It’s my birthday and I know I don’t know anything

I turn 47 years old on Sunday.

Forty-seven is one of those ages between a five and a zero that people rarely think about.

School teachers assigned students to write about where the kids imagined themselves at 30.

Jennifer Garner made a lovely movie on that premise called “13 Going on 30.”

Paul McCartney sang “Will you still love me when I’m 64?” with the Beatles.

When McCartney was 64, he split with his second wife.

Sir Paul is 80 now with another wife.

If a teacher asked me to write where I thought I’d be when I was 47, I doubt I would have gotten a single detail right.

I remember writing a story about becoming a famous photographer in Mrs. Dietz’s freshman English class at Winterset High School.

I thought it was important I had a cool car and leather bomber jacket.

My car is cool, but it, like me, shows its age.

I got a bomber jacket. I bought it cheap and tore a hole next to the pocket the first day I owned it. It’s badly patched.

It hangs the closet to remind me how cool I could have looked in cold weather if I were more careful.

I never picked up photography. I couldn’t never figure out the light.

It takes patience, which is the better part of valor I’ve never picked up.

I don’t know what the other parts of valor are, but I probably don’t have those either.

When I was younger, I thought I would have it figured out by now, not 47 specifically, just an adult.

I cannot define “it.” I’m pretty sure I don’t have it. Logically, if I don’t know what “it” is, there’s no way to know if I have it.

But I’m insecure. Most humans are. People who cool and collected are the weirdos. Most of them are actors, which means they’re probably faking it.

Children are often unaware of the burdens of adulthood.

That’s why there are so many memes on the internet about how great childhood was.

The best part of childhood was the absence of responsibility.

Nobody expects you to knock out the rent or pick a good index fund for your retirement investment when you’re 11.

But I thought adults knew what they were doing by virtue of them being taller, knowing how to drive, and being allowed to use the sharp knives.

That turned out to be incorrect. It’s a trick adults play on young people, who don’t know what they don’t know.

Maybe that’s the biggest difference between childhood and adulthood: I know now how little I do know.

I know some things. I can tie a tie. I learned that in Cub Scouts.

I can tie my shoes, too, but I use these elastic laces, so I just slide my feet into my sneakers.

This invention would have saved Parents 1.0 a good deal of frustration.

I can drive, which I only do to join the national conversation of complaining about gas prices.

The truth is, at 47, I thought I would feel stronger and more settled.

Yet I’m still insecure, anxious, and sometimes depressed. I’m wistful and nostalgic, which isn’t all bad until you get into “what might’ve been” thoughts — especially when applied to old relationships.

I’m a needy to the point that I annoy myself.

I pester my friend Paul — who co-hosts our weekly podcast, “Talking Paragraphs” — with the constant suggestion he come visit each year.

There’s no reason why I should expect him to visit me every year, though he has often done so.

He’s not visiting this year. That’s fine. But there’s a bad circuit in my brain that tells me that means he doesn’t really like me, and he’s been faking our friendship for 30 years.

That sounds stupid when I type it out.

If I’ve learned anything in 47 years, most of our problems exist in the gap between emotional reaction and intellectual understanding.

I’ve learned other things, too, like iced tea tastes better out of a glass with cubed ice and no lemon.

I also learned that whenever you can, you should embrace quiet.

We live in a noisy world. Most of what’s being said, and often shouted, isn’t worth listening to.

But if you can find some quiet, that’s always worth your time.

Interrupt it only with the clinking of cubes in your glass of iced tea.

Middle school teacher Daniel P. Finney writes a column for the Marion County Express.

Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.


  1. Nicola Mendenhall says:

    Great post & so true Nicky


  2. J says:

    Happy Birthday Daniel. 47 sounds like the lucky number someone called out at BINGO and you WON! I believe we need a better perspective when it comes to ageing. Getting older is a privilege. If we believe in making the right choices for ourselves then you are on the right path.I try to have a positive outlook when it comes to the future, not in a childish way but we really don’t know what tomorrow can bring. I speak from experience and I am sure you can relate. Chin up and Cheers!! We don’t life forever, make the best of it.


  3. Kathy Larson says:

    I’m lifting my glass of tea with ice cubes to wish you Happy Birthday!Your 47th year will bring wonderful things.


  4. Ng says:

    I know for sure is that the real adults are people who admit that they DON’T know everything. They admit they DON’T have all the answers. The kids are the ones who think they know everything .Unfortunately I work with a lot of the latter. You are an adult Dan. I do mean that as a good thing


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