as a given that a man takes precedent over a woman. At least not consciously. But certainly unconsciously. Because that’s our world. The world where a man can openly question a woman’s ability to do a particular job. (I heard this 14 days ago.) The one where a man openly scoffs at the idea that women can have their own conferences to address sexism and the wage gap in their industry. (Less than two months ago.) And the world where some random man on the internet is going to find this post and try to say sexism isn’t real.

This is the world we, as men, live in quite comfortably. Because we always think we have the upper hand. Or we think we’re aware of the problem and that in itself is enough. To that, I plead guilty. But seeing my prediction about Trump come true has left me with a deeply unsettling feeling that’s made me know being aware isn’t enough for me anymore.

This election should be a nasty wake up call for my fellow men that misogyny and sexism is alive and well in our world. If you have ever questioned it or believed that you never participated in it, the fact that a bigoted, dangerous buffoon has been made president because he has a penis should make you believe. If this election result isn’t the best reason to question all of your own thoughts and actions, then things aren’t likely to get better. That’s just the reality of our world.

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[Note: that’s not quite the exact quote, but you get the idea.]

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A Briefly Sober Reality

For the month of February, I have been participating in Dry Feb – an initiative to raise money for cancer research by not drinking for the month. I’d be lying if I said going sober for a month wasn’t motivated by selfish reasons. I’ve wanted to try to cut back on drinking for a while and I’ve tried doing it many times. Usually, I’d start with the goal of not drinking for a month but only make it one or two weeks before going back to my regular drinking routine. I figured with the incentive of raising money for the Canadian Cancer Society, I could make it the whole month. After 24 days, that’s proving to be true.

When I talked about having a “regular drinking routine,” that’s not to say I’m a heavy drinker. Like many people, my drinking heyday was in university. And a few more years after. Now, I will go out to a bar once or twice a week. Rarely will I have more than three or four beers. Somehow that still feels like too much to me. I keep wanting to cut down. Maybe that’s because I’m in my 30s and it feels like that’s what I’m supposed to do. But as much as I might cut back, I think I will always enjoy having one beer after a long day.

What I have noticed in my three-plus weeks of sobriety is how badly I want that one single beer at the end of a stressful day. I’m surprised how closely I associate beer with winding down. (Yes, I’ve read the studies that says it does the opposite.) If it weren’t for my sobriety being connected to a charity, I definitely would’ve cracked a while ago. A particularly long week at work left me smelling other people’s open bottles of beer just to get anything resembling a fix.

Luckily for me, I know I can enjoy a beer come March 1st. Now that work has slowed back down, I’m not exactly dying for a cold one. But I will certainly enjoy one next Tuesday. Aside from a break from drinking, this month has given me an appreciation for just how difficult sobriety must be for everyone out there staying sober for legitimate reasons. The normalcy of my life doesn’t depend on staying sober. My family doesn’t depend on it. My job doesn’t depend on it. I have the luxury of not having to face alcohol as a life-altering addiction.

I thought will-power would be getting through four weeks of depriving myself of booze. That’s nothing compared to having to change your whole life to avoid it. It’s nothing compared to putting in the genuine work of not giving into temptation. Because obviously our culture completely revolves around alcohol. It’s a part of pretty much all adult social events. Make no mistake, staying sober might be the act of not doing something, but it is without a question a very hard thing to do.

This might all sound like going sober has caused me to have some kind of epiphany. But that’s not the case. Abstaining from drinking isn’t changing my life. I don’t feel any different. I haven’t lost weight. (Though I do make better use of my weekend mornings.) The only real difference is a clearer realization of how powerful alcohol is, how dependent I am on it (if only for recreational use) and how we ought to give a lot more respect to people who choose to stay away from it. They might need to.

I’m Young But I’m Not

There’s always going to be someone older than you. It starts with your parents. Maybe an older sibling or two. But you’re never going to be the oldest person alive. (Barring your ability to live to be 120.) You might end up being the oldest person you know, but realistically, there will always be someone to tell you that you’re not really that old.

This might sound a bit rich coming from a guy that’s only 31. My age is still puts me well within the “young” category, at least in relative terms. I’m not “starting out university” young or “backpacking in Europe for six months” young, I’m the “still building up a career” kind of young. That really means that only teenagers and 20-somethings wouldn’t think of me as young. And yet I’ve had a 35-year-old tell me I’m still young. So which is it?

I feel more old than I feel young. I don’t have kids but I bemoan how kids act today. I don’t have the physical problems that come with advancing age, but I do have some of the financial concerns. I still like going to bars but only if I leave before midnight. I have unreasonably ambitious dreams that conflict with the ever-increasing reasonableness of a steady paycheque. I can have regrets about the life I didn’t live while I’m still living it.

I know I’m young enough that I could make a drastic life change if I wanted to, but I would have to think long and hard about if that was the responsible thing to do. The reality is that we’re always going to be younger than someone else, even when we’re older. There will be moments where we feel young and others where we feel old (I’m looking at you, Vitamin C supplement). And yet we still always seem to want to compare our lives to those of younger people.

It can be people just two years younger than you or ten years. But if you see someone doing something at age 25 that you hadn’t achieved by 30 it can start to feel like you missed some kind of opportunity, regardless of whether it was one that was never presented to you or one you were never interested in. It creates that feeling of “If only I had done that in my 20s, I would be doing this other thing in my 30s or 40s.”

I find myself more envious of people who achieve some quick level of success in their mid-20s than I am of someone in their 50s with a lengthy, sustained career of success. And that’s ridiculous. For almost everyone, success doesn’t happen overnight. That applies to success in work, relationships, hobbies or any other pursuit. It takes a lot of hard work and lot of trying and failing (insert generic DIY mantra here). So why do we idolize young people who have achieved some title or other token of accomplishment when we really don’t know much of how they came by it?

According to a lot of other people, I’m still young. If I achieve one of my life goals by the time I turn 35, there’s going to be some 45-year-old out there who will be envious of me. Same goes if I achieve something at 50. There will be a 60-year-old who only sees a failure in his own life. But he’s not that old. He’s still got time. Just like everyone else.