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James Ferragut, Published November 14 2010

Ferragut: In life change is certain

When I was 13, my perception of a 60-year-old man was based on grandfathers, uncles, the businessmen and politicians who ran the country; the images I’d see on television, in newspapers and in magazines. I saw myself at 60 as I saw most older men: a slightly overweight, balding, white dress shirt, gray- suited business executive living someplace like St. Louis.

When I turned 50, I wrote a column from the woods of Minnesota’s North Shore when for a brief moment I had cosmic and spiritual clarity. I was in a good place in my life, a good grove. It was pre-9/11, pre-George Bush No. 2, pre-Iraq war No. 2, pre-economic meltdown, pre-trillion- dollar deficit, pre-Internet bullying. All was well.

But there has been a convergence of unwelcome stuff since I wrote that column. My life, like most everybody’s, has gotten complicated. There are few certainties that I once counted on for a sense of security. I lost a job that was going to be the last leg of my career. A year later, I have not found the right fit. My once-secure future is as unpredictable and opaque as a North Dakota blizzard.

If I could sit down in front of the 13-year-old James Ferragut and tell him about his life at 60, what advice would I tell my younger self?

I’d tell him life goes by faster than he could possibly imagine. I’d tell him not to be so tough on his dad, because once you’ve left home for the first time, it won’t take you long to appreciate what it took for your parents to launch you into the world. I’d tell him to treasure his grandparents.

I’d tell him to get more involved in school activities. I’d tell him that, believe it or not, all the high-profile jocks, brainiacs, bullies and stuck-up beautiful girls are just as insecure and messed up as you are.

I’d tell him to focus his education on what he’s interested in and what comes naturally. I’d tell him The Beatles really will change the world, and that music, books and movies aren’t frivolous.

I’d tell him to choose friends carefully because the bonds molded in these early years can harvest transcendent love. I’d tell him if he is betrayed by a friend, forgive him and move on.

I’d tell him to embrace spiritual, philosophical, political and cultural diversity. I’d tell him to take risks and never stop traveling so he will understand that everyone on this planet deserves to be here.

I’d tell him marriage is like a carnival ride – and not to jump off. I’d tell him that he can never spend enough time with his kids, especially when they are young and that when he is in the thick of parenting and it looks like he’ll never get out alive or sane, he will and so will they.

I’d tell him there is one thing he has to accept: that life changes. He has to learn to expect change and be prepared for it. And I’d tell him that when he’s so low that there is no up, it will be God, family and friends who will lead him to the light.

I’d tell him to always give his mother yellow roses on her birthday.

That’s what I’d tell him.


Ferragut is a marketing executive and occasional contributor to The Forum’s commentary page.