BRYCE ON AGING
I recently wrote this for a good friend on the occasion of his 80th birthday. He is a great guy and I wanted to encapsulate a lot of what we have discussed over the years.
As Jack Benny said, "I don't deserve this award, but I have arthritis and I don't deserve that either." And if you don't know who Jack Benny was, you've missed a lot.
My friend is now entering his 9th decade and is doing a bit of trail-blazing for our group. I started to think about what both he, and all of us, have learned along the way. So, I want to review this by decade.
IN OUR FIRST TEN YEARS
Early on, we develop a dependency on our parents who try to teach us valuable moral values. If they do not, it defaults to churches, scouting, teammates on the playing fields, schools, or the media (which has a lousy track record these days). Parents check out our friends to see if they are good for us; if not, we hear about it. "Stay away from that punk, he's an idiot," they said (and quite often they were right).
If we are lucky to have them, we love our grandparents, not because of opulent gifts, but by the love and attention they provide, such as homemade baked goods, trips to the zoo and museums, knitting and sewing, fishing, and attendance at our first baseball game. They also try to teach us the history of the family and our cultural background which, hopefully, we will heed.
We attend school and develop friends, some for life. Some of us love school, others revolt against it for many years, and fight the system.
This is the "Age of Discovery." You learn what you like to eat and what you abhor. To this day, I still can't bring myself to eat lima beans or liver.
It's a glorious time and your only true vacation from life, you just don't know it at the time.
Boys and girls discover the charm of the other sex, but don't understand why. We learn to dance with each other, most doing it badly. Boys either know how to get along with girls or are clumsy as they fear catching the deadly "cooties" disease.
You learn about death, through a grandparent or other favorite relative. Suddenly there is a void in your life which we do not understand. Most of us never figure it out, other than to say we wish we had spent more time with the person.
We enjoy the simplicities of life, such as a root beer barrel, rock candy, an ice cream soda, your grandmother's homemade cakes and pies, owning your own bicycle (which you take everywhere), picking some fruit, catching a fish, or buying a comic book. As a kid, you discovered a dollar could go a long way and we saved every penny.
We suffer numerous bruises, breaks, cuts and accidents. At first, mothers panic, but as it happens more repetitively, they begin to say, "Oh, he'll get over it."
Mothers never sleep and constantly listen for signs of mischief. They offer classic maxims like, "If you're not careful, you'll put your eye out," "Be careful or you'll blow your hand off," and "Wait until your father comes home." If you really got out of line, you got swatted. In my house, you got "the strap." Even my grandmothers kept a flyswatter or switch nearby to keep us in line.
TEENAGE YEARS (11-19)
We are quickly moving towards maturity, and stand in awe of puberty. Mother's maxims change to, "Stop it or you'll go blind."
It is at this age where we learn we have to make our own decisions. What our parents had to say was important, as well as our peers, but we reluctantly learn we are ultimately responsible for our actions and decisions and nobody else.
Physically, our bodies grow and change, and our hormones rage. This is when the parents give us "the talk" which we're all surprised by; but I think Hollywood has changed all that. I think our grand-kids can now give us a better "talk." It would be scarey if we replied, "Gee, I didn't know that."
We take on small part time jobs, be it at a gas station, drug store, flipping burgers, or whatever. From this, we learn the important concept of "responsibility;" that we will have to work with others who depend on our abilities, regardless of how mundane we think the job is. My first job was as a SOHIO station attendant in Cincinnati where I pumped gas for $1.65 an hour. At our station, gas was 35 cents per gallon (but I also knew places where you could get it for 29 cents). Regardless, this simple job taught me responsibility, how to work with the public, and the necessity for portraying a proper image; I was not just a "grease jockey," I was a representative of a big company who taught us to wear a clean uniform, cut our hair, and make everyone feel welcome so we could cultivate return business. Now, it is just the reverse.
As we come to the end of the teenage years, we knew we were running out of time, and adulthood was just around the corner. We also knew we would have to seek independence soon, and it scared us.
Our choices were simple:
* Get a job
* Go to college
* Attend a trade school
* Attend the military - where you learned structure, discipline, and gave the person a sense of purpose.
What we choose during these critical years affect us for the rest of our lives.
It is during the teen years when we learn to drive, scaring the hell out of mothers, and driving fathers crazy as they watch their car insurance skyrocket. Driving a car, teaches us the joy of independence, and to be a responsible driver; because if we screw up here, we can hurt more than ourselves.
We develop an attachment to the music and film of our time. At first, we listen to our parent's music, but we quickly gravitate to our own. Parents don't understand the music and constantly yell, "Turn that garbage off!"
Teens also start to experiment with booze and drugs as a form of escapism. The sad thing is, particularly with drugs, it can lead to death. As such, understanding addiction becomes incredibly important.
Studies from around the world show there is a proper sequence to follow in order to succeed in life: Education -> Career -> Family
If you get this wrong, you will have a difficult time in life. This has been proven all over the world, and starts to become obvious at this stage.
As my father-in-law used to say: "We have 30 years to learn, 30 years to earn, and 30 years to burn (the money)."
This leads to marriage. I tend to believe you should be certified in order to get married. I've seen too many people marry for the wrong reasons, particularly one based on sex only. As a Notary Public in Florida I have had the opportunity to marry people. I always admonish them to think of marriage like the Tango, that beautiful Latin dance requiring the skills of both partners; and that is what marriage is, a partnership requiring commitment, and like the Tango, marriage can be just as beautiful if you do it together.
The seeds of religion were planted years ago in Sunday School, but they begin to blossom now. As a youngster you weren't sure what everything meant. Baptisms and confirmations were mysteries, but we begin to understand it was mostly lessons in morality. Now, in our twenties, we seek such morality, we want to pass it on to our offspring, and we take comfort that a higher Supreme Being is out there.
With a family underway, we become a little more self-conscious about the world around us. We take out life insurance to take care of our family and put aside money for college tuition (Yes, this all begins in our twenties, if we are lucky). We also start to become sensitive to our civic responsibilities, such as voting and jury duty, something nobody prepared us for.
At work, we are aggressively learning our craft. We discover there is a big difference between a career and a mere job. We all seek enjoyment in our chosen craft, but many settle for just a job. The ultimate goal of work is to leave the world a better place than before we got here.
Sometime during this decade we start to ask the disturbing question, "Have we become our parents?" Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you interpret it), the answer is, "Yes," as we find we have to make the same decisions our parents made.
Our house becomes a major investment for us, we now have an un-Godly amount of insurance on our houses, cars, and medical. So much so, insurance agents start to smile when they see you are calling them.
We now have little ones underfoot who demand our attention, particularly at school functions, clubs and on the athletic fields. Now is the time to teach them the importance of good grades and being courteous, such as writing a sincere thank you note to someone, particularly grandparents.
It is at this time you become more active in nonprofit groups, such as churches and temples, fraternal groups, professional associations, homeowner associations and school groups. You do this more for peace of mind than anything else.
At work, you are becoming a master of your craft; people look to you for resourcefulness in getting a job done.
Yes, we are definitely starting to become our parents.
When we reach the age of forty, we say "Whoops," as it dawns on us that our life is half over and we better get moving. This is when we start to take on more responsibilities and become managers and department heads.
Our management style either involves micromanagement, telling everyone how to do their job, or we manage from the bottom-up by carefully training our people, empowering them, and turning them loose on their work. You learn you cannot afford to have people love you, as you've got to get a job done. Nor can you afford to be Atilla the Hun. Your goal is to promote teamwork and discourage rugged individualism, thereby creating win-win situations for everyone.
I've found that once you enter your fifties you become more reflective on where you've been and where you're going. Now, more than ever, you embrace a sense of family, particularly as your children graduate, get married, and start families of their own.
One nice thing about becoming a grandparent is you are now at liberty to spoil your grandchildren. You give them money, candy, and toys, and their parents begin to wonder, "Who is this guy?" "Is this the same guy who made us do chores, cut the grass, and keep the house clean for fifty cents?" While your children scratch their heads, you finally get the last laugh.
At work, you have earned senior status, and become an important resource to the company as you mentor and try to educate the younger people. If they're smart, they will listen as you possess the history of the company. You also can describe what has been tried and failed, and what works. Hopefully, they'll listen.
I call this, "The Big Slow Down."
When you turn 60, people start treating you differently. "Ok old man, sit in the corner, eat your cookie, and we'll take it from here." You still have a dance or two left on your card and still want to make a difference, but management and the younger workers begin to shove you aside.
It is also at this time when Retirement raises its ugly head. Some people welcome it, others resist it. Now we have to think about Social Security, Medicare, Insurance supplements, and keeping a constant eye on our portfolio.
You find personal conversations with your peers change from such things as management, production, and the competition, to things such as sciatica, macular degeneration, Milk of Magnesia, GasX, hemorrhoids and impotence. And it occurs to you, it was more fun the other way around.
You consider attending your 50th high school reunion. Some will go and have a great time catching up with old friends; others will remember the jerks of their class who are still witless. Consequently, you decide wisely to stay home. After all, we have Zoom don't we?
This is when we become more cognizant of the changes around us:
* We cannot relate to the fashions of the day, preferring clothes and material from our younger days. For example, we can no longer find the type of underwear we wore for years.
* We no longer understand the vernacular. For example, people say things like "Woke," "Meme," "Apps," and "Social Equity," and we scratch our head.
* We do not understand their music and dancing. Frankly, it looks like a group of people in heat.
* We start forgetting things, be it a name or word, or even worse, to shave, brush your teeth, or wash your hair in the morning. You've done it for so many years, you believe you already did it. You are also apt to lose TV remotes, cell phones, and keys.
* The political world has changed. It is totally different than what you remember. You just don't get it. Nor do you understand the morality of the day. It is not what you grew up with.
* Due to our gastrointestinal problems, we now eat food in smaller portions and it's more bland.
* Travel, which was considered a great joy earlier in life, is now considered loathsome. Besides, we no longer have the strength to climb mountains anymore.
* We have difficulty with the technology of the day. We use smart phones for nothing but communications, and ignore the hundreds of icons on it. Plus we still write checks and balance bank accounts using paper; either because we do not know how to set it up, or we simply do not trust the banks. Regardless, we develop a dependency on our grandchildren to fix the TV remotes, cell phones, and change all the clocks.
* In terms of romance, we chase each other around the bedroom but quickly forget why.
* Friends pass away without notice and we find ourselves alone.
Basically, we are afraid of getting beat up by age. We're a little heavier now, we've lost or are losing our hair and hearing
It is around this time, we lose a spouse, and life is not the same anymore. There is an emptiness inside us and feel like we've lost an appendage. For those lucky to have stayed married all these years, enjoy every moment together and cherish your time. You are very lucky.
We now find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of being matriarch or patriarch of the family, something we didn't sign up for, but now expected to pick up the check at family dinners.
You may not be strong anymore, but you're smarter now. You are no longer able to pick up large stones or move refrigerators in a single bound, so you find other, more imaginative ways to get the job done, such as picking up the phone and calling a son or grandson.
You start planning for your demise by making sure your wills and related paperwork is in order. You also begin to consider who was good and bad to you over the years. You also negotiate with funeral homes for services and your final resting place. Many people think this is morbid, but you want to do what is right. One suggestion before making the final decision: alcohol. It's easier to face a mortician when you are inebriated as opposed to clean and sober.
You find you spend more time in doctor offices than any other place, for tests, biopsies, consults, or routine checkups. You find your trips to medical facilities commands your social calendar, and you object to it. Interestingly, in doctor offices you can still find the same issues of "Boys Life" and "Sports Illustrated" you read back in the 1960s.
Physicians tell us to take a multitude of pills and medicines, thereby becoming the largest meal for us during the day. We take so many pills and medicines, we feel like a walking test-tube experiment. It's very dehumanizing.
Then again, everyone insists you get some form of exercise, even if you've got bone-on-bone in your knees, neuropathy in your feet, your spine is out of alignment, bone spurs in your shoulders, and you now wear an adult diaper. Nevertheless, to keep people happy you go to a gym to stretch, lift weights, walk, and use bicycles. Does, this honestly make you feel better? Hardly, as your arthritis is still in a "seek and destroy" mode in your body.
What is most important is to keep your mind active. You read more, particularly history. Most people think you're crazy for reading a hardbound book as opposed to a computer tablet. They think you are not in step with the news, but you are actually more aware of what is going on than younger people. You are also much less interested in being "politically correct," and more interested in just enjoying life.
You finally discover that the simple things in life are the best. Trinkets and expensive toys no longer impress you. All you want is:
* the love of a good woman.
* a good drop of whiskey, perhaps a cigar, and some stimulating conversation.
* Plus a good root beer barrel every now and then.
Your mantra is now KISS: Keep it Simple Stupid.
I really cannot speak about this decade with any authority, but I presume it is time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life and keep it simple.
Again, to quote Jack Benny, "Give me golf clubs, fresh air, and a beautiful partner, and you can keep my golf clubs and the fresh air."
I guess the point of this essay is to realize we live in a constant state of change, and our ability to adapt over time. This that tests our fortitude. Some recognize change for what it is, and others openly resist it. Some people think the secret to longevity is simply to remain current with technology. I tend to believe it is an amalgamation of such things as technology, fashion, our vernacular, customs, and changing moral values. This is difficult to assimilate, particularly when you grew up with certain values. As for me, I don't worry about such things and try to treat people courteously and professionally, with a little common courtesy thrown in.
Just remember, there is no denying an old Bryce's Law, "If there is anything constant, it is change."
Keep the Faith.
Tim Bryce is Host of "Senior Voice America" in Clearwater, FL, Mon-Fri, 8-10am, TAN TALK RADIO, 1340AM, 106.1FM.
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