How you know when you’re an adult

Wisdom from Earl Weaver, the legendary manager of the Baltimore Orioles, who died on January 19.   “Until you’re the person that other people fall back on, until you’re the one that’s leaned on, not the person doing the leaning, you’re not an adult.”

Weaver’s words as quoted by sportswriter Thomas Boswell:

“You must remember that anyone under 30 — especially a ballplayer — is an adolescent,” he once told me. “I never got close to being an adult until I was 32. Even though I was married and had a son at 20, I was a kid at 32, living at home with my parents. Sure, I was a manager then. That doesn’t mean you’re grown up.

“Until you’re the person that other people fall back on, until you’re the one that’s leaned on, not the person doing the leaning, you’re not an adult. You reach an age when suddenly you realize you have to be that person. Divorce did it to me. It could be elderly parents, children . . . anything. But one day you realize, ‘It’s me. I’ve got to be the rock.’ ”

via Earl Weaver: Words from a baseball master – The Washington Post.

I don’t think this is the same as independence–we all depend on others, as Christians well know–but being leaned on, being the rock for someone. . . .That’s an intriguing definition of adulthood.  By this standard, I suppose, some people never grow up.

So, if you have attained this stage, at what point did you realize you were an adult?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • fjsteve

    When it happens, I’ll let you know.

    Seriously though, it seems fairly obvious to me. All of the standard rites of passage into adulthood, at least in our culture–graduation, first job, first home, marriage, kids–all pretty much carry the weight of gradually increasing responsibility. And the absence of any one of these often makes others questions a person’s maturity, whether they say so or not. Consider, for example, that the stereotypical “confirmed bachelor” is a 40-something, carefree womanizer. It’s Drew Carey, not James Buchanan.

  • Tom Hering

    I kind of prefer the biblical definition:

    When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things (1st Corinthians 13:11).

    The difference between childhood/adolescence and adulthood is cognitive/psychological development. In other words, you become an adult when you become capable of operating abstractly – when you begin to consider more than just immediate choices and consequences. (Eternal things, ultimately.) Becoming a socially dependable adult – what Weaver is talking about – is an important but less fundamental matter.

  • helen

    Consider, for example, that the stereotypical “confirmed bachelor” is a 40-something, carefree womanizer. It’s Drew Carey, not James Buchanan.

    Marriage and family should mean maturity… but an “It’s all about me!” person can survive even that with immaturity intact.

  • Pete

    Tied, as I am, to this lousy avatar, I have no hope.

  • Tom Hering

    Pete, I could Photoshop wrinkles and gray hair onto your avatar. And as a responsible adult, I’m sure you’d pay me for it, right?

  • Pete

    Tom – excellent. Try to give me a Lucas Cranach look. The check is in the mail.

  • Robin

    My sister died when I was 24. When that happened my priorities changed. I had no plans of staying near my family but, when she died and I was their only child, I felt a deep responsibility to them. Perhaps that was the day I became an adult.

  • Jack

    Maybe I realized that I had become an adult when I realized that being an adult means that I have obligations that I must meet.

  • Tom Hering

    Huh! I just noticed that if you mouse over an avatar, you get a pop-up that links to a profile and a really big version of the avatar. Neat!

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    For me I think it was when my first child (my daughter) was born.

    That being said, I may grow up, but I won’t grow old :D

  • http://jdueck.net Joel D

    Tom Hering @2,

    I kind of prefer the biblical definition:

    I’d say Weaver’s is more of a benchmark than a definition.

    And Paul didn’t actually define adulthood in that passage either, nor did he intend to. He was just using the difference between childish and adult behaviour (without saying what that behaviour was) to illustrate his specific point — that the mature believer focuses less on acquiring knowledge or supernatural experiences, and more on simply growing in love.

    If I had to take a stab at a strictly biblical definition of adulthood, I’d say it’s Numbers 14:29. Twenty years old. But I don’t find the concept of such a definition nearly as productive as simply looking at maturity, responsibility and empathy, regardless of age, which is what Weaver was thinking of here.

  • DonS

    When all the bills that come in the mail are addressed to you …….. :-)

  • fjsteve

    Tom, @9,

    When you use words like “neat”, you know you’re an adult… or rather, have been an adult for a long, long time. ;)

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I think you are an adult when you find yourself disgusted with all the gratuitous vulgarities going around Facebook.

  • dust

    lots of folks think if you get a job, get married, buy a house and have some kids, that makes you all grown up and an adult.

    hmm, seems like a path that many good folks go down, but if that’s true, then why is this world so screwed up?

    it’s not the stuff that you do on outside you that makes you good or bad, grown up or a child, but what you’re made of on on the inside, in your heart and soul :)

    cheers!

  • Grace

    Dust @ 15

    “it’s not the stuff that you do on outside you that makes you good or bad, grown up or a child, but what you’re made of on on the inside, in your heart and soul”

    Your answer IS the ANSWER. Even some children are very grown up, they stand out amongst all the rest.

    Blessings to you Dust

  • nativetxn

    I’ve been considered a responsible adult since I was in my early twenties, but sometimes I feel like I’m just faking it!:)

  • Julian

    I knew I was an adult when snow became a cause for dread rather than joy.

  • helen

    Mike @ 14
    Maybe you are an adult when you realize that you don’t need Facebook… or Twitter?
    [Don't really know, I've never had the desire to go there.]

    I work on a university campus, but the worst I hear is “omigod” (and that less often).
    I guess that’s more than being “adult”. :(

  • Grace

    Helen,

    I cannot imagine joining Facebook or Twitter. It’s bad enough when people “text” me, rather than call – it’s time consuming to write back and forth, when a short phone call would suffice. Needless to say, I won’t “text” – I don’t reply to text messages.

    Observing a woman texting not so long ago in front of an elevator, she kept right on, after the door opened – didn’t have a clue if she was walking in front of another person. She was zoned out of her surroundings – maybe she misses her adolescent years? It was hard, keeping a straight face in the elevator. Childish!

  • ~b

    Unfortunately, by that definition I became an adult at 23 when I became auxiliary parent to my 5 younger siblings because my dad developed an unknown heart condition and my mom stays with him whenever he is sent back to the hospital. I am now 24 and a “mother” of 5. I never wanted to have any children.

  • Grace

    ~b

    Your parents are very fortunate to have a dedicated daughter like you. I’m sure their parenting, and love had a great deal to do with your abilitiy to take on such a heavy responsibility.

    God bless you, your parents and siblings.

  • Tammy

    I became an adult at age 33. That is when I left my abuses behind me and began forging my future with my husband and children. I began owning my life, creating a plan, figuring out what my vocation was as a mother, wife and child of God.

  • Al Bergstrazer

    I think there’s more than one moment in our lives when we grow up. I grew up quite a lot when I was 17, my dad was sick and hospitalized and I had to do the work on the family farm until he was able again-it was up to me to put food on the table and pay the bills. I’m now 53 and have to care for my aging mother and make decisions concering her health and well being.

  • helen

    Julian @ 18
    Snow is still exciting!
    But I’m in central Texas, where I was just able to make an 8 inch snowman out of the inch fallen on my truck, last time it snowed. ;)
    My daughter was thrilled to be in San Antonio the year they got 15 inches.
    More recently (21st century) a young Pastor friend was less than thrilled to have his first Christmas “snowed in” in his first parish. More than 15 inches on the Texas coast (!) totally stopped everything. (A native Texan, he thought he’d seen the last of that when he left Fort Wayne.) ;)


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