“Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without them.”
So goes the saucy statement men are fond of saying about the female side of the human equation. But if you ask those who live with the critters called men, you might get: “Can’t live with ’em, and can’t imagine putting up with this until he’s ninety!” Young ones are more adorable perhaps and can be therefore better tolerated. But what about the silver-backed apes? Do they mellow with age? By most reports, men rarely go “quietly into that good night.”
Men may talk about what it is like to get older, and do so usually with some manly gallows humor, but stumble when we try to find a word to categorize our advanced station in life. It sneaked up on us-that we all know. And it came stealthily and not-we all agree-in its own good time.
Most of us would never cop to calling themselves a “senior.” Many are a bit embarrassed by the Baby Boomer moniker, perhaps because it has been so overused and stripped of any pride. Some of us even look around for the ghost of our father whenever anyone addresses us as “Sir.” There are those who will give some homage to our reality by referring to each other as an “Old Fart” with a metaphorical snap of the towel at each other’s sagging butts.
Yes, all of this linguistic awkwardness could just be denial of our aging. And yes, it could also be the denial of looking in the mirror of our minds and still seeing ourselves with bright eyes and the devilish grin of youth. And then there are even some who can look in an actual mirror and not be sobered by what they see, but instead can view their reflection through the delusional sight of a middle-aged Peter Pan.
Our fathers’ generation seemed to have a more certain grasp on what it was to be an older man. They knew how to dress the part, what was expected of them, what their duties were, even all of the necessary secret handshakes. They were, after all the Greatest Generation, the guys who fought the war that made the world safe for future generations. There was something so John Wayne about them, about their manly certainty. The generation of sons that they spawned, both as young soldiers and then later as heads of state, have waged and mounted two disastrous wars that have left the world less certain. It is a generation of men who are privileged beyond their fathers’ dreams, yet strangely more unsettled about their place in the adamant march of time.
I am certain of one thing about my gender and my generation: We do not feel our fate is sealed, our story is written, or our race has been handicapped. This gives us a certain freedom, yes, and it was something we fought for loudly in our youth. But with this freedom from convention-from even the traditional protocol of how to age in a manly fashion-also comes uncertainty. We are not following the rules of our fathers, but we are still trying to figure our own as we round the bend of life.
The French are very gallant when it comes to referring to their women who have moved beyond youth. They call them “women of a certain age.” There is no such gallant term for the aging male. So I will exercise the freedom I have as an aging, male Baby Boomer and make up one for myself and my ilk, one that I think takes an important and non-delusional look in the mirror.
We are the Men of an Uncertain Age. Let’s deal with it.
Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh is a licensed clinical psychologist with a psychotherapy practice in Santa Barbara. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit his web site/blog at HealthspanWeb.com for more information on the topics covered in this column.