I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at photos of white men lately. When I view someone who might be in my age range, I guess the age, and then go to Wikipedia (if they are famous) or some other source to see if I was right. When I guess 75 and he’s 50, I exclaim, “Yes, I look much better than that!” (My wife always agrees). I’ve never been so vain.
I’m a white man turning 60 at a time when the world I grew up in is in some ways unrecognizable. But I don’t feel that is a bad thing. I grew up at a time when gays and lesbians were called pejorative names, we stayed clear of African-Americans, and Latinos were invisible. Today some of my dearest friends are gay, black, and Latino. I know that sounds trite, kind of like “if I have a minority friend, then I know their pain and journey.” I don’t, of course. As a white man, I’ve been given all the privileges that our chauvinistic, racially prejudiced society could bestow upon me. Thank you. But it’s not something I’m proud of. Do I feel guilty? Sometimes. Can I make amends? Maybe. Should I try? Yes.
But the point is more about turning 60. The world changes and we all age. I’m in the vanguard of the 60/60 generation: born in 1960 and turning 60. Next year I will see my high school graduating class mark that milestone. I’ve recognized that I’ve aged through the 40s and 50s but didn’t pay much mind to it. Of course, I’m visiting the doctor more and now have a specially designated shelf in my dresser for all my meds. I think you’ve arrived when you get the “shelf.” Decisions that I only in passing thought about are now facing me. When do I start collecting Social Security? Tap my 401k? “Retire”? I put that in within quotation marks because I don’t know what retirement really means. I work as a consultant and teach college part-time. I guess I could do that until—when?
Ironically, I’m a career coach also. And I’m increasingly working with individuals who are formally retiring (some with nice pensions) and are now thinking about their next chapter. Much is written about “encore” careers. Just ask AARP. My dad lived to 62, and I’m fortunate that my mom is still around at 85. If I averaged them, I figure I’m still in it for about 15 years or so. So, what does work, play, rest, and everything else that constitutes “life” look like now?
I recently read an article on the need for relevancy as one ages. Even people with esteemed careers feel that need as they age. The advice given was to find work and activities that provide purpose and offer yourself to others as an adviser and mentor. I do that now, and I will tell you it’s very meaningful. I often now spend hours with younger people looking to start their careers. I like hearing about their aspirations and dreams, but I also feel the pain of their anxiety about the future. I offer specific advice, but more often I’m listening and reassuring them. The times are “a changing” like never before. And what the world will look like when my adult children are my age is anyone’s guess.
I’ve decided to embrace the road ahead. I know there will be difficult and painful (even physically painful) choices to make. My father and mother in law live with my wife and I, and they are in their 80s. Living with your parents at our age might seem uncommon, but it’s how much of the rest of the world lives. And it’s been remarkably beneficial for our children. But my wife and I know we will soon deal with loss.
Our children are now both out of the house, a daughter in college and a son working as an engineer. Our door (and their rooms) is always open to them. (We are not planning to Airbnb their rooms, at least not quite yet). But we recognize that our relationship with them has now changed, and they will increasingly be less and less a presence in our lives. We are close though as a family, so I am hoping that residual connections will continue to offer us time together. My wife and I now recall what life was like for us when we first married. I think we have a lot to look forward to.
Many white men my age are angry. Maybe they have good cause. Though we had all the advantages growing up, today it is more precarious for us. I struggle with the resentment that some of my friends and family members feel. They resent the change, and rather than embracing the future, seem to want to hide from it. Well, you can’t hide, and embracing change—or at least recognizing it—is best. Learning is possible at any age. We can learn to see people for who they are, their dreams and aspirations, regardless of where they come from, or who their partners are, or the color of their skin. I want to be part of that future. Maybe I can offer some comfort to my friends who are struggling and some reassurance to those following me trying to find their way.
But, now, I’m off to yoga (the “gentle” kind).
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