That good-looking guy in my profile picture, right there at the bottom of my sidebar. That guy in black and white, with the cheesy smile and the scruffy-chic hair? Yeah, he’s a lie. He doesn’t exist. The guy writing this is an older, fatter version. Don’t get me wrong, that’s definitely me, it’s just me four or five years ago, before I had kids, before I got married, and before I quit the gym and stopped kidding myself that protein shakes were an adequate substitution for cheeseburgers.
“How could you deceive us like this?” I hear you cry. “We thought you were a moderately good-looking youngish man, and now we find you are an average looking, average aged man! The lies!!!! The lies!!!” Well I’m sorry, but there are a number of reasons for my betrayal. Firstly, it’s what my mother would call a “white lie”, it’s technically not entirely a mistruth, and who is it really hurting (aside from the lustful young ladies whose dreams and hopes have been shattered)? I could look like that again, if I liked. Aside from the extra twenty…ish pounds I’ve added, I’m aging quite well. No crow’s feet, no grey hairs. I could hit the gym, and purge myself of fast food and soda. And chocolate. And ice cream and cake. And… well, and pretty much everything I eat. I could start buying my clothes at A&F again (with da popped colla!), and go back to fancy expensive hair salons (yes, I was one of those guys). I could use moisturizer and exfoliate. And I would look at least as good as that guy. Probably better (truth be told, I was already beginning to tank when this was taken – I’d, by now, hooked my wife into a long term relationship). So really, that guy still exists: I just ate him.
Another reason I don’t have a more recent picture is because there are literally no good photos of me in existence since the turn of the decade. I don’t just mean because I’ve let myself go. I still have the same face, and while I’m no George Clooney, I’m certainly not Quasimodo’s twin brother either. I just don’t have any pictures where I’m sober, or smiling, or without a wan paper-thin smile draped over thick layers of anxiety and depression. Most of the portraits I’ve taken recently have been with my newborn daughter. Or with my son. In most of those I look exactly like the dad of two small kids: like I haven’t shaved in days, like I’m about six weeks overdue on a haircut, like I look as if I maybe had a quick shower — we’re talking “Apply, Lather, Rinse”. No fucking “Repeat” for me. Not on my son’s watch.
There’s more to it than that though (and this is where the sad, dramatic, violin-ey music comes in). Look at me. Look at how fucking relaxed I am. We’re not talking stiff-drink-and-a-valium-relaxed either. Which was my go-to source of relaxation for most of my adult life. We’re talking the kind of relaxation that comes with being in love, without a care in the world, free of all responsibility, with a healthy disposable income, and a penchant for having fun. I’m on vacation, having cocktails and cheesecake Goddammit! This photograph fell within a three month window when I felt completely free. And it shows in that photo. And in all the other photos since, I haven’t fucking felt that way. And that shows too. I’m happy, and I’m deeply in love – with my wife and my kids. I’m financially dependent, and I’m healthy, but that’s maybe one of two times in my adult life when I’ve felt like I had the universe by the balls. The other was when I was 20, which doesn’t really count. And I probably won’t feel this way again until I’m an old man… and that’s ok.
After you have kids, nothing is ever the same again. You start to see the world differently; everything becomes a “what if”, or a “but maybe” or a “oh shit”. You know when you’re a teenager and you steal your dad’s Ferrari and drive it all around Chicago, and you’re worried about your cocky best friend scratching it, well multiply that by a fucking million when you have kids. When the weight of every poor parenting decision, every strange looking rash, every heart-ending moment when you lose sight of your kid for a millisecond at the mall or the playground, stays with you day and night, you know then that you’ll never quite relive your carefree twenties. But I wouldn’t swap a second with my two little Ferraris for one more photograph like that. Being a parent is the hardest, most taxing, most willfully, endlessly stressful thing you’ll ever endure, and yet it’s worth every second of it.