Turning 50: When age does start to weary me
Recently I had dinner with a senior diplomat who spoke bravely about confronting the sheer horror of turning 50. The unwavering march of the calendar date toward him was ruthless.
In the meantime he was stubbornly holding on to being in his forties. As a 43-year-old myself, he desperately looked in my direction in search of a common age identity.
In youth growing old was good. Age brought an end to study, hopefully a nice job, and with it economic emancipation. Age was also a ticket to fun: independence, romance, and booze.
But once I hit my late twenties it dawned on me that the age train was going in the wrong. direction. Could you still claim to be young in your thirties, and when does a mid-life crisis start?
Ever since, the encroaching years have played on my mind. You can dream up ways of holding them back, but at the end of the day getting old is fundamentally not a good thing.
The description of our age is defining. A man in his fifties is a vastly different image to a woman in her twenties. The secondary tags of ‘early’, ‘mid’ or ‘late’ add texture. For my part I will be in my early forties until midnight on my 46th birthday. I will be in my mid forties until I turn 49. And after that I will just be in my forties.
Often I still imagine I’m young. Sitting at a table of twenty-somethings for dinner we seem to talk as contemporaries about the same sorts of things that interest us in the same sorts of ways. It is easy to think I’m a twenty-something too. But try maintaining that perspective the moment one of them calls you Mr Marles.
They might say that age is all in the mind. But you really need to have the mental discipline of a Zen master to pull that one off.
And even though you know you want to stay young at heart, mental age changes too. Despite myself, I now find that I really enjoy boutique skin creams, drinking port, and pruning my roses.
But there is nothing that drives the point home the hardest of the advancing years than a conflict between old bull and young bull.
For the last decade taking my son to play golf has affirmed my status as the old bull in a good way. Being the young bull for Sam has been a handicap. He couldn’t hit the ball as far. He made the wrong decisions around the course. His skills lacked the consistency of experience.
Yet in the last six months this has dramatically changed. A growth spurt at age 14, combined with his first experience of undertaking a task seriously has seen his handicap plummet from 12 to four. He has rocketed past me showing contempt for the old bull in his wake.
His drives go much further. As I desperately try to keep up I take ridiculous risks while he sensibly manages the course with sage wisdom. Every thing about him is better than I. I was 40 and my father 80 before I managed supremacy over him. Sam has knocked me off early in his second decade leaving me just three short years at the top. Old bull is now a handicap, and the young bull is distilled potential. And it only gets worse from here.
Physiology is taking its toll. A round of golf leaves me sore for the week. A mildly tipsy evening the night before sees me feeling rotten the next day. I am scared of moving furniture for hurting my back.
And I am only 43. Imagine what it’s going to be like when I turn 50 ...
Yet amidst it all there are consolations. With every year behind me I better understand how the world works. For humans, being instinctively curious animals, this is satisfying.
While as a golfer I may resent Sam’s game, as a Dad I love it. Being with him as he carded a 74 was one of the best experiences I’ve had.
There is a pain in not being able to do what you used to. But perhaps wisdom lies in not trying to hang on to these, but enjoying the new discoveries that come with being older. We can all try to stay young at heart. You can be deluded into thinking that age is all in the mind. But there is also a lot to be said for simply acting your age.
For now, at least, each age has brought with it different delights and I am really enjoying them.
That said, I still refuse to turn 50.