Graham Phoenix refuses to get old and expects to become a cantankerous old man.
My parents-in-law are visiting: it’s their first trip to Spain. They have the resigned look of people waiting for life to fade out. They fit in here, in this seaside town full of English ex-pat pensioners wondering what to do with their lives and their money.
I am just a few months away from becoming an official ‘Old Age Pensioner’ (a UK term for the more gentle US term ‘Senior Citizen’) myself. I will be grateful for the State Pension, having paid into it my whole working life, but I don’t feel old. I am the same age as many of the tired people I see in ‘Koi’, my favourite cafe, but I feel as I’m from a different planet.
I am overweight and find hill-walking difficult. I no longer run, perhaps more through laziness. My hair is white and I enjoy more rest than I used to. I need glasses to read but I don’t feel my body failing. I don’t see age sucking me down into its abyss. I don’t think about death or what might have been.
I think of the future and all the things I want to do and I trust that I will have the time.
Some men in their fifties see their lives fading away. They start to count the physical failings and see them as ticks of a clock winding towards midnight. These old men make me sad and they make me angry. They feed the paranoia people have about getting old, encouraging people to think that fifty is the start of the end.
I laughed last year when I read a blog post from a 25 year old girl who was worried that time was running out on her being able to achieve what she wants in life. The fact that she was approaching thirty was a sign of impending doom for her.
Staying young in your mind is not about positive thinking. It’s not about pushing the future away and pretending to be younger than you are. I see many men in jeans and tee shirts who are pretending, and they look even older. They are not accepting what they are: they are refusing to acknowledge the signs.
My secret is to fully accept who I am, fully accept the age I am and fully accept the opportunities that await me. A year ago I started my third career and I intend that I will be as successful in this career as I was in the previous two.
I left school at eighteen and ran away to the theatre. There followed many hectic and exciting years working in drama, ballet, opera, even in a strip club. I was a Stage Manager, an Electrician and a Lighting Designer. I travelled, worked, drank and, occasionally, ate and slept. I had fun and I didn’t take care of myself. I swirled through life until one day I found I was in my thirties. I was married and was about to start having children and I knew I couldn’t carry on living as I was.
I faced that old question,”What am I going to do?” I had been working for around 15 years and I had no real career to follow. Could I catch up? I looked at my age and worked out that I could do everything I had done, since I left school, twice over before retirement. That didn’t even account for the additional years I might enjoy. My uncle died when he was 94, almost 30 more years beyond retirement age. On that basis I could do it all another 4 times, as long as I was physically able.
The remaining 30 years of my life so far has been taken up with a new career and family. I became an Architectural Lighting Designer and established a large body of work and a reputation. I loved what I did and I made lots of friends amongst colleagues and clients. I always vowed to retire from the job at 60, but not to retire from life.
When I left lighting design, I began a career as a writer, teacher and mentor, something I have always wanted to do. This is a great time to start it: with a wealth of experience behind me and opportunity in front of me. If I live to my nineties, which I fully intend to do, I will have the same length of time doing enriching work as I spent building my last career. Writing, teaching, and mentoring do not rely on physical ability, unlike both my previous careers. As long as I can type and use the internet, I can work.
My children have learned that I am independent and capable of looking after myself. I think they expect me to become a determined, cantankerous old man, not someone that can be put down in a old people’s home. If they do not already, they will find out.
Men can carry on being physically potent and can enjoy sex until they die, if they look after themselves, and can become fathers into their eighties. Women have a clock ticking inside them. I know from living with women what the menopause does for women, psychologically as well as physically. The women say they have to accept it and adjust to it. It’s said that men have something similar to menopause. Maybe it’s true, but it doesn’t have the physical immediacy or intensity of women’s experience.
Sexual potency is one thing that changes differently in men and women, in my experience, but the world of the mind continues, and the body will carry it where the mind wills, in men and women, alike. A friend of my mother had been a Girl Guide Commissioner and a very active lady. She lived on her own in her late seventies after her husband had died. She was planning a trip to China to visit some remote areas. Her daughter came to visit because she was worried about the trip, considering her mother’s age. Her mother stopped her as she was persuading her against the trip. The mother said, “I’m sorry, dear, if I inconvenience you by dying on the trip, giving you all the bother of shipping my body back home, but rest assured if that happens you will know that I died happy!” The daughter shut up and, of course, the trip went well with the mother having a fabulous time.
May you all, men and women, look forward to years of fun and danger and may you scare the wits out of your children. As a man I have been gifted with an ability to keep going. I fully intend to honour that gift by being everything I can be until I drop dead.
—Photo credit: Linda Cronin/Flickr