I sucked at being young. It’s true I still had some fun and exciting times, and did some adventurous and risky things, but through it all I was dogged with high angst and low self-esteem. These gradually resolved as I got older, so getting older was good for me. So, I didn’t especially dread turning sixty – although, anywhere south of sixty isn’t a bad place to be either – I just don’t quite know how to ‘do’ sixty. I feel fine in myself, but the societal messages I’ve become aware of seem to be telling me something else. It’s a bit confusing.
My parents, being the only old people who even vaguely registered on my young and dismissive radar, went in two different directions as they approached and travelled down their sixties. My mother found a new lease on life, and my father floundered. I thought it was kind of cool that my mother had an independent life, but I still didn’t take much notice of it. It never occurred to me to have a conversation with her, although, in my defence, my mother had been noticeably losing her hearing since her mid-forties, so conversation was difficult. Even when she got a hearing aid, she claimed that my voice was too quiet. And shouting gets old (pardon the pun) very quickly. Dialogue usually ended in a stalemate of mutual frustration.
My father had been a very sociable person, although not always in a way that endeared him to my mother. A heart attack at fifty-eight knocked the wind out of his sails, and he was never really able to recover his drinking legs. For him, life became a series of medical events. Then, eventually, his hearing and eyesight started going, as well.
Basically, it was easier to not be involved. Callow youth, and a total immersion in my own life made me not even contemplate for a nano-second that it might have been good to get to know them, and I didn’t think they’d have enough worth knowing for me to just sit and listen. I only got to know my parents better when I looked after them in their frail old age.
I am a baby-boomer, and back then the gap between young and old was a monstrous chasm. The 1960’s arrived, and with them came a rent in the social fabric that divided parents and children in a way not seen before or since. We baby boomers scorned all the values of older generations, and blew off any suggestion that our parents might have something of value to tell us. Of course, some things don’t change, in that respect.
My siblings and I didn’t have grandparents in our lives either, so virtually had no old people who spoke to us. That is no really old people – like over sixty. Simply put, we grew up not having a clue how ‘old’ worked. It was just something to be mocked, and consigned to the ‘no-longer-of-use’ category.
Now, I’m sixty – and I don’t really know how to do sixty. I still feel of value, I still feel that I have adventures to experience, and I still like exploring new ideas. My health is better than my parents’ health was at sixty, and I’ll likely be working past 65. Our culture isn’t well set up to include and value older people, and there’s not much ‘joie de vivre’ currently associated with aging. I don’t want to be side shunted into the corner. I don’t want to be treated the way I treated older people (yeah, now that the shoe’s on the other foot, I want everyone to change). I feel freer and better in many ways than I did during those middle years of responsibility and life-building. So, seems like I’m going to have to get some answers by navigating and mapping this journey on the fly.