I remember it like yesterday (thankfully my memory is still relatively intact). Turning 35 was one of the more challenging birthdays I ever experienced. As the big day approached, a much older friend (by two months) pointed out that I would soon be closer in age to 50 than to 20. I was a tad freaked out by that implication because in my mind I was still 20. I had no doubt that if I were attending an event with 20 year olds in one room and 50 year olds in another, I would be partying with the kiddos. After all, I could down tequila shooters with the best of them; I still enjoyed the late night bar scene and would occasionally stop by the old frat house on football weekends to Austin; I had no problem sleeping until noon (well, maybe 10:00 am) on weekends and often didn’t even bother to set an alarm. And besides people who were 50, well, they were just plain old.
In reality, I clearly would have been hobnobbing with the old fogeys, discussing Governor Bush’s strong bipartisan record in Texas; comparing investment alternatives for my retirement account; complaining about my diminishing eyesight and trying on my aging friends’ readers. Truth be told, I hadn’t touched tequila since college (freshman year, that is); the bars I once frequented seemed to really be boosting up the volume; the fratters gave me dirty looks when I crashed their party (and insisted on calling me “sir”); and I couldn’t remember when I last slept beyond 8:00 am (and that’s without even needing an alarm).
A few months post birthday, my friend’s prophesy played out. I went on a cruise with my family and spotted some college-aged foxes by the pool. (Do 20-year olds still use the term “foxy?”) My one-time fail-proof pickup lines brought me nothing but blank stares and rejection. (Who doesn’t want to talk about horoscopes or college majors?) And yet, by the end of the trip, I was trading business cards with their financial planner dad, hoping to drum up some technical writing projects. (By the way, he was a Capricorn and had been an accounting major.)
Fast Forward Five Years…
I eagerly tackled 40 and even threw myself a birthday bash to prove I was over my post-35 depression. I planned a dinner with my buds, most of whom were married with 2.3 kids and relished the chance for a “guys night out.” In a way, the dinner served as a bit of a payback for all the weddings, baby-namings, and Bar Mitzvah parties they treated me to through the years. As a 40-year old “wild” bachelor, I had no idea whether I would ever settle down to return the favor. I laughed as my friends compared “horror” stories about late-night visits from the tooth fairy, the difficulties of algebra homework, the traumas of the drinking/drugs/sex talks, and the importance (and financial commitment) of SAT tutors.
They lived vicariously through my lack of parental/husbandry responsibilities and ached for stories about my crazy Saturday night escapades. (I suspect they were sadly disappointed.) They were jealous that I could relive play after play of every college football bowl game as their days of lounging in front of SportsCenter for hours at a time had ended around the birth of their second kids. Then again, they never considered those weekend nights that I spent out with them and their wives as a third wheel at a movie. And fortunately, they thought I was kidding when I talked about spending New Year’s Eve on the couch watching Woody Allen movies. Perhaps, I failed to mention that I enjoyed the movie marathon alone (no offense to my dog).
And Another Five (make that 10)…
Once 45 arrived, I had become a genuine adult, complete with a trophy bride (16 months my junior) and toddler daughter. Life had taken a dramatic turn for the better and my Sundays no longer revolved around DirecTV’s NFL Ticket, but rather Fundamentally Music class and treks to the zoo. My wife and I had a wealth of good friends from high school, college, and work, and never expected to begin forging new relationships in our 40s. Then again, most of them were in different stages of life and suddenly we found our social calendars filled with outings with new friends, many of whom were parents of our daughter’s pre-schoolmates. Despite our (vast) age differences, we realized that we had far more in common with them (though at one dinner I learned that I actually was closer in age to my new friend’s mother).
For the past few years, our family grew and my older friends began celebrating their big 5-0s. Some threw wild parties to relive the glory days of college (I passed on the tequila shots); others held intimate dinners with a few good friends where we solved all the problems of the world (or, at least, those that impacted us). A trip here; a guy’s night out there. Almost without fail, conversations revolved around the post-Bar Mitzvah years: filling out college applications and attending parents’ weekends; hopes and fears of becoming empty nesters; and plans for not-so-distant retirements. Often they smiled at us and remembered those carefree days when their kids were entering Kindergarten and starting to potty train. They reminded us to enjoy them to the fullest because the years begin to fly and teenage “challenges” certainly prove more stressful than skinned knees and separation anxiety (mine, not my kids’). While empty nesting and three-week romantic Mediterranean cruises may be far distant dreams for us, we still have plenty of fun milestones to tackle as a family (and these friends can give us lots of pointers).
50 is the New 35…
As my 50th neared, I participated in many of the same rituals as my “much older” friends. I spent a long weekend away with my beautiful bride (sans kids) and enjoyed a few celebratory dinners with family and close friends. I took advantage of my kids’ winter break from school and found fun activities to do with them (that included watching the Lion King countless times and losing many games on the iPhone and Wii).
While many related pre-50 conversations included some good-natured (I think?) ribbing about old age and the perceived associated limitations, I actually felt pretty good about my station in life. I have most of my hair and have been told that the slight gray makes me look somewhat distinguished (thanks Mom). My schedule allows flexibility to participate in my daughters’ school functions and even serve on committees. I have maintained a regular jogging regimen for many years (though shorter distances at a slower pace these days) that has helped me (somewhat) keep my “girlish” figure despite enjoying similar fast-food eating habits as my kids.
I still have the stamina (but not always the patience) to coach my oldest daughter’s six-and-under sports teams, though my strengths lie in general silliness and practice-ending games of Duck Duck Goose. I plan to relinquish those responsibilities soon to more competent (athletically gifted) parents who may be better able to teach the fundamentals of the games. In a few years, I hope to resume my coaching role for my younger daughter’s squads (unless she prefer to pursue the ballet route instead). I also am able to keep up with my favorite college and pro sports teams (not always in person), though new priorities ease the pain and suffering after tough losses or difficult seasons (which have been plentiful as of late).
My big day was a family-oriented affair and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. (I did get in a quick morning jog while everyone enjoyed an extra hour of shut-eye.) My daughters’ homemade cards and artwork highlighted the gifts and our lunch with the extended family made for a most delightful afternoon. That evening we celebrated New Year’s Eve with our normal group of families (and a few newcomers) with thankfully only a brief mention of my birthday (though the cake was excellent). At midnight (in New York), we said goodbye to 2012 (and to my 40s) and awoke the next day eager to tackle the new year (and my next decade). My milestone birthday was actually rather anti-climactic and I made it through without much anxiety or depression (until my friend pointed out that I am now closer in age to 65 than to 35).