Life is a lot like eating sugarcane – the beginning is sweet and sappy and in the end you are left with fibrous strands bereft of flavor and joy. I am unsure where 50 is on that continuum.
It’s no surprise that my body is slow to recover; that there are more aches than not; that a new gray hair sprouts every 30 seconds; that I forget what I am about to do next; that my pace is slower; my words lie beyond grasp; that I’m more irritable.
And yet I remain inspired.
I am inspired by my friend Scott Allen who, at the precipice of turning 50, discovered new love; gained a new life partner; and is invigorated by love’s toxicity.
I am inspired by my friend Sean Yoes who continues to discover new interests and chase new dreams.
I am inspired by my friend David Littlejohn, who at age 52, is in better shape now than you and I were at 25.
I am inspired by many of my high school classmates who have been celebrating 50 recently with spirit and dynamism, surrounded by those that love them dearly.
I am inspired by my friend Jay Washington who said turning 50 gave him license to tell people to “piss off”.
I am inspired by my friend Jennifer Douglas whose thirst for knowledge exceeds my own.
I am inspired by all of the people who continue to enrich me on all platforms of life.
My life has been full of moves, calculations and plenty of miscalculations. I’ve made both good and bad decisions along the way. But no single decision can compare to the decision to ineptly, pitifully, and lazily ask Angel P. Brown to become my wife. The fact that she accepted my crappy proposal speaks volumes to what she saw in me. She saw potential in me that I did not see in myself; in fact could not see in myself. Getting that woman to marry me stands as my greatest achievement and biggest con job to date. And my children are a manifestation of every pure thought I have ever had.
50 will be celebrated quietly. A day off wine shopping with Angela that will conclude with a special Bleezie burger, a fantastic bottle of wine, more self-reflection and new edits to my life’s script. And who knows; I might just dig deep enough into the sugarcane to find more sweet, sappy goodness.
I believe I mentioned before that my wife Angela often says that my head is full of useless information. She claims that the data takes up important gigabytes of storage in my mental CPU meant for meaningful and useful content. She also says that I tend to vilify her in my blogs and she might be right. But not this time. Her assertion, in this case, is likely on point. I have a curious mind and I tend to hold on to information that cannot possibly advance my cause in the workplace or life in general. Or can it? I’ll come back to that. For now, here are some of my favorite bits of “useless” information:
1) One species of Bowerbird in Australia has a unique way of picking up chicks. The male Bowerbird builds intricate structures and decorates its nest with blue items. I am fascinated by the specificity of color. Is it not amazing that a bird will go through great lengths to find blue items just to get laid? That’s my kind of dude animal (or dudimal).
2) The Deepest point on earth is the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. The deepest depth known to us to date is just under 7 miles. A long way down. Our oceans are relatively unexplored compared to the rest of our planet. I’d like to see as much interest in exploring the deep seas as we show in exploring space. Secretly, the little boy in me hopes they discover a real Godzilla down there.
3) On the Saturn moon Titan, the atmosphere is so thick and the gravity so low that a human could theoretically fly by flapping wings attached to their arms. Fly on Titan? Sign me up. Titan is the only object, other than Earth, in our solar system that has stable bodies of surface liquid.
4) Ancient Egyptians used crocodile poop as a contraceptive. Don’t ask me how I know this “crap”, I just do. I read it somewhere. About 2000 B.C. Egyptian women swallowed croc pellets for planned parenting. Croc dung apparently contains alkaline like many modern contraceptive drugs so it just might have worked. If a woman told me she ate crocodile poo, I wouldn’t touch her with a ten foot pole. And there in lies the foundation of its true success as a contraceptive.
5) We are on a collision course with Andromeda. Seriously. In approximately 4 billion years (give or take a few hundred million), our Milky way galaxy will collide with our galactic neighbors in the Andromeda galaxy. Head on, full merge, galactic hug-fest. And our sun is predicted to survive the merger. This totally blows my mind and I hope that I am around to witness it. I’ll be soil by then but I hope that I am soil with consciousness.
Can this seemingly “useless” information benefit me in some way? The answer is yes. Research has been highlighting the benefits of life-long learning as a prescription for a longer, healthier life for years. A stimulated mind promotes a healthy brain and even an aging brain can grow new pathways and connections when challenged and stimulated. I’m sure that I will continue to take classes and perhaps take on the challenge of learning a new language after I turn 50, but I really enjoy learning about things that appear to have no impact or benefit on my daily life. That is until I find a way to work some of it into a conversation at a cocktail party. Angela acknowledges that my knowing a little bit about a lot might make me an interesting cocktail party attendee.
How about you? Do you have a favorite bit of useless information stored in your memory banks? Do you engage in life-long learning activities? Feel free to share.
My mind has been so preoccupied lately that I almost forgot that I am celebrating a milestone birthday in just a matter of days. That is until a couple of friends reminded me by e-mail today and one of them thoughtfully welcomed me to the “old farts club”. For that minor transgression, I am making them buy me lunch.
The reminder triggered self-reflection and questions of goals and accomplishments. Am I the man that I set out to be? Is there still time to transform? Do I even care at this point?
The caption in this art work reads “It does not matter how others see you. But it is important how you see yourself.” I strongly disagree with that sentiment.
Dear friends, we spend a good deal of time and effort creating our personal brands whether consciously or unconsciously. And while we think we know how we are being perceived, we don’t have the faintest idea how we are coming across to others. Studies show only a minor correlation between how you think your viewed and how others view you. For example, you might think that you are engaging and gregarious in public situations. But if people tend to shy away from you at conference gathering, they could find you boring or stand-offish. If people are shying away from you, their perception of you is closer to reality than your own. Why? Because numbers matter. Our individual encounters with one another may be distorted by bias or ego-centrism, but in aggregate the chance of coincidence is dramatically reduced.
My wife Angela often accuses me of having a “dark soul”. I certainly hope that is not how I am coming off to others. It certainly is not a part of my branding strategy. I am not a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty kind of fellow. I am closer to being a what’s-in-this-glass and why-this-particular-glass kind of guy.
I spend a good portion of my day analyzing data. Everything from audience ratings data, to web site analytics, to financial performance; the aggregated data gives as accurate a picture of performance as any. In that same spirit, I turned to friends and family to measure their perception of me against my own.
Based on individual one-word responses that describe me, I created 5 themed buckets to categorize what people think.
The fullest bucket was Attitude.
The Attitude bucket contains descriptors like candid; determined; opinionated; intense; and relentless. These can be both positive and/or negative and you’ll get no argument from me. The more colorful descriptors include “fierce”, assigned by Anne Messenger; former classmate Hillery Brown’s “whimsical”; and colleague and friend Ron Jones’ “Mackdaddy“. I literally LOL’ed on that one. I’ll admit that I give off plenty of attitude; both good and bad. No doubt partly resulting from my quick-tempered, irascible, and determined demeanor.
The second fullest bucket was Cultured. In the Cultured bucket you’ll find descriptors like fashionable; jazzy; debonair; worldly; and renaissance. I particularly appreciated former classmate Tina Tarrant’s “Metrosexual”; former classmate Sharon Faulcon-Harney’s “quintessential”; and my good friend Lisa Resper France’s “Bon Vivant”. Classy ladies…very classy. It’s true. I dig fine food, a good bottle of wine and a kick-ass pair of wingtip brogues.
The third ranked bucket was Intellect. Smart; intellectual; thinker; well-rounded; and informative were common themes. I enjoy learning and sharing information. It is important to work for continuous improvement. And while my wife Angela often says that my head is “full of useless information”, the act of discovery is an enjoyable part of life for me. I appreciated my friend Jay Washington’s comment, “I actually look for your post and enjoy interacting with you.” Likewise brother!
Bucket number 4 was the Values bucket. Former WAER student Jim Patry claimed I was “fatherly” which made me feel real old. Others said caring; supportive; familial; grateful; profound; and dedicated. My favorite response was from my 15-year-old daughter, Hadiya, who described me as “devoted”. I almost teared up on that one.
The 5th and final bucket I called Physical. Strong, manly and handsome represented the few sparse crumbs of accolades for my “old fart” physical being. Though Jen Bailey Robb referred to me as “eye candy” and that was the highlight of this exercise.
So how did our views of me align? There was some agreement and some disconnects. In my view of myself and how I present through word and action, I would have thought Cultured would have topped the list. It was a very close second so, in that sense, we were pretty aligned. The disconnect, however, in our views of me is apparent in the high aggregation of Attitude descriptors and the relatively low consensus on Intellect. I’ll refrain from telling you all to kiss my ass for fear that I’ll be accused of giving off too much attitude. While I don’t consider myself an intellectual in either professional discipline or high academic achievement, I do highly value intellectual pursuit, intellectual conversation and the need to question everything. I am, after all, a public radio professional.
When it comes to your personal brand or reputation, it’s not about how you view yourself. What matters is how the world sees you. As I draw closer to crossing the 50 yard line, I am comfortable with how the world sees me. But I still have some work to do.
I don’t know if I woke up that morning with a plan or, like many boys, decided to turn found junk into opportunity. Or perhaps it was another kid’s idea. But the plan on a hot, sunny, summer’s day in the early 1970’s was to catch some frogs. Nothing at all unique about this endeavor for rural preteen boys, but for urban youth, it required a measure of planning and adventure.
2438 Seabury Rd in the Cherry Hill section of Baltimore, MD was home. It was my home. I lived in Section 8 housing but I didn’t know it at the time. A single mom and two boys living in an apartment on the right-hand side of the court, eventually moved to a townhouse over on the left. That court was our world and we did not often venture far beyond its borders except to cross the street to the elementary school playground and basketball court, or to the nearest corner store to buy penny candy. We all new each other. It was the kind of place, and a place in time, when the neighbors were empowered to discipline you. And the maintenance workers might toss a football around with you in between tasks.
On this day, though, we were going to catch us some frogs. But where? First things first. We needed a vessel for the frogs. My friend Keith, a brown, lanky kid with a small afro, and my brother’s friend, Tony who was a year or two older, joined me as I rummaged through neighbors hot garbage cans for frog storing containers. We emerged with plastic jugs and milk cartons that we, with ghetto ingenuity, transformed by cutting the tops off and creating handles using pieces of twine.
Now, where? Beyond the borders of the court and the elementary school, sat the Patapsco River which fed into Baltimore’s harbor. Good for catching crabs, not so much for frogs. Our attentions turned west to the train tracks.
Someone told someone who, in turn, told Keith that creeks and streams ran parallel to the tracks so we surmised that frogs must exist in the general vicinity. In tank-top, cut off shorts, Jack Purcells and pals in tow, I headed west for a couple of miles in search of amphibians. Along the way, Keith tells tales of strings of fireworks that dangle from passing trains. He tells us, “If we can hop the train without getting caught, we can snatch some firecrackers to take back home.” Even as an 8-year-old, that hardly seemed plausible. But what the hell, I was up for anything.
The tracks were rusty looking and raised above grade. They were surrounded with crushed stone on each side. To our delight, a stream ran along side a portion of the tracks, among a thin line of trees. Even at 8 years old, I had experience catching frogs. My grandparents bought a parcel of land in Carol County and I spent many a summer’s day catching frogs, snakes and turtles. So I lead the way. We filled our containers with water from the stream and set them on leveled ground.
Wading ankle-deep, hands held 6 inches or so apart, we moved slowly so as not to disturb the wildlife. Frogs sat along the bank of the stream, unsuspecting, warming their cold blood. Keith, too anxious, misses his first. He mutters a choice profanity or two. I snag my first. Then a second. The others join in with better success having watched a pro in action.
In the distance, we hear the clacking of train wheels on tracks drawing neigh. “Firecrackers”! Keith yells. The frogs that we managed to catch were put into the 3 containers and sat closer to the tracks. We waited patiently and grew excited as the train came into view. Keith told us to run along side the train and grab any rail or handle to pull ourselves up. I think Keith lied about the fireworks. I saw none. Still, hopping a moving train seemed fun and so we moved, like experienced hobos, to make our way on-board.
The train appeared to move slow on approach but seemed to gain steam as it was upon us. Clacking with rhythm. Clacking with purpose. And so were we. Moving alongside the train as fast as our little preteen legs could carry us. We three intrepid boys searched for something to grab onto. I trailed the other two and began to run out of steam. Keith and Tony kept trying in earnest. Laughing and running along side the cars, looking for something, anything to grab a hold of. Hands on knees, huffing and puffing, we three boys watched the train move on down the line. Victorious.
An overwhelming sense of relief washed over me. I was scared and afraid to admit it. Not afraid of getting on the train, but getting off of the train. Jumping off of a moving train was not something I even remotely wanted to attempt.
We made the long trek back to the frogs, failures as hobos. What seemed like miles of track was most likely a few hundred yards. Back at the site, the frogs were gone, containers smashed. Shocked and perplexed, we three boys stood there silent, speechless, and dumbfounded. Who would do such a thing? Who would ruin the perfect afternoon? It was such flapdoodle that we struggled to comprehend what might have transpired during the short time that we chased the train. One frog remained in my plastic milk container, smashed and bloodied. A sad and truculent act.
I watched Keith’s eyes as he spied a figure emerging from the tree line. A boy, much older than the three of us, carrying a hunter’s bow with bladed arrow. This older boy told us that he was looking for some “white dudes” that assaulted his father. I couldn’t help but wonder if this would-be hunter of white dudes was not himself the capricious, frog-murdering bastard that ruined my afternoon. But Tony and Keith were enchanted by the bow and arrow and did not share my suspicion. They had never seen and hunter’s bow and arrow up close. Neither had I for that matter.
“How far can that thing go?”, Keith chimed. “Really far”, answered the stranger. Now he had my interest and attention. “Let me see”, I added. “Shoot it up”, I pointed to the sky. The stranger, bow in left hand, motioned with his right, gesticulating that we give some clearance. He pointed the bow upward, pulled the string back to his ear, and loosed the arrow. It flew straight up, climbing until it was out of sight. We three boys stood, planted in the gravel, mouths wide open and eyes bulging out of our heads. The stranger’s faced turned from a look of accomplishment to having a real “oh shit” moment. “Run!”, the stranger yelled.
Without knowing the intricacies and particulars of the laws of gravity, even we three boys knew that what goes up, must come down. We scrambled. Nervous laughter echoed and gravel flew as we made our way to the tree line. My foot slipped and I landed on one knee. With a thud, the arrow landed in my back. Lodged into my right scapula.
I don’t know what was worse, the pain or the shock of being shot. Given all the wide open space, what were the odds that a single arrow shot into the air would find its way through my flesh and into bone? I fell face down in the gravel, arrow shaft sticking out of my back. Cowboys and Indians for real. The stranger panicked. He grabbed hold of the arrow with one hand and placed the other hand on my left shoulder. He yanked. He shouldn’t have done that. Every western movie you have ever seen said don’t yank the arrow. But he yanked. And he ran. I stood. And I bled.
Gash in the back and bleeding profusely I, with my friends, started the long trek back to Seabury Rd. The energy drained from me with every step. The sun grew hotter and my tank top began to stick to my skin as the blood coagulated. The boys were concerned but none of us had any idea how serious the situation had become.
There’s a term that sports announcers like to use when referring to a shooter’s hot streak – the heat check. The reference relates to the next shot that a shooter takes to test just how hot he/she is. I too have a “heat check”. It happens when I reach for my wife Angela under the covers to see if I can generate a physical reaction. An equipment check if you will. A good portion of the time, I am less interested in intimacy at the moment and more interested in the equipment appearing in good working order.
Virility is a major concern of men over 50. We are far more concerned with having strength, stamina, energy, and a strong sex drive than we are in the degradation of youthful appearance. The heat check, for me, is a way to gauge my virility. Lately, I find that recovery from vigorous workouts is taking a bit longer, my energy is down, and I think about sex far less than I ever have. And I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t a concern. This is my new reality.
It’s a concern of many men but we just don’t talk about it. When men talk about sex, the conversation is full of half-truths and gross exaggerations. Rarely does the discussion center around issues or concerns. I had a recent conversation with a friend who shared some of the same concerns and described experiencing similar psychological and physiological changes. It was comforting to know that I wasn’t alone in the journey.
The saying is that men think about sex every 8 seconds. While that claim has never officially been proven or disproven, I can guarantee you that it is a lot. At least in our teens, 20’s and 30’s. My friend pointed out that if we had focused our thinking and directed our energy on other things rather than the thought and pursuit of sex, we might be brain surgeons or astrophysicists today.
When the fellas get together to talk about sports, their golf game, careers and family life, here’s what we are NOT talking about:
Andropause – the male version of menopause. Yes, there is such a thing. Also referred to as “aging male syndrome” (AMS), andropause happens roughly the same time that women experience menopause: somewhere between the ages of 35-70, but most commonly experienced in the early 50’s. In its simplest form, AMS is the decrease of the male hormone testosterone. Symptoms include a loss of energy, lower sex drive, decreasing strength and endurance, mood changes and erections that are less strong. All difficult things to discuss with your homie. I can imagine the conversation, “Hey Joe, how’s it hanging?” “These days it’s hanging low and a little depressed. How about you?” Crickets.
Erectile Dysfunction – While not a direct result of aging, impotence can come with age due to increase risk. It can be caused by mental, emotional, or physical factors. It can also be a side effect of certain medications or excessive drinking. Concerns about developing ED could lead a man to perform the occasional “heat check” on his wife. How do you even start a conversation about this with another dude? It’s easy actually. Just ask. “Yo, how’s your sex life these days?” And hope that he is completely honest with you. According to the National Institute of Health, 5% of 40 year-old men suffer from ED. So if you’ve just finished a full-court basketball game with the fellas, bring up the issues of ED, and they all say there is no issue…the shortest person on the court is lying.
Attachment – Here’s an interesting one. Apparently, as testosterone levels decrease and oxytocin levels stay the same, men tend to attach more to their partners after sex. Testosterone can drive sex and interest in sex while oxytocin (the love hormone) is responsible for bonding partners and children. A 2012 study that increased oxytocin in monogamous men found that they were attaching themselves more to their partners after sex. So the conversation after shooting hoops goes something like this, “Yo, want to grab a brew or something later?” “Naw man. I think I’m going to stay home and cuddle.” Crickets.
Recovery time – It used to be that the amount of time that you needed to recover for round two with your babe was about 15 minutes or so. That was in your 20’s. According to the Male Health Center, the “refractory period”, the time it takes to achieve another erection, can take 24 hours or more for men in their 50’s. But if you’re like me, you don’t even want to think about it until next weekend any way.
The Premie – A University of Chicago study showed that 31% of men in their 50’s experience premature ejaculation. There are two primary reasons for this: anxiety and penis-centered sex. Penis-centered sex puts more pressure on the male organ than it can handle. Actually, that sounds kind of fun, huh? Anxiety comes with concerns over performance. The pressure is daunting and can lead one to “fire one off” well before he or his partner is ready.
The possibility of interesting and helpful conversation exist if we would assiduously share our experiences and concerns with one another. One thing’s for sure, I’m not telling you mine unless you tell me your’s first.
Now that turning 50 has taken root in my thoughts, I can’t help but wonder who else is in the same boat as me. Luckily, the advent and subsequent popularity of social media has created an unprecedented network of peers. I can watch high school friends, childhood friends and family members age right along with me. I can get all up in your personal business…and I do. I can see who’s trying to keep fit, eat healthy, and evolve their personal style. I could develop comprehensive peer-to-peer benchmark reports from Facebook data alone if I wanted to. But you’re already in the boat with me. It’s not terribly exciting data. I’ve spoken with many of you and received your comments on the last post to know how you are handling the big 5-0. So my mind has turned to more trivial matters. Like who are my peers in Hollywood and media? How are they holding up? Are they aging gracefully or getting some custom maintenance? If I were single and on the market, who could I dupe into going out with me? How do I stack up physically with the dudes? Let’s take a look at who will be joining us in Club 50 in 2015 and play a little Could I Date Her/Could I Take Him:
Baltimore native sun Muggsy Bogues turns 50 in January. Muggsy and his Dunbar High teammates stole plenty of joy from us Walbrook Warriors. I thought we had a pretty good team back then but we could never get past the Poets. I’m not quite sure what he is doing with himself these days, but Muggsy is looking older than 50. I expect more from a former athlete. Could I take him? Physically, I think I can take Muggsy if I can keep him from going low. At 5’3″, if he gets me around the ankles, I’m done for.
Actress Diane Lane hits 50 in January. She is still in great shape and doesn’t appear to have augmented anything. But what do I know. Could I date her? I think so. I’m charming, well traveled (in the eastern United States), and she looks like she might enjoy a glass of fine wine, something that I’m great at pretending to know a little something about.
The star of Sex in the City will reach the half century mark in March. Always the style icon, SJP keeps it together. She must eat like a bird and train like an athlete to keep that shape. Could I date her? Probably. She’s married to Matthew Broderick…what more do I need to say?
I wish I could turn 50 like Robert Downey Jr. I admire his style. Always dapper. And some killer eye-wear! The one-time drug abusing bad boy of Hollywood has really turned his life and career around and I respect that. And he is in fantastic shape. Could I take him? Doubtful. He’s probably learned some fight techniques during his Iron Man training that my Cherry Hill, Baltimore hustle, Bruce Lee movie osmosis thing can’t keep up with. Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t give it my best shot.
Comedic genius Martin Lawrence joins our club in April as well. From stand-up comedy to television to box office Hollywood hits, Martin Lawrence has experienced great success. I don’t think I ever admired his fashion style though. Nothing wrong with it. I just prefer a more classic look. Can I take him? Yes. Looks like success has made ol’ Marty Mar a little soft. Plus, when has a comedian ever scared you? I could take him while even having consumed a couple of Vesper martinis.
CNN anchor Fredricka Whitfield is beautiful, stylish, and appears to be defying age. Qualities that you need if you are going to have longevity in television broadcasting. Let’s be honest, no one at Syracuse University cares about what I look like sitting behind my desk or behind a radio microphone. The pressure on women it the television broadcast industry is palpable so she has to stay on top of it. Could I date her? Yes. I just need an “in”. Broadcast media is my “in”. After a couple glasses of wine and a lengthy discussion on digital disruption of traditional broadcast media…BAM!…she won’t know what hit her.
Melissa McBride, one of the stars of AMC’s The Walking Dead, will turn 50 three days after I do in May. She’s in great shape and I love how she rocks the salt and pepper pixie cut. It is most likely for TWD show but you get an idea of what she would look like if she decided to maintain a natural look. Much like the way actress Jamie Lee Curtis did and does. Could I date her? Probably not. I’m such a huge fan of the show that I would most likely trip over my words, geek out during a meeting, and mistakenly refer to her as Carol. Immediate turn off don’t you think?
Kadeem Hardison, AKA Dwayne Wayne, is another of our contemporaries. He turns 50 in July. Over the years, the kid with the flip-up sunglasses has experienced some significant shifts in weight. He’s rocking a natural salt & pepper look like us average Joes. His personal style says that he maintains a deep connection to his hometown, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. I can respect that. Can I take him? Yup. Dwayne Wayne is looking a little soft these days. Plus, he’s tall at 5’11”. If I can get down around his ankles… game over.
No one’s spark is hotter than Viola Davis right now. As she approaches 50 this coming August, her maturity as an actress positions her nicely for diverse roles. She can take it from the matronly servant to the energetic power broker. And she doesn’t look 50. But you know what they say about it not cracking. She has a beautiful smile and keeps the body tight. Though my wife Angela says that she has never seen her in a wig that compliments her. Looking good at 50 though. Could I date her? I don’t know. She seems too serious. I might come across to goofy and immature. But if I can get her to sit with me on a park bench and talk about people as they walk by…I have a shot.
I know that I a lot these folks don’t keep regular schedules like we do and have plenty of time to work with personal trainers and have personal stylists, but they inspire me to enter my 50’s fit and in style. Fit at 50. That’s my goal.
Back in May of 2014, I wrote a somewhat humorous post on the angst of turning 49. Some 8 months later, I now sit 119 days away from turning 50 and the angst is still very real. Considering that most of my friends and associates are about the same age, this is a conversation that I have had on numerous occasions. Inevitably, the “age is just a number” comment comes into play. As does, “you are only as old as you feel.” To which I say, “bullshit”!
Despite what nonsense people spout, 50 is not the new 40. 50 is 50 and it has a psychological impact on you whether you admit it or not. My mind is too curious to carry on about my day, about my life as if nothing changes when that half-century mark hits. I want to know what to expect both physically and emotionally in the months and years that follow. I hope that, in understanding the possible impact, I am better able to deal with the change in life. The Man Up blog will chronicle my journey of discovery and neuroticism, my thought process and emotional vicissitudes from today until May 20 (the 50 mark). I hope you will join me and share your experiences as well.
For a lot of men, the concern of aging isn’t out of fear of getting old. It’s a fear of losing potency. The image of ourselves that we hold on to is one of a strapping young, virile man with energy and stamina for days and it does not jibe with the image that we see in the mirror. The number 50 is a marker. A midlife marker that distorts our self-image. We’ve likely lived more than half of our lives with key markers along the way: finishing school; getting that first career job, pair bonding, child rearing etc. Those markers are ones that we expect and plan for. For many, at least for me, 50 represents the unknown. How will my career wind down? What will I do in retirement? Can I retire the way I want? Do I have enough resources? Will I be alone? When will I be alone? When will I lose virility? That thing about 50 being the new 40 is so untrue. At 40, you still have relatively young children, a good 25 years or so of work ahead of you, perhaps even another career move, and many more things to accomplish. With 50, the window becomes shorter. Younger, more talented people enter the workplace with highly developed skills. Your years of experience in the new technology environment becomes less valued. Technology itself begins to slip away from you. Your music choices become more nostalgic. People start calling you “sir”. Dinner out starts at 6 o’clock. You’re in bed by 9 p.m. Multivitamins, Ensure and adult diapers are on the horizon.
50 represents change and, for men, change is not growth. For men, change represents the loss of something. In this case, the loss of time, the loss of virility, the loss of potency, the loss of effectiveness. I feel like I can still walk up to a young Mike Tyson and kick his ass…in my mind. But it doesn’t reconcile with my cracking bones, aching feet and arthritic knuckles. Yeah, 50 is screwing with me. I’m not going to lie.
For me, 50 is going to be a time of self-reflection. From what will I derive satisfaction? How can I be a better lover? A better father? A greater contributor to life, community, and business. I will learn to live with a new reality. Cope with the aches and pains and mood swings.
Quite a bleak outlook, I know. I also know that we have advantages over our fathers and grandfathers before us. We have better healthcare so we are living longer and healthier. We have more tools in the tool box like the internet and access to research, studies and articles. Greater income to do more things and acquire more shit. We also have an openness and willingness to talk about how we feel and what we are going through with our partners and friends.
In the weeks to come, I will dive deep into the abyss to discover what lies ahead for me over the next 10-15 years. Perhaps I’ll learn a few things that will help me cope and better prepare or discover the secrets to juvenescence. Or consider it all rejectamenta and just drink more wine.
If you’ve already crossed that marker, I’d love to hear about your experience. If 50 is staring you in the face, I’d equally love to know your concerns, if any.
Until next time Hominids…keep it on the good foot!
As of this writing, I am a full 457 days away from turning 50 and, if you can’t tell by this advanced obsession, it is not sitting well with me. I never thought I would be the type to over-contemplate the aging process. After all, I consider myself a man of science. I understand aging and its role in the circle of life. But it does bring about an internal dialogue that I find particularly disturbing.
This is not a happy blog post. It is one full of angst, fear and trepidation. There is no “grab-the-bull-by-the-horns” pep talk here. Doom and gloom are the name of the game and the sky is indeed falling.
The featured photo here is from a site that allows you to age your face. I chose a 30 year aging for laughs but, instead of chuckles, I damn near cried hysterically. This is how I know that when the big 50 comes 457 days from now, my wife had better be equipped with a jumbo pack of Kleenex.
The picture disturbed me because I still remember the reckless little boy that ran the streets of Baltimore with hair that made me look like a feral child raised by wolves. I remember the high school boy overly concerned about pulling off a preppy look. And Joe “Black” the afrocentric, kente cloth wearing, Haki Madhubuti poem spewing rebel who was going topple the “man’s” social construct. I remember them with vivid detail. What has become of those Joes?
What does 50 have in store? How about 82? For more laughs (or torture) I calculated my life expectancy using the Social Security on-line calculator and discovered that, as of now, I can expect to live to be 82 years old. Not that I want to live that long. But it is only 33 more years or 396 months of remaining battery life. I need a plan to prepare myself for 50 457 days from now. What am I going to do to cling to my youth? Have I made a difference on matters of which I have some bearing? Am I prepared to survive another 20 years? What will be my quality of life? Do I spend my final years selfishly or helping others? Do I chase the kids off my lawn while wearing boxer shorts, black socks and slippers or do I let them play? Do I drive around for 30 minutes trying to find the closest parking spot that I can? I can not stop these thoughts from haunting me during the contemplative bathroom moments.
I don’t quite know what I am going to do but I do know what I am not going to do:
I will not celebrate with a party. I don’t think I will be in the mood to celebrate the final third of my life with people that just want free booze and food.
I will not color my hair. I can’t think of anything more desperate and artificial.
I will not grow “mitties” or “moobies”. If I have to perform 200 push-ups per day to keep the chest tight, I will.
I will not let my stomach eclipse the view of my shoes. I pay enough for them and needs see them.
I will not accept the AARP card. I’ll hold off for as long as I can or until the deals are just too good to turn down.
I will not stop having sex. Angela Lee…you can run but you can’t hide!
I will not let my nose and ear hair grow to a length that can be braided.
I will NOT wear dad jeans. Under any circumstances.
I will NOT listen to classical music. These old ears will continue to rock out even if the volume has to be much lower than normal.
I will NOT dine before 6 PM. That is lunch any way you slice it.
Fretting these things can’t be good though. I realize that it is quite natural to want to preserve your youth in the face of decrepitude. Perhaps my biggest fear has nothing to do with physically aging but grounded more in the fear that I will cease to be useful. Cease to be relevant. I do think about and fear all of these things during the quiet times. But then I think that the zombie apocalypse will be upon us before we know it and this worry will all be for naught. They will surely need my expertise and leadership then.