How a Man Ages
For those endowed with a Y chromosome, the maturation process never really ends. Life remains unpredictable, sometimes disappointing, occasionally embarrassing. The best and worst parts typically catch you by surprise.
Age 2: The complexities of life are starting to weigh heavily on your developing mind. First it was your parents insisting that you sleep through the night. Until that moment, all you had to do was open your mouth, exercise your lungs, and, for good measure, roll a few tears down your adorably chubby cheeks. That got you out of the baby jail and into the best spot in the house, right between the two coolest people in your world.
Sleeping in your own bed — you could deal with it, as long as Mom let you have a double shot of breast milk in the morning. But then she got stingy with that. “Weaning,” she called it. You had a better name for it: a waste of the two most perfect food supplies you’ve ever known.
Now comes the worst insult of all: Your parents have let you know that you can’t just shit in a diaper for the rest of your life. You wonder where all this is heading.
Age 5: You get to kindergarten and learn you’re too old to suck your thumb. Why didn’t anyone at home tell you? You begin to think that maybe your parents don’t always act in your best interests.
Age 7: In your first exposure to competitive soccer, you learn a harsh lesson: Bigger kids are better at sports than smaller kids. The desire to be bigger will dominate your private thoughts for the next … well, pretty much forever.
Age 9: Your dad stops letting you beat him in checkers. Before now, you actually thought you were better than the old bastard. What else are they not telling you? Maybe Santa Claus will put some kind of decoder ring in your stocking this year.
Ages 12-17: Every girl you’re attracted to, starting in sixth grade, is either dating an older guy, or trying to. You spend every waking moment wishing you were older than your current age.
Age 18: Now that you’re officially one of those older guys, you finally admit to yourself that age wasn’t the issue after all. Girls not being attracted to you — that’s the problem. So you make an important life choice: Since alcohol makes girls more attractive to you, you decide that alcohol must also make you more attractive to them. You resolve to get as drunk as possible as often as possible.
Age 18 1/2: You resolve to not make any more resolutions that are likely to result in vomiting, loss of brain cells, traffic accidents, arrests, or vomiting. Especially vomiting.
Age 23: Three players on your favorite baseball team are younger than you. It’s the first of many times that you will feel your youth slipping away.
Age 29: Not only are all the models in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue younger than you, their boyfriends are richer than you. You find this extremely depressing.
Age 31: Giving up all hope that you’ll ever be rich enough to date a supermodel, you get married.
Age 33: Your first child arrives. It’s a boy. Although you haven’t prayed in many years, you say a prayer now, with one simple request for the Almighty: “Please, God, don’t let him suck in sports the way I did.”
Age 35: Your new boss is younger than you. There’s a whiff of failure in the air, and it’s starting to piss you off.
Age 39: After five straight years of outstanding performance reviews, you finally get promoted to management. Your first move: hiring someone older than you to fill your old job.
Age 40: Watching your son’s first competitive soccer game, you realize you should’ve been more specific in your prayers. He doesn’t suck in sports the way you did. He’s worse.
Age 41: You and your wife decide you deserve something special after so many years of hard, often thankless work. So you take that dream vacation to an exotic island, staying in a luxury resort, sparing no expense. Sure, it eats up most of your savings, but you’re heading into your peak earning years. You’ll soon make it back.
Age 41 (cont’d): With your island tan just beginning to fade, your boss calls you into his office for a surprise meeting. Even though the company’s still doing well, the path ahead looks rocky, and he’s been ordered to cut back wherever he can. Your first thought: “Oh, shit, there goes my expense account.” Your second thought: “Wait, did he say severance?”
Age 43: You tell your friends your new job as a “consultant” is going great, and you’re as busy as you can possibly be. But somehow you always have time to drive the kids to their doctor’s appointments and music lessons, and you’re happy for the opportunity to get out of the house. Some days it’s the only reason you can think of to brush your teeth.
Age 45: A random stranger calls you a pervert. You struggle to think of what you did to deserve that. That’s when it hits you: The girls she caught you staring at aren’t much older than your daughter. You go home and burn the last of your porn stash.
Age 48: You almost get into a fistfight when you catch a random stranger staring at your daughter. Two things hold you back: 1) The stranger is a woman. 2) Your daughter gives the woman her phone number.
Age 52: When you hit 30 and realized you’re now older than the average athlete in almost every professional sport, you got over it. You’re not an athlete, so who cares? When you were 35 and reported to a boss who was younger than you, it just made you more determined to work your way into management, which was fun while it lasted. But now, for the first time in your life, the president of the United States is younger than you.
Even though you aren’t a politician, and never wanted to be one, this hits you harder than you expected. It seems like anyone in charge of anything interesting and important is now younger than you. Baseball managers, music moguls, CEOs. Come to think of it, the only guy you admire who’s older than you is your own dad. And he’s … oh, is that the phone? Be right back.
Age 52 (cont’d): Your dad’s funeral is a revelation. A whole roomful of guys at least 20 years older than you, and not one of them seems unhappy. Sure, they talk about weird shit like their latest operations, but they also tell you about things you never thought guys their age would be into. They work out, play music, travel, cook, paint, write. Nobody seems to have any regrets. Nobody talks about what might’ve been, or what they could’ve done. Most important, nobody compares himself to anybody else.
Age 53: Work is okay. You and your wife make enough to pay the bills and help the kids with their college tuition. But what you live for is your new hobby. You can’t wait to quit work at 5 p.m. so you can get back to your latest project.
Age 55: You decide to blow off work on a Friday to go to a regional convention of people who share your hobby. Not long after you get there, you see your former boss, the one who’s younger than you. Turns out, he had his midlife crisis before you did. At first you resent the overachieving bastard — if you had a heart attack, he’d find some way to have a bigger one — until you learn that he’s started a new business based on your shared pastime. It’s growing fast, and he needs a partner. Someone who can do pretty much exactly what you do.
Age 58: Employee turnover is the most frustrating part of running a new and growing company. It seems like you spend half your time interviewing, hiring, and training new employees, only to see them move on just when they’re starting to contribute. What is it about these kids today?
At the same time, it’s frustrating to watch your son floundering as he tries to start his career. He was a mediocre college student who lived at home for nine months after graduating before landing his first job. And then he was back home when he got fired a few months later.
One day you’re interviewing a 25-year-old whose face goes momentarily blank when you ask him a straightforward question about his work ethic. For that split second, he reminds you of your son, and you have a sobering revelation: You would never hire your own son, or anyone who reminds you of him. That’s followed, a day later, by a more disturbing thought: If your 25-year-old self walked in for an interview, you wouldn’t hire that guy either.
Is your son just a chip off the old block, proof that genetics is destiny? Not really. If anything, he’s even more screwed up than you were. But if you’d had the Internet and Team Fortress II when you were his age, it might be a draw.
Meanwhile, you find yourself spending more time with your 23-year-old daughter, and enjoying the time you spend with her more than ever. The two of you have nothing in common, unless you look in the mirror and see a lesbian who dropped out of college to work at a vegan raw-food restaurant. But she and her wife are happy — much happier than you were at her age. Or, really, any age.
You’d like to call your mom and discuss all this, but her dementia has advanced to the point that she doesn’t remember you.
Your dad’s dead, your mom’s lost, you don’t understand the child you get along with, and you understand too well the child you find so frustrating. You make a mental note to talk this over in great detail with your wife, as soon as she gets back from her appointment with the oncologist.
Age 61: Your wife hung in there. You’ll always give her credit for that. She fought that cancer to the very end.
You always thought the worst part of being a widower was coming home to an empty house. But the business is growing so fast that you’re hardly ever home, and when you’re home you’re never alone. Your son lives there again, following his second divorce and third job loss, and your daughter comes by every weekend with your beautiful grandchildren.
Although you’d never tell her this, you’re happy she and her wife chose to adopt. You couldn’t deal with the stress of knowing your genes had been inflicted on yet another generation.
Age 70: Nobody calls it a “retirement.” In your mind, that’s something the world forces on a guy, whether he’s ready for it or not. This seems … natural. The company is in good hands with the people you hired, trained, and mentored. It’s time to let them run the show.
Besides, you have other interests. You exercise more than you ever have before. You’re helping your daughter at the new restaurant she just opened. You have things you want to do, places you want to see. And those grandkids — why didn’t you enjoy your own children as much as you enjoy your kid’s kids? What in the world were you thinking?
You don’t know how much time you have left to take all of it in. You just know you’ve wasted enough of your life already. All that drinking, all those foolish decisions, all that time you spent thrashing around doing nothing meaningful while waiting for your real life to begin. This is your real life, and you’re finally ready to embrace it, no matter how it goes from here.