My father’s 50th birthday party, 1973. I’m the short one in the ripping fashion.
This snapshot was recently texted to me by my childhood next-door neighbor. It’s from my father’s 50th birthday in 1973. I was 7 in the photo. I’m now nearly six years older than my father in this picture. It blows my mind.
The photograph is one of the things that’s been reminding me of my age lately. I’m also vexed by the usual stuff — less energy to get things done, a few persistent aches, the obvious gap in cultural context between my students and me, and my grouchiness about the shorter days. I sometimes see my father in the mirror in the morning, but that’s ridiculous. I’m adopted, so we don’t actually look alike. But there it is: squinty eyes, gray eyebrows, crow’s feet and a surrendered hairline. There’s no denying that I’ve grown into a different version of myself and grown away from the self-portrait I carry in my head.
My parents adopted me when they were already in their 40s. My father retired when I was in high school, at roughly the age I am now. Our lives — and views of life — were vastly different from each other, but it’s impossible for me to even contemplate retirement at this age. I think my father retired in his mid-50s for two reasons: 1.) his job sucked and 2.) he was convinced he was going to die in his early 60s (spoiler: he was 89 when he died).
I always hated my father’s fatalism, but it’s got me in its grip right now. I’m aware that I have fewer days ahead than behind, and I’m aware of the many trains that have already left my existential station. I’m making peace with the fact that I’m probably a ‘single guy’ and not going to couple up at this stage in my life. While I’m aware there’s a lot of creative work I still want to do, I no longer fantasize about ‘midlife career changes.’ I think a lot about paths not taken. I don’t mean that in the sense of regret. I’m very happy with where I am and what I’ve accomplished, but I’m now uncertain about the possibilities ahead. I’ve made a career of pursuing possibility, and they seem to be waning — or at least less dramatic. There’s some grief attached to that.
These reflections are trite, of course, and nothing I haven’t heard from older friends. My sense of tenacity says, ‘You can beat this,’ but I know I can’t. I can only shape it, and maybe forestall the worst of it. There’s humility in that recognition, and that’s a good thing. But I sure miss the arrogance of youth.
I do miss the energy of even a decade ago, but I wouldn’t trade it for the competence I’ve acquired over time. Of course I’m not perfect. I still carry some long-standing gaps in my abilities, and still surely have blindspots. But I’m generally able to get things done more efficiently and effectively. And that will have to carry whatever days are ahead.