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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Even as we study evolution, we ourselves evolve over time. No, we don’t learn to fly or to breathe underwater. We change over the decades, in part because of social pressure and in part because, well, our cells, organs and experiences align to make us different decadal versions of ourselves. With that in mind, I’d like to share some snapshots from my life.

First decade:

Likes: I adored my parents (most of the time). I also appreciated the opportunity to make new friends and to play any game that involved chasing a ball.

Dislikes: long distances running, homework, dark nights, losing electricity, sitting in the middle of a station wagon with my legs cramped under me. 

Favorite food: pizza and grilled cheese with ketchup. It’s not for everyone, but I loved it.

Favorite sport to play: basketball.

Favorite sport to watch: baseball.

Biggest worry: finding parents.

Second decade:

Likes: time with friends, the freedom to drive somewhere on my own (later in the decade, of course).

Dislikes: tough teachers eager to teach me too many lessons, rejections from friends, and too many questions from parents. Waiting for parents to pick me up (until I could drive). Developing an intolerance to dairy, which removed pizza, ice cream and mac and cheese from food options.

Favorite food: Good Steer burger supremes with a root beer and ballpark hot dogs.

Favorite sport to play: baseball

Favorite sport to watch: baseball.

Biggest worry: Losing parents. Getting into college.

Third decade

Likes: getting a job where someone not only paid me to do something I wasn’t sure I was qualified to do, but also sent me on planes to do it. Spending time with friends. Going on vacations with friends and family.

Dislikes: working on weekends and holidays. Going on horrible dates with people who were a little too eager to see fights where teeth got knocked out during hockey games. Then again, some of those unsuccessful dates still bring a smile to my face.

Favorite food: Thai food at a restaurant on the Upper East Side.

Favorite sport to play: volleyball.

Favorite sport to watch: baseball.

Biggest worry: Finding enough time to exercise.

Fourth decade:

Likes: enjoying the miraculous connection that comes from meeting girlfriend/wife. Listening to my wife laugh and seeing her smile. Holding my son and daughter and feeling them relax enough to go to sleep.

Dislikes: trying to figure out how to handle when children got sick, needing something we didn’t have, and packing enough stuff in the diaper bag and the car for needy children.

Favorite food: Who tastes food at this point? We inhaled it in between picking up the food the kids spilled on the floor or in the car.

Favorite sport to play: softball in Central Park.

Favorite sport to watch: my daughter’s active and exciting volleyball matches and my son’s soccer games. I knew nothing about soccer, so I could just be a supportive father and fan without offering unwelcome and unhelpful advice.

Biggest worry: How to keep kids healthy.

Fifth decade:

Likes: holidays, vacations and not needing to stand over the kids when they got too close to the water. Hooray for independent swimming.

Dislikes: driving everywhere with kids and their friends who made the car stink so badly at times that I opened windows in freezing temperatures. Watching kids disappear into their cell phones.

Favorite food: fresh fish on vacations.

Favorite sport to play: I barely played anything. I coached kids and bobbed and weaved between the entitled requests from parents.

Favorite sport to watch: daughter’s volleyball and son’s baseball.

Biggest worry: helping steer kids in the right direction.

Sixth decade:

Likes: time with family and friends, days when pain in my hip stays the same or, rarely, is less than the day before.

Dislikes: not knowing how to handle important technology, an awareness that I’m older than my friend’s parents were when I was growing up, and I thought they were old.

Favorite food: anything that doesn’t keep me up at night.

Favorite sport to play: baseball or anything that doesn’t cause pain the next day.

Favorite sport to watch: baseball.

Biggest worry: the speed at which each day, month and year passes. The prevalence of anger for its own sake and the health of the planet our children are inheriting.

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Summer is about to end, and with it the most mellow time of the year. I’d like to leave this season with a gentle and accurate message that came from the internet and resonates with me:

A newlywed young man was sitting on the porch on a humid day, sipping ice tea with his father. As he talked about adult life, marriage responsibilities and obligations, the father thoughtfully stirred the ice cubes in his glass and cast a clear, sober look on his son.

“Never forget your friends,” he advised, “they will become more important as you get older. Regardless of how much you love your family, you will always need friends. Remember to go out with them occasionally — if possible — but keep in contact with them somehow.”

“What strange advice!” thought the young man. “I just entered the married world. I am an adult and surely my wife and the family that we will start will be everything I need to make sense of my life.”

Yet he obeyed his father, kept in touch with his friends and annually increased their number. Over the years, he became aware that his father knew what he was talking about.

Inasmuch as time and nature carry out their designs and mysteries on a person, friends are the bulwarks of our life. After 70-plus years of life, here is what he, and you, and I will have learned:

Time passes.

Life goes on.

Children grow up. They cease to be children and become independent. And to the parents, it breaks their hearts but the children are separated from the parents because they begin their own families.

Jobs/careers come and go.

Illusions, desires, attraction, sex … weaken.

People can’t do what they did physically when they were young.

Parents die but you move on.

Colleagues forget the favors you did.

The race to achieve slows.

But true friends are always there, no matter how long or how many miles away they are. A friend is never more distant than the reach of a need, intervening in your favor, waiting for you with open arms and in some way blessing your life.

When we started this adventure called life, we did not know of the incredible joys or sorrows that were ahead. We did not know how much we would need from each other. Love your parents, take care of your family, but keep a group of good friends. Stay in touch with them. [Tell this to] your friends — even those you seldom see — who help make sense of your life. (End)

Friends, especially old friends, are witnesses to our life. They have helped us soldier though the hard times and been there with us for the celebrations and the fun times. We don’t have to explain much to them because they know most of the details already. They have aged along with us and can laugh at the same incongruities and absurdities that are specific to our generation. We can compare our satisfactions as well as our aches and pains, and share the advice and names of our physicians and our medicines. As we are reduced in stature, we are reduced together so the same relative heights hold and we continue on unperturbed.

Most satisfying is the shared wisdom that has come from living a substantial number of years. We can comfort each other as we laugh about the difficulties and perceived difficulties in our lives, and we never need to feel embarrassed about our thoughts or our hang-ups.

The most painful part comes with the inevitable loss of close friends. They are irreplaceable and their absence leaves a hole in our lives and our hearts. “I’m only going to befriend younger people I meet,” we declare. The same for our doctors and dentists, who have the temerity to retire or die.

So to my dear friends — and yes, those professionals who keep me together — just know how I treasure you.

Ever walk into a room and wonder why you’re there? As I say to my wife when she looks up expectantly if I appear and then stop in my tracks, I get distracted by air.

We are flooded by stimuli from the bird soaring overhead, to the vibrating cellphone alerting us to an incoming message, to the lists that run in our heads. We have numerous opportunities to lose track of the principle task we assigned ourselves.

I’ve decided on a mantra to deal with these moments and others through the day: “While I’m here.” Yes, I know that’s not exactly a new turn of phrase and I know it’s a type of mindfulness, but my suggestion is about hearing and responding to the phrase.

For example, I might walk into a drugstore to buy shampoo and conditioner. I might realize, before I head to the checkout line, that “while I’m here,” I might also get some dental floss. After all, it’s not like dental floss spoils and, if you’ve seen the movie “Prelude to a Kiss,” you know the old man, once he returns to his own body, advises the young couple at the beginning of their marriage to floss. After several painful episodes with gums that had previously been a breeding ground for painful bacteria, I can attest to the value of that advice.

If you’re a suburban parent and you’re sitting at another baseball game, at a concert or at a dance recital, let’s imagine you’re waiting for the action to begin. “While you’re here” you might want to talk to the parent sitting near you and ask about his or her life or job.

“Hey, wait,” you say. “You’re in the same industry as I am? I had no idea. Of course, I’d love to write an elaborate freelance article that you’ll feature on the cover of your glossy magazine and that will lead to a long and fruitful business collaboration.”

That might not happen, but it certainly won’t if you dive deep into your cellphone to tell someone in another state that you’re not sure whether you’re going to eat the leftover salad from lunch or order chicken with broccoli from the Chinese restaurant down the street.

Maybe you’re at a job interview and you’ve hit all the talking points. You said your only serious flaw is that you take work so seriously that you won’t rest until you’ve secured whatever victories the company needs to beat its closest rivals.

“While you’re here,” however, you might also want to make sure you ask enough questions about the interviewers, so you know their career paths and so you have a better idea of the people with whom you’ll interact if they offer you the job.

Not all the “while you’re here” moments have to be of immediate benefit to you. You might, for example, be on a beach on one of the final days of summer and a strong wind might blow someone’s hat toward you. “While you’re here” you might want to help that person retrieve it. Or maybe you see a plastic wrapper heading into the water. “While you’re here” you also might want to grab this offensive litter and bring it to a garbage can so that it doesn’t damage a fish or a turtle.

If we consider a few times a day what we can do “while we’re here,” we might not only become more efficient, but we also might make that unexpected trip into the room worthwhile. The moment when we’re trying to recall what drove us into the room can transform into an opportunity … “while we’re here.”