A Pirate Looks at Fifty


That’s me (bottom) and my older brother, Jeff, playing “pirates” on the back porch of the house we grew up in in rural Northwest Ohio. If I had to guess, I’d say it was around 1974 — the same year Jimmy Buffett released one of his most enduring songs, “A Pirate Looks at Forty.”


Mother, mother ocean, I’ve heard you call
‘Wanted to sail upon your waters
Since I was three feet tall
You’ve seen it all, you’ve seen it all

I should acknowledge up front that I was never really a pirate at heart — even back in the days when it was still okay to point a toy gun at one’s brother’s head. I never wanted to rob or plunder or kill. But I did love the adventure side of what pirate life seemed to represent: open seas, undiscovered islands, buried treasures. It was a world without bedtimes or baths or mandatory teeth brushings; where it was always summer, and a kid could let his bare feet squish and stomp and slosh through mud and sand until his heart was fully content. It was Neverland, a place of endless action and adventure, without rules and restraints and systems and structures. A life of dreams and possibilities.

Watch the men who rode you
Switch from sails to steam
And in your belly you hold the treasure
that few have ever seen, most of them dreams,
Most of them dreams

Later this year, I’ll turn fifty. It’s a hell of a number, really, and one that’s caused me to reflect back on the first half century of my life. And looking back, I can say I’ve probably had a fair share of adventures along the way. But with each passing year, they seem to become more distant, at least those of the “pirate” variety. And I can’t avoid the knowledge, too, that I’ve passed on a good many more than I ever actually embarked upon, choosing instead a safer, more steady course — one of structured responsibility and security. This was a choice — a long series of choices, really — and one that I alone own. And I can honestly say I don’t regret it.

Yes, I am a pirate two hundred years too late
Cannons don’t thunder there’s nothin’ to plunder
I’m an over forty victim of fate
Arriving too late, arriving too late

Still, it’s hard not to think back now and again on those choices I didn’t make — the adventures never embarked upon, the opportunities never seized, the roads not taken. Moreover, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes feel squeezed by the predictable routines, tight structures, and endless responsibilities that come with the life I’ve chosen. It’s a life — however rich and rewarding in other ways — so different from that which I imagined as a boy, that it sometimes makes me unrecognizable to myself, or at least that old part of myself that still exists in some fashion.

But I’ve done a bit of smugglin’
I’ve run my share of grass
I Made enough money to buy Miami
But I pissed it away so fast
Never meant to last
Never meant to last

This isn’t a midlife crisis, or at least I don’t think it’s one. It’s more of a reflection, a taking of inventory, if you will, in advance of a milestone birthday. I’m not unhappy with the life I’ve chosen, for it has truly been blessed in many ways. The road I’ve taken has been a good one, even if it more closely resembles a wide suburban street than a winding mountain road.

And I have been drunk now for over two weeks
I Passed out and I rallied and I sprung a few leaks
But I’ve got to stop wishin’, got to go fishin’
Down to rock bottom again.
Just a few friends
Just a few friends

Maybe this is, to some extent, a guy thing.* We men like to think of ourselves as sports cars, capable of navigating hairpin curves at high speeds, or perhaps old Land Rovers, able to navigate steep and rocky terrain. That we may in fact be a light blue Dodge Caravan is difficult to swallow. As a kid back in the ’70’s, we all wanted to be the Fonz — to ride motorcycles and jump sharks on waterskis and get all the girls. Nobody dreamed of being Howard Cunningham, stalwart citizen, hardware store owner, and member of the local Leopard Lodge No. 462.

I go for younger women, lived with several awhile
Though I ran them away, they come back one day
And still could manage a smile
It just takes awhile, just takes awhile

But there’s an upside to fifty, too — and it’s a big one, I think, if I can ever fully grasp and embrace it. It’s a hard-earned, creeping perspective — perhaps even (dare I say) something approaching the onset of wisdom. It’s a recognition that a guy can miss a lot while swinging through the jungle on a vine: the wild mushrooms and berries on the forest floor, the sounds of the creek, the blooming flowers, the colors of the sky. And that these are, at minimum, equal treasures, and in many ways, better than even the high speed thrill of chasing mythical pots of gold. And, that a lot of what people chase is fool’s gold anyway — that the real treasures in life exist in the here and now, in what is right before us, not in some wistful past or imaginary future, just beyond our reach.

Mother, mother ocean, after all my years I’ve found
Occupational hazard be my occupations just not around
Feel like I’ve drowned, ‘gonna head uptown
Feel like I’ve drowned, ‘gonna head uptown

This isn’t a resignation to a life without adventure. There is a place for adventure in this life, even as we age — a place for for spontaneity and surprise and unstructured play. Denying this side of ourselves — denying how we want to live and engage with life — can have disastrous consequences. It can dull your spirit and dampen your soul. Taken too far, it can ruin your marriage and turn you into a drunk. Life is a balance. There is a time to jump naked into a lake, and a time to sit in a cozy adirondack chair listening to the water lap gently on the shore. And yes, there is a time, too, to scrape the mud off our shoes and go make dinner.

Finding this balance has always been a bit of a challenge for me, and I know I’m not alone. But I look forward to achieving it in the second half of life, and for the peace that I suspect comes along with it, dropping slow, as Yeats might suggest, from the “veils of the morning to where the cricket sings.” I wish this peace for all of you, as well.

Thanks for reading 🙂 – T

Jimmy Buffet: A Pirate Looks at Forty:

* But I also know this is far from solely a “guy thing.” Here’s another great tune that came to mind as I wrote this that (even if written by a man), speaks well to this, I think. I hope you’ll enjoy it :):

10 thoughts on “A Pirate Looks at Fifty”

  1. “Nobody dreamed of being Howard Cunningham, stalwart citizen, hardware store owner, and member of the local Leopard Lodge No. 462.”

    I really enjoyed listening in on your reflection here, Tim. There’s so much that jumped out at me. (Jeff’s the older one??? No way). But I settled on this quote (above).

    What jumped out at me after I read it has to do with the women in my life who did aspire to be “Mrs. Howard Cunningham.”

    Perhaps the actual name was different (Donna Reed for my generation, though I was more into Mary Tyler Moore) but the idea was the same. A life of devotion, dedication, and (yes) dependency would suffice, because back then that was often the only option.

    Your generation has had choices from the start. And your daughters have even more options. How great for you that you recognize that.

    Have a grand celebration. One you’ll remember fondly until you hit the even bigger 75.

    1. Janet, thanks for reading my midlife “non-crisis reflection.” Of course, “midlife” may be spinning it generously. What are the chances I’ll live to 100? I suppose it’s possible… Yes, my generation has enjoyed much more freedom of choice than those that came before, and I’m thankful for that. I can only hope that the same will be true for my daughters — a hope that is not without trepidation.

      It’s interesting, though, how many people in my generation, and even the one coming up behind, opt for “default options” grounded in antiquated beliefs and perceived societal expectations. I’m sure that many choices I’ve made in my life were likewise influenced.

      Thanks for the well wishes. The birthday’s not until October, but it’s definitely looming large! Best, T

    1. So good to hear, Laurie! – and thanks for reading :). One goal I have for the next ten years is to join you in the ranks of the published. I’m happy for the success you’ve found in the second “half” of life, but more so, the contentment. Thanks, again! – T

  2. Thanks for putting your brain on paper, Tim,
    As one of the greatest thinkers of our generation, I have appreciated your thoughts for a few decades now. Your insight on life has always been spot-on. I learned a great deal from you on East Wooster, where you were already ahead of the curve on wisdom.
    Take care, my friend.

    1. JY? Man, what a great surprise! It’s been way too long, my friend. I’ve thought of you often through the years. We spent a weekend with KB and his wife last November in Port Townsend, WA, along with a few other old BG peeps who are now living the PNW. It would have been great to see you as well, although I have no idea where you’re living these days. Last I knew, it was Bay area, but that was, what – 24 years ago?

      Anyway, it’s good to hear from you, and ‘really appreciate the kind words. Drop me a line one of these times! E-mail is timothyfearnside@gmail.com

  3. Here’s to some wild and crazy balance in your new decade, Tim. And thanks so much for sharing those fantastic photos of your youth.

    Some days it’s funny to look at images of our child selves and wonder what, at that moment, we were consumed by, obsessed with, pining for…

    1. Thanks, Laura, and “cheers!” I hope that “wild and crazy balance” has a slot for the Gibsons :). True, what you note about looking back at our former selves. Of course, the longer we drift from childhood, the more our attempts to define it likely take the form of narrative spin. Most of what ran through my mind as a child now only reverberates as an echo, open to interpretation. Of course, there is more to the story than just this. Someday, I’ll get around to telling the rest. Best, T

  4. Yo, Tim, old sock,

    Great reflection on your first half-century! From a bit longer perspective, I would only say, “stay your course,” and mention my impression that it really only gets exciting once you pass the three-quarter mark.
    Having survived a month back East with those wild and crazy party animules. many of whom I’ve known for the better part of the last half-century, I’m attempting to gradually recover in the calming (except for the now constant construction) atmosphere of good old Boiseeeee. Old Buster and I also found your comments on T’s latest “firing,” and the crises facing our poor old nation to be frighteningly germane. Buster hopes to weigh in on the subject when his typist has recuperated. Hope to see you soon, Bus and walt.

    1. Thanks, Walt. It’s good to have you back in the neighborhood. I hope after the next “quarter,” I’ll be able summon half of your good-natured wit and insight. Thanks for reading these last couple of posts and also for your comment. I think we’ll be due for lunch or a cold beverage soon. Cheers!

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