2013-12-26

New Year's Resolutions

My father has a running gag.

Every year, he waits for someone to ask him what his New Year's resolution is. When asked, he always replies, "Not to make any more New Year's resolutions." It's the sort of joke that is clever the first time you hear it, then as the years go by, it grows old, gets annoying, then gradually becomes funnier again, until it has been done so many times that it's legendary.

Even after having been asked again and again, my father never wavers. He's not just making a joke; he has genuinely resolved not to make any more New Year's resolutions.

At this point, I could speculate. My father is a very competitive man. Perhaps his competitive nature resulted in a series of resolutions that became progressively more difficult to accomplish. Each year, he would have attempted to best himself and his previous year's resolution, until the point at which he had attained a resolution so difficult that he realized that further resolutions would be beyond his ability to achieve.

Perhaps as a young man he gradually acquired a cynicism about New Year's resolutions. He dutifully set a high bar every year, attempting to better himself through diligent and constructive goal-setting. Then, as the year passed by and urgent matters claimed all the spare time with which he planned on learning to speak Japanese, or publishing a novel, or building a gazebo in the back yard, or etc. Frustrated that life was always undermining his efforts at self-improvement, maybe my father finally and reluctantly threw in the towel. He'd never make another New Year's resolution.

Most likely, though, my dad didn't want to learn Japanese or build a gazebo. He spent all day long working for the man five days per week. When he got home, he was inundated with any number of frustrating and expensive home repair tasks. He had to sink his Saturday's into repairing the plumbing fixtures and mowing the lawn. His evenings often disappeared into a carefully regimented system of lawn-watering. (These were the days before home sprinkling systems were very affordable.) He might have to cook dinner on the grill outside, only to discover on his way out that the doorknob needed to be replaced. Then, finally sitting down to dinner, he'd be informed that the weatherproofing on the windows needed to be re-done. Understand, none of this happened because our home was a junk heap. Our home was gorgeous, which itself is a testament to the dedication and conscientiousness with which my father attended to his responsibilities.

When all is said and done, though, it is perfectly understandable that he'd be reluctant to task himself with a separate pile of homework to score extra credit points with his self esteem.

In that light, my father's true New Year's resolution becomes entirely clear. He hadn't resolved not to make any New Year's resolutions at all. He had simply resolved to make the most of every moment he had. He resolved to find time to stop, relax, and smell the roses. He had resolved to spend a lot of time with his family, doing things that made him genuinely happy.

Furthermore, he had resolved not to have to answer to that fact once a year, when everyone wanted to know why he didn't have some special project to report. He had resolved to enjoy his free time by doing whatever he pleased, without having to field follow-up questions a year down the road. How is that novel coming? Say something to me in Japanese. When are you going to start on that gazebo? Do you need help painting it? 

Once a year, we resolve to make ourselves better people because... well, because there is such a thing as a "New Year's resolution." Personally, I enjoy making them. I might have taken after my mother in that regard, or maybe I just enjoy spending my time learning things and working on projects. It's easy to get caught up in the action and then later feel bad about the fact that we had a whole year to learn Japanese and build gazebos, but we didn't manage to get anything done.

In light of that, we can all stand to learn a bit about my father's no-resolutions-resolution, because it teaches us something important: Free time is meant to be enjoyed. So, enjoy it.