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“What That Man For?”

“If you don’t have the slightest idea what you are for—well, what a great starting point to find some focus, definition or purpose in your life, or to figure out how to spend your time in the most meaningful way?  What do you want your life to be for?” – Katie Read

Lately, my 2 ½ year old has become a philosopher.

Not that he’s full of answers, per se, but he’s definitely full of questions.  Existential ones.  Questions that might keep you up at night, if you let them.

Some of the less intense questions still throw me into that momentary parental panic—mouth open, abrupt silence, my mind grasping at an answer.

He holds up a toy and asks, “Mommy, what my truck mean?”


“Your truck doesn’t mean anything, baby, it’s just a toy for you to have fun with.”

He looks at me, clearly displeased with this explanation.  On to the next.  “Mommy, what my guitar mean?”  Pause.  “What my dinosaur mean?”

At this point, I’m breaking a mild sweat.

But these aren’t even the deepest of our daily questions.  The one he’s fondest of now is the one I try to avoid people hearing, since I prefer to not cause a stranger a nervous breakdown in the middle of Raley’s.

“Mommy,” he says loudly, pointing at a passerby, “what that man for?”

Oh, god.  Deep breath.  What that man for?  What that lady for? 

And this is where my head spins out a bit too much and I do actually wonder for a second about these strangers Spencer has a fleeting interest in.  What are they for?  Is that man for loving someone?  For raising someone?  For inventing something? For making people laugh?  For quietly creating?  For caring about the elderly or animals or gun violence?  What is that man for?

And me, oh geez, what am I for?  Is my life really for dealing with the little daily detritus that so often consumes it? I dearly hope not.  So what is my life for?  Have I defined it?  Do I have a sense? If I am here for something, am I giving time to figuring out what, and prioritizing it?  And do we necessarily get to know what we are for, or are we all more like those fifth-grade teachers who have no idea you’re still thinking about them 30 years later?  Are we all for making little ripples on the water that we never see the end of?

So I apologize if I see you at the grocery store, and my little blonde boy grins at you and loudly asks, “what that lady for?”  I’ll never know, and maybe you’ll never know, but maybe your family does, and I bet those closest to you could answer him easily.  If you don’t have the slightest idea what you are for—well, what a great starting point to find some focus and definition in your life, or to figure out how to spend your time in the most meaningful way?  What do you want your life to be for? What would you say to my little guy if you could actually answer his question?  And—here’s the great part of this exercise—he’s only two, so how could you make it simple enough for him to understand?  Because really, if a two-year-old can’t get it, we’re probably overthinking, overtalking, and missing the core.

So lady, or man, what you for?

Katie Read

Katie Read

Katie Read is a Marriage and Family Therapist and Executive Editor of Psyched Magazine. She is also a writer who blogs about autism parenting at www.childshould.com. Her writing has been featured at Autism Speaks, Motherwell Magazine, Mamalode, The Mighty, and others.

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  1. Anonymous on October 29, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    An excellent post . . . very sweet.

  2. Cadry on October 30, 2013 at 3:01 am

    This is such a touching post! I’m sure for all of us, what we are for changes many times over and over throughout our lives.

  3. Sandy on October 30, 2013 at 3:54 am

    I can certainly tell you what my kids are (here) for. Much harder to define for ourselves. Maybe that’s part of the answer. Sometimes I wonder if I could do more good in the world if I traded the time I spend trying to figure out my purpose for time actually doing something.

  4. MC on October 30, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    Seems to me that there is, rattling around in all us, a life purpose (the teacher Marc Gafni, in Your Unique Self, refers to it as your “unique responsibility”), but that it’s not something we figure out so much as we unearth. It may, however, be something we don’t or won’t accept, so the process of discovering, and then owning, our life purpose can be powerful, and powerfully disturbing. (Imagine you’re built your life around being a CEO, and then discover that the universe actually wants you to write biographies of saints–a bit upsetting, potentially). It seems that we can’t really “locate” ourselves till we get this answer, but that we need to be prepared to get a different answer than we may want.

  5. Katie Read on November 4, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    Thanks so much for these comments! I’m always surprised and humbled when a post gets people thinking and talking. Thanks again! -Katie