In the year before I turned 60, I had a hard time accepting the new decade I was about to enter. While I was in my 50s, I could still consider myself middle aged. But at 60, I believed that would change. I didn’t feel it, and people who were nice would tell me I didn’t look it, but I felt like I would officially and technically be “old.”
This triggered many debates with my friends about exactly what age constitutes “old age.” During which I was forced to concede that age is just a number and that you are only as old as you feel (and several other Baby Boomer created aphorisms designed to make us feel better about getting old).
The dictionary defines “old” as: having lived for a long time, no longer young. This seems purposely vague to me. In researching the subject further, I found that there is no specific and universally accepted age where “old” begins. Many Senior Living Centers accept residents who are 55 and older. Many senior discounts begin at 60. The traditional retirement age used to be 65 but these days people work well into their 70s, either out of necessity or because if they get fired they’ll probably sue for age discrimination.
In the immediate aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, we were told the “elderly” were considered a high risk group and were given priority treatment at many stores, markets and hospitals. So it became more important than ever to clearly define this age group. Which we never really did.
So I looked up “middle aged” hoping to back into a number where “old age” begins. The definition read: aged about 45 to 65. Still less than specific, but I can accept that. Even though some people I know over 65 would argue that point with me…probably until the day they die.
Oh sure, to people over 90, 65 is young. But conversely, try to remember how you thought of 65 when you were 20 or 30. Or ask anyone under 30 if they think anyone over 65 is old. So just admit it. Don’t fight it. Embrace it. “Old” should not be a dirty word.
There are several politically correct alternatives to “old” these days, the most accepted of which seems to be “elder.” But I don’t know too many geezers who would actually prefer that term. We could start using a euphemism like “vintage,” like we do with wines, cars and fashion. If we called ourselves “vintage people” then maybe everyone else would think we’re cool or valuable. Of course, it does sound a lot like Village People, and we wouldn’t want to get confused with them.
Why do I think we should all clearly define and accept the word “old”? (I’m glad you asked.) Because I know too many people over 65 who get insulted or indignant when they are referred to that way. I’m sick and tired of people denying that they are elderly and buying into the stigma of old age. As if it brands them with a secret shame they have to carry for the rest of their lives. So what if young people look down on us or make fun of us. They have no idea what it’s like to be us. At least, not yet.
I used to be guilty of this kind of ageist thinking. I remember one time when I was about 10 years old, I was with my father, one of his friends and his adult son. At some point, the adult son affectionately referred to his father as, “my old man.” This shocked and upset me. You see, my father had me later in life and I was very sensitive about his age and the fact the he was older than all of my friend’s fathers. The fact that someone would casually call his father an “old man” made me feel bad for my dad. So I later told my father that I would never call him that. My father just chuckled and explained how it was all right and I could call him whatever I wanted. As long as I don’t call him late for dinner. (Dad humor.)
My father was never embarrassed about being older than most people he encountered. He knew that being older does not make you “less than.” Quite the contrary. It actually makes you “more than.” You have more experience, you probably have more money and you definitely have more wrinkles. He taught me to look at older people with love and respect, not sympathy or disdain.
There was even a time, when I worked in an office, that I felt self-conscious about being one of the oldest guys in the room. Especially when some of them took to teasing me about it. Then, through the magical wisdom of age, I came to realize that I had nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. I was going to retire soon. These guys would be working their asses off for decades to come.
So don’t be offended if someone calls you an “old man” or an “old guy” or any fair description of your advanced age. Just like they shouldn’t think we’re being condescending if we call them “young man” or “young lady.” (Although, that is something only an old person would say.) We’re all just accurately identifying each other’s age groups.
Don’t buy into society’s obsession with youth that’s designed to make them more powerful and to diminish us. You shouldn’t feel pressured to dye your hair or get a facelift or wear age-inappropriate clothing because you think it will make you look younger. Sometimes, they just make you look funnier. Besides, you’re not fooling anyone. You might be able to knock a few years off your appearance, but old is old and nobody thinks you’re young anymore. It’s one thing to want to look good, it’s another thing to try to look young.
You had your time, let it go. Embrace the inevitable. Age gracefully and wear your wrinkles with pride. After all, you earned them!