When did you first feel ‘grown up’? Do you remember it as a specific time, or did it happen gradually?
When I was a child, it was a two-word phrase that was used to scold me. “Grow up!” I first remember my dad using it when I was probably seven or eight years of age. He was still saying it the last time I had a conversation with him when I was twenty-four. He never realised just how much time I had spent wanting to grow up.
For most of the twelfth year of my life, I wanted to be thirteen. A teenager was something to aspire to, especially with the expanding freedoms of the 1960s. By the time I was sixteen, I wanted desperately to be seventeen, so I could drive a car. Driving was going to make me into an immediate grown-up, I was convinced of that.
Although a change in the law allowed me to vote when I was eighteen, I couldn’t wait to be twenty-one. That was manhood! Key of the door time. A twenty-one year old was undeniably a man. A grown up. But my twenty-first was something of an anti-climax. It seemed I really had to be twenty-five before my car insurance company would consider me to be a responsible adult, and reduce my high premiums accordingly.
Then I was twenty-five, and got married that same year. I was a married man! Surely that was grown up? But the insurance company didn’t reduce my payments, citing increased costs as the reason to make me keep paying the same amount. Three years later, I was working as an EMT in Central London.
Now I felt really grown up. Driving an emergency ambulance with sirens and flashing lights, arriving at the scenes of terrible accidents and major disasters. It doesn’t get much more grown up than that, believe me. But to my older colleagues, with their additional ten or twenty years of experience, I wasn’t considered to be in the least bit grown up.
Much later, I read about not losing your ‘inner child’. Decades of emergency duties had made me a serious person, someone obsessed with being an adult. I had to try to find that inner child lurking within, or I would be sacrificing a large part of my personality.
It wasn’t easy, I can tell you. But finally, at the age of sixty-nine, I might have found that balance.
I discovered what it means to be grown up.