Sometimes my sons make interesting observations
Riley, my younger son, and I recently visited New York City. We have been several times. In a previous blog post, I described why I love coming to NYC.
While we were waiting for our flight Riley made an interesting observation.
We were talking about travel plans for this year. Riley remarked that others are surprised when he talks about our trips.
“Dad, what we do is not normal. Most people stay at home.”
His comment triggered many thoughts. Not normal. Indeed.
Why in the world would I want to be normal?
I don’t care to be normal these days.
Why we settle for normal
The importance of fitting in starts when we are young. We all want to be liked, especially by our peers. I remember as a kid hoping to make friends. A group to hang out with, especially on the weekends.
I played sports growing up so it usually was not too difficult to find friends.
We also lived in the same neighborhood for a long time.
My family did not move during my school years which helped me form strong ties with other neighborhood kids. I am still friends with many of them today.
We remain connected via Facebook.
We made fun of kids who were not normal
I also recall how cruel we were to kids to those who did not fit in.
We made fun of other kids for stupid reasons.
They may have looked different, acted strange, or were just dealing with the awkwardness that comes along with growing up.
It was a mistake that I regret. Everyone matters.
Don’t be like I was. Be better.
I did not listen to normal music at your age
The music I listened to in high school was not normal. It was not FM radio.
Most the bands I followed were not popular.
Some of them were obscure like Stiff Little Fingers from Northern Ireland.
The Replacements coined the phrase “left of the dial”. It is a good way to describe the music I enjoyed. Hard to find on the radio — new wave, punk, and alternative are how we describe this style music nowadays.
I attended many concerts with my friends to see bands like the Ramones, Hoodoo Gurus, Depeche Mode, REM, Public Image Limited, and U2.
Many of these bands became popular later. In fact a few of them are really well know. But, they were not normal at the time.
University life was a whole different world
As you both know I went to the University of Virginia for college. It is a great place. One of my favorites in the whole world.
The student body at UVa was much larger and more diverse than my high school. My undergraduate university experience was really eye-opening.
I think most students experience a “new normal” while in college.
In an academic environment, you get the opportunity to meet new people, learn new ideas, and gain new experiences.
Gavin — I know you are going through this experience right now.
I bet you have a much greater appreciation for the diversity of ideas that exist in the world now that you are in college. It can be an amazing time.
Finding my own normal in college
You would think that the need to belong goes away. It doesn’t.
At least it did not for me.
While I was at UVa I participated in several activities and joined multiple organizations. It was the best way to make friends and establish my own normal while in college.
I become a member of a fraternity. Some of my best friends are my fraternity brothers. It was a unique bonding experience.
In my fraternity, we spent a lot of time together and had a lot of fun.
In case you are wondering — we did a lot of stupid things too. No need to go into details here.
Learning discipline in the Army ROTC Program
I was also a member of the Army ROTC program. The Army paid for my tuition so I was obligated to join the military.
Army ROTC was the program that prepared me to become an Army Officer.
We had many rules to follow in the ROTC program.
We were required to cut our hair short, get up before class to conduct physical training, and spend our summers learning military skills.
Both of you will be amused to know that I arrived at UVa with the longest hair of any new ROTC cadet. I also learned about discipline which was helpful.
I experienced a lot of new things and felt well prepared for military life after college.
The military was an eye-opening experience for me
Many of us join organizations that force us to fit in. I know firsthand.
No organization requires conformity more than the military.
I spent over a decade in the US Army.
In the Army, you wear the same uniform, speak the same lingo, and live in the same locations as many of your peers, although you tend to move around a lot.
Making friends in the Army was not difficult for me. Our military is full of outstanding people. I am still close friends with many of them.
As you would expect the military requires strict adherence to rules and orders.
It is necessary for success on the battlefield. Despite the requirement to conform to the rules, I also found my military experience to be quite freeing.
I was trained to do stuff that is not normal
When I was in the Army I completed training schools that offered me unique learning experiences. US Army Airborne School, Ranger School, and Jumpmaster school to name a few.
Each school taught me new skills and prepared me for abnormal conditions.
There is nothing normal about jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft.
Firing a 50 caliber rifle teaches you how to properly handle a firearm.
These training experiences helped prepare me for the world.
I saw parts of the world that are not normal
When I was in the military we deployed to many different locations. Some of them were normal, others were not.
My unit deployed to Ukraine in the mid-90s. Talk about an abnormal place.
They were a new country having just spent over 50 years under Soviet rule. It was totally different than anywhere I had been before.
I was deployed to Bosnia multiple times for peacekeeping operations.
I did not really understand what it means to hate someone until I visited Bosnia. They destroyed their own country during their Civil War.
I had not seen anything like it before, or since.
I was never deployed into a combat zone like many of our current military members.
I can only imagine the horrors that many of them witnessed firsthand.
I moved around a lot which is not normal
While in the military I lived in many places in the states and several overseas.
Moving sucks, but it does offer you the opportunity to see different places in the world. I experienced a lot of different cultures which was great.
I do not think you can really appreciate a place until you have visited it.
For example, people say Italy is organized chaos. It is.
Try driving there and you will understand.
I am not sure why they put paint on the roads.
No one follows the rules.
Contrast that with Germany.
Everything there is hyper-organized. Even traffic has rules.
We settled for a decade of normal
I exited the military in the early 2000s and we settled in Prince William County. We joined the Northern Virginia culture.
For the next decade, we lived a very normal existence.
We became an average suburban family.
We drove the same roads, ate at the same restaurants, and took the same vacation every year. We did the same things over and over again.
Routines are good for kids, but I have to confess that I get bored.
I would rather mix it up every now and then.
I prefer to be interesting
If traveling to see and experience the world is not normal, then I choose not to be normal.
I prefer to get out there — see new places, meet different people, eat foods from other cultures, and experience the world for all that it is.
I hope you join me for some of these adventures.
They are going to be awesome. Let’s make it happen.
BTW — I still listen to the same alternative music I did when I was in high school.
I am blaring the Clash “I am so bored with the USA” on Spotify as I finish typing this blog post.
Good stuff. Joe Strummer was brilliant.
Where to read more
I write a blog for my sons called Doug Keating Letter to Sons. I am starting to share relevant content from my blog here. This is my fourth post on Medium. I hope you enjoy it. All feedback is welcome. Thanks for reading it.
Originally published at www.lettertosons.com on February 18, 2018.