In other words, you're normal—whatever "normal" is, other than a midsized city in Illinois.

So it's time to learn how to pack lightly, gentlemen, because on the trip we're taking, there's only room for a couple of light carryons. As you'll see, previous sins, gaffs, screw-ups, regrets, and guilt fit neither under the seat in front of you nor in God's overhead compartment. (Whatever that means—heaven maybe? We really don't know. It's just an analogy; it's best not to think too much about it).

The Roles of a Lifetime

When from the crest of the formidable speed bump that is midlife we look back on our lives, most of us see that what we've been so busy doing with our lives is our absolute darndest to successfully fulfill—or perhaps just survive—what amounts to four distinct Life Roles: that of Son, Husband, Provider, and Father. These are the Life Roles that most of us at first simply inhabit, and then (less simply) become.

So remember, guys: It's Roles, Inhabit, Become. Or RIB—as in what Adam discovered he was missing just before his big life role became Just Like Eve, But Different. (And don't forget: We are all members of the Adam's Family.)

Here's the thing, though, about those four Manliest of Roles: By midlife, they have radically and permanently changed. What in one way or another wakes and shakes up every man in midlife is the dawning truth that he can no longer continue to be the only person he's spent his entire life learning how to be.

We've learned how to be good sons—but then find that our parents need us to care or provide for them.

We've learned how to be good husbands—but then the bodies and sexuality (to name but two aspects) of both ourselves and our wives change into something with which we have no experience at all.

We've learned how to be good providers—but then find that we're becoming obsolete in the workplace, or we realize that the careers we've spent so long carving for ourselves have almost nothing to do with what we've always really wanted to do with our lives, or we've simply become painfully bored with our jobs. Or maybe we just want to retire—and yet can barely imagine what that actually means.

We've learned how to be good fathers to our children—and then discover that, alas, our children are children no more.

So here we are, in a life that's clearly become a production radically different from the one in which we're used to starring. Suddenly, it seems as if everybody's character in the show has changed and nobody's sticking to the script; the action's not like anything we've rehearsed before. Pieces of the set are getting dragged off into the wings, lights are blinking all over the place—all kinds of things are going on that we've never even almost experienced.

Pretty exciting!

Pretty unnerving!

And, we would like to suggest, in every last way, wonderful. The whole thing is just great. Because we believe that it's in our middle age that God intends for us to stop, look back at the roles we've played thus far, and see if we can't find within them every last thing we need in order to create for ourselves, with his help and guidance, the very life that he most wants us to have.

So. We're going to spend the next five chapters talking about how we might most fruitfully go about that most precious and vital of explorations.

To help us cull the Right Stuff from each of the four primary roles of our lives, we will, in the chapter devoted to each role, follow the same four-step process.

First, under Good Riddance, we'll look at the aspects of that role that quite often prove less than entirely healthy for us. These will be the negative aspects of each role that we would do well to identify and then jettison.

Next, under Pure Gold, we'll take stock of those aspects of that role that have typically been good for us: that tended to ennoble us, strengthen us, make us better, wiser, more pleasing to God. This is the stuff about that role which we should hold on to and build upon as we move into the second half of our lives.