March 29, 2009
Older but wiser
Growing older is inevitable, no matter how many face creams I slap on. But not feeling over the hill is key
By Ignatius Low
It's a bit like the day you lost your virginity.
Some people experience it earlier in life, some later, But it's an experience that you instinctively know is life-changing.
From here on, you've changed trains or buses or whatever, and are on a different track. You're on your way to some place else. Heck, you probably are already someone else.
I'm talking about the day you get called 'uncle'. And it's a day that you will forever recall with crystal clarity.
For me, it was last week when the neighbourhood coffee shop lady - a woman who looked to be about 50 - cheerily came up to me and uttered that fateful phrase.
'Uncle, drink what?'
It did not matter that I was in a tank top that showed off my many hours at the gym. Or that I was engaged in the very modern and young pastime of sending Facebook messages on my very 21st-century iPhone.
In two seconds, she managed to 'crush the lily in my soul', as the British songstress Kate Bush put it in her 1978 classic, Moving.
And then, when she returned with the coffee, she crushed it again with her '$1, uncle!'
Before you think I am just being overly dramatic, I have to tell you why this silly little incident was particularly significant.
Coming from a young person, it might be construed as respectful or polite.
But from someone old enough to be your mother, it has to be recognition of one's own kind. And it hurt. Deeply.
Secondly, it came after a week of feeling out-of-it.
One night, as I was crossing the road to said coffee shop to get supper after work, I ran into a colleague in his early 20s who was on his way to the Esplanade to watch a concert.
'At 11.30pm?' I asked incredulously.
'Ya,' he said. 'N.E.R.D. is playing.'
Trying to fight off a tell-tale blank expression on my face, I made some guttural sounds and desperately nodded my head.
The next day, I discovered that another young colleague had not only gone to see the rap group, she had somehow made it to the after-concert party in their hotel room.
She posted some pictures she had taken with the legendary producer and musician Pharrell Williams on her Facebook page. N.E.R.D. is one of his many projects apparently.
I told one of my friends about this, and enthused about how impressive that was.
But in my heart I knew that if I had met Williams, it would have been a disaster.
Because the only thing an old fuddy-duddy like me could have said would have been 'Good work on the Madonna album, bro'.
'Wow... niiice,' my friend dead-panned. 'That would have been real cool.'
At this point, lots of people much older than me are probably rolling their eyes and maybe even getting a little angry.
One cannot be complaining about feeling old at the age of 37.
In fact, many agree that a man is at his prime when he is in his late 30s and 40s. He has attained some level of success in his career and is financially secure enough to afford the things he wants.
Most men have also started families and are emotionally more mature and stable.
At 37, there are still many milestones and accomplishments ahead of a man. In a nutshell, the best is yet to be.
Then there is the argument that you are only as old as you feel.
Age is just a number, people always say.
If you feel young and energetic inside, then you will exude that vibrancy on the outside - no matter how many people call you 'uncle'.
But if you feel old and defeated, you will shut yourself away and let that negativity eventually take over your life. And this will speed up that inevitable downhill slide into the decrepit existence that you so fear.
I agree wholeheartedly with all of this, for sure.
But there is also a difference between feeling old and feeling over the hill.
The former is more about losing one's physical and mental faculties. And that is hopefully, a long way away for me.
The latter is a different, more intangible kind of loss. It's about losing one's edge and the irreversible loss of one's youth.
So you shun birthday parties at hip nightspots with 20-somethings because your clothes may look the part, but your face doesn't anymore.
And you realise that all the new bands you like play music which remind you of the old bands that you used to like.
Now, some people don't mind this at all.
They are eager, in fact, to quickly transit from growing up to grown-up - from the superficiality and awkwardness of youth to the regularity and rootedness that adulthood brings.
The transition is also more natural for certain people, depending on the type of lives they lead.
My friends who married young and are now raising school-going children have found the mantle of adulthood easy to put on.
They were glad to have traded Saturday club nights for Sunday church mornings. And they are happy working to support their families and watching their kids grow up.
For the rest of us, the road ahead just isn't as straightforward.
The dawn of 'uncledom' isn't so much about feeling indignant towards well-meaning service staff or rushing off to slap on more anti-ageing cream - although I must confess to doing just that.
I'm also considering options for my 'high forehead' which used to signal high intelligence but now just screams receding hairline.
Rather, it's about deciding what the next phase of life should look like, because if you grew up in the 1980s like me, then make no mistake, the last one is decidedly over.
Just try not to hurt my feelings while I'm at it.