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Marking my life through The Simpsons

In 1989, I was eighteen years old. I’d just graduated high school and quickly moved out (not entirely by choice) on my own. I lived in a townhouse in Attleboro, Massachusetts, with two friends. Bengi was a college student, and Tom worked in manufacturing.

I was managing a McDonald’s restaurant.

None of us had much money.

Our typical meal consisted of elbow macaroni and canned soups. We couldn’t afford to turn on the heat during our first winter, so we stayed warm by sitting on a hand-me-down couch under the same blanket.

We owned a television, which sat atop a baby changing table in the living room. It was small, even by 1989 standards.

I can still remember the night we sat down together on our hand-me-down couch and watched the first episode of The Simpsons, jazzed about this new show that we had heard so much about. We immediately fell in love with it, and for years, I hardly missed an episode.

A year later, it was so cold one night that when The Simpsons ended, no one in the room was willing to get up and change the channel (no remote back then for us), so we remained in our places and watched the next show that came on. It was Beverly Hills 90210, a program that turned out to be quite horrible but spawned a series of 90210 parties that were well attended by many friends.

The Simpsons was great, but 90210 was a bonanza for us in terms of meeting girls.

Fourteen years later, I lived in a different apartment with slightly more money and two fewer roommates. Elysha and I were on our first official date after years of friendship, though neither of us was initially sure it was a date. We spent the afternoon climbing Mount Caramel together, and on the way down, Elysha reached out and took my hand, signaling that we had moved past “just friends” status. After a bite to eat, we returned to my apartment to relax. We were sitting on my uncomfortable futon, discussing our hopes and dreams, when my future bride cut me off mid-sentence and said, “I’m sorry, but it’s six o’clock. Could we watch The Simpsons?”

Any doubts that I had about our future together evaporated as the skies opened and heavenly light bathed me in happiness and joy.

Elysha liked The Simpsons. And she liked the show better than she liked talking about serious things.

A few years later, my wife and I would have another serious conversation regarding The Simpsons. This time, we found ourselves shamefully and grudgingly admitting that despite the greatness of Matt Groening’s creation, South Park may have transcended The Simpsons on the animated landscape.

It was a sad day, indeed.

But still, The Simpsons carried on, and I continued to watch.

Seventeen years later, Clara, Charlie, and I sat down to watch the first episode of The Simpsons together:

It was the same episode I had watched 31 years before in a cold apartment in Attleboro, Massachusetts.

This time, I was sitting inside a warm home on a couch Elysha and I had purchased a year before, watching on a flatscreen television mounted to the wall.

I had a remote control in my hand.

Watching that first episode with my children was a glorious moment for me. They loved the show, and a 22-minute episode ballooned into a 45-minute viewing experience as I repeatedly hit pause to teach my kids about the historical and cultural references from the show.

Every Simpsons episode, it turns out, is an opportunity to teach my children about the past, and they love it. I think I could teach a history class based solely on the content of Simpsons episodes.

The kids and I agreed only to watch new episodes together. No binge-watching allowed. The kids may rewatch episodes, which they do, but they may not take a step forward unless we are all together.

Three years later, we are on season 8 of the show, originally aired in 1996 when I was starting my academic career at Trinity College and St. Joseph’s University.

The Simpsons has been on the air for 34 years, equal to the time I have spent living outside my parents’ home, taking care of myself.

So much has happened in those 34 years years:

I’ve lived in three different states, in ten different homes and apartments, and spent a period of time homeless.

I’ve earned a living as a restaurant manager, a bank manager, a salesperson, a delivery person, a wedding DJ, a teacher, an author, a columnist, a consultant, a minister, and a performer.

I’ve attended classes at six colleges, earning three degrees and a teaching certificate.

I was arrested, tried, and acquitted for a crime I did not commit.

I’ve become a husband and father.

I’ve lost my mother.

I have been teaching elementary school for 25 years. More than 550 students have made their way through my classroom door in that time.

I have published six novels and two books of nonfiction.

I’ve become a golfer, a storyteller, a comic, a corporate consultant, a playwright, a business owner, a poker player, a cat lover, and more.

With all those changes over the previous three-plus decades, it’s comforting to know that some things never change. Homer, Bart, and the Springfield gang have been around for as long as I have been living on my own. In fact, it’s about the only consistency that I have had over the past 34 years:

The Simpsons and my friend Bengi are the only two things that have remained consistent in my life since my eighteenth birthday.

So here’s to another three decades of The Simpsons and years spent watching with my kids.

Just knowing that it’s still around, still making me laugh, and connecting my past and present with such a clear thread makes me feel good.