So there I was, minding my own business, living my best life when all of a sudden this old guy snuck up behind me and took over my body. I don’t think I can kick him out, either. Maybe some day, but it will probably be fatal. Tis a bother.
You may find I will be harping a bit on this subject. You see, I’ve never been this old before and I’m learning how to be a senior, or an old fart. I’m not used to it. I find it interesting that I look far older in pictures than I do in the mirror. Why is that? (Don’t answer; it’s rhetorical.)
This was my first week running the business I’ve been working at for nearly eight months. The owner had to return to England with his family to renew their visas and for him to take care of some family business.
It wasn’t a surprise. He had asked me early on if I was prepared to do it and I told him I would be happy to. Today was fairly slow, but the guy who’s been helping me out—and who I’m training to replace me when I get a job more suitable to my skills—decided not to come in.
I had to do a bit more than I expected to and by the end of the day I was whipped. I don’t generally have any problems doing the physical work I have to accomplish each day, but I ain’t no spring chicken and some days I really do feel my age. Today was one of them.
Going to bed early so I have the best chance of getting a refreshing night’s sleep. It will be another two and a half weeks before the boss returns. Fortunately, there are cell phones, texting, and email.
I started writing this post a couple weeks prior to my 74th birthday. Then all hell broke loose with my younger daughter and I had to drop just about everything I was doing and work diligently with her. The issues remain and we’re still figuring out how best to deal with these newly surfaced problems, but I’m finally getting back to writing and posting here. The next four paragraphs were written in May. The rest was written today. If some of it seems a bit disjointed, it’s likely because I forgot exactly the point I was trying to make and have added a bit of speculation and a conclusion that may not track as well as they could. C’est la vie!
You’d think a man my age wouldn’t be paying close enough attention to approaching birthdays all that much and, for the most part, that may be true. It’s not like I’m obsessed with my birthday. There was at least one year where I completely forgot about it until my mother asked what I was planning. Many others have passed that weren’t all that important or memorable. But something has changed … very recently. I’m realizing the prism through which I view the world has tilted a bit. This tilt is primarily a result of my age and what it means for me as an individual and as a functioning member of society.
I’ve been giving it a little thought and I believe I understand the dynamics of what’s happening. When we’re young—and even into our 40s, maybe 50s—we’re generally looking forward to improving our lot professionally or with respect to how we make our living. Usually, with age and experience come greater responsibility and authority, as well as increased income and growing benefits … if you’re lucky. Once you reach retirement age, things begin to change. Suddenly opportunities aren’t as easy to come by. Advancement may even stop, with the exception of very few positions, which are reserved for only a few.
In most of the world age and wisdom are revered. The elderly are respected for their accumulated experience and knowledge. In the United States of America, that just isn’t the case. We are a society enamored of youth and derisive of age. We tend to toss people aside once they reach around 65 years of age; the deadline we’ve set for determining retirement eligibility. I’m way beyond that, but I’m just beginning to realize the changes I need to make in my thinking in order to smooth out my final chapters.
When I was in my thirties I came to the conclusion the only thing I was truly interested in achieving was wisdom. Yet I knew that it not only came with age, but one can’t merely hang out a shingle declaring oneself a wise person. That’s for others to determine. At least, that’s how I see it … if one isn’t a charlatan. What’s happening to me now is I’ve realized, viscerally as opposed to intellectually, I am at an age where growing older has nothing to do with improving my lot in life, at least not with respect to employment or professional standing.
I believe my task now is to strive to accept the physical and intellectual limitations brought on by the aging process, while strenuously working to minimize their destructive or deteriorating effects in whatever way I’m capable of. This is why I have been going to the gym to lift weights. It’s also why I write. As well, I’ve decided not to just sit back and be “retired.” I still have a great deal to say. I’m still deeply interested in the direction our country is going in. I care for my daughters and my wife and want to be here for them as long as possible, while staying as healthy and as “in touch” as possible.
I think there’s something deeper that’s going on with me and my view of the world, and I think I was approaching it when I began this post two months (approx) ago. Unfortunately, my memory is suffering from what seems to be a combination of old age (which might means either it’s degrading or I just don’t give a shit about many of the things I did before) and the lingering effects of having Covid-19 at the beginning of the year. Which means I’ll have a lot more to say about this as time goes by. Stay tuned!
There are two books that have had an inordinately large effect on my life. One of them I can remember large parts of and can offer reasonably intelligent analyses of what the author was trying to say. The other one I can hardly recall one thing about, save for the overall message the author was trying to convey. The reason these two come to mind—and have affected me so greatly—is that they’re closely related conceptually and their messages resonate and overlap, at least as I see them and I’m pretty sure that’s about all that counts.
The first of these two books is “The Wisdom of Insecurity,” by Alan Watts. The second of these books is “Passages,” by Gail Sheehy. Without going into any detail, I’ll merely note that each of them speaks to the inexorable rhythms of life and the inevitability of change. They also offer a philosophical approach to dealing with those rhythms and changes that offers one a chance to navigate them with as little friction and pain as possible. I read the book by Watts in my early twenties. At the time I was head-over-heels in love with a young woman, but the relationship wasn’t to be and she broke up with me. I was young, impetuous, and prone to bouts of manic happiness and deep, dark depression.
I somehow found the book; how is lost in the mists of my slowly calcifying synapses. Perhaps it found me. It wasn’t the first book by Watts I had read. That was “The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are,” which I found quite helpful in navigating the changes I was going through shortly after high school, a short stint in the U.S. Navy, a slightly longer stint as a businessman, a somewhat shorter flirtation with Haight-Ashbury in the Summer of ’67, and a steadily growing antipathy toward the nation’s conduct of the war in Vietnam.
Another thing I thought interesting, and somewhat serendipitous, was the juxtaposition of the release of two Beatles records that coincided with my reading of these two books by Watts. When I read “The Book: …” the Beatles had just released “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey.” The book was kind of my introduction to Zen Buddhist philosophy and the concept of the dialectic as represented by the Yin-Yang symbol. I was beginning to understand the duality of nature and the essence of all forms of evolution. Some of the lyrics in the song point out that same kind of duality, e.g. “Your inside is out when your outside is in. Your outside is in when your inside is out,” and the title of the song seemed to resonate with Watts’s message that we needed to get in touch with our actual selves (our “inner monkey”) if we were to understand our place in the world and not color it with the expectations of others.
The second song, which coincided with my reading of “The Wisdom of Insecurity,” was “Let It Be” which, as I understood it was the message Watts was conveying about the reality there is no such thing as security, that all things are in a constant state of flux, and the only way to (paradoxically, a very Zen concept) achieve any semblance of security—no matter how ephemeral and transient it may be—was to stop seeking it.
Sheehy’s book, as I recall it (and I only read it once, whereas I’ve read The Wisdom of Insecurity three times) had a similar message, but it was less on a spiritual and philosophical level and more on a practical, everyday “here’s what to expect” kind of approach. She wrote of what she referred to as the “passages” we all go through as we age and gain experience, while everything around us is changing and moving forward.
The reason I’m bringing this up is because I have reached a point (a passage, if you will) in my life where I find far too many reasons to prepare myself for the end. I’ll be 74 years old three months from today. Next month I will be fourteen years older than my father was when he died. I realize I’ve reached an age where I could, conceivably, live another decade or more, but I could also drop dead tomorrow. There sure are a lot of people doing it who are younger than me.
Throw in the reality that I still have two daughters at home, one of whom is a Junior in High School, the other a Freshman in College, and it’s producing a bit of a tension arc that I’m struggling to put behind me.
I’m not trying to be morose, or overly glum. I am, however, attempting to approach what is definitely the autumn (more likely winter) of my life with as much spring in my step and lightness in my heart as I can muster. I need to understand what this passage I’m experiencing is all about (Sheehy did not write about septuagenarians) and position myself to take advantage of all it might offer. If there’s one thing I have learned over the years, it’s that there’s always benefit to be found in nearly every situation, at least until there isn’t (if that makes sense.) I am an optimist, so even when I get deeply (perhaps depressingly) introspective, I usually snap out of it within a few hours or now more than a day or two.
I’m looking forward to what the next stage of my life is going to offer. Both of my girls will be on their own in a few years, God (or whoever’s in charge of these things) willing and the creek don’t rise, and Linda and I will be on our own again. The difference for us, is we won’t be in our early to late fifties, like most people who have their families when they’re no older than their thirties. As long as I know my girls are doing well and taking care of themselves (which is an entirely different story) I’ll be OK with whatever happens. I will say this. Not having to help with high school homework will be deeply enjoyable!
OK, so I’m not actually a grandfather though, at 73, I believe I’m old enough to be a great grandfather. Alas, I am but a father . . . and an adoptive one at that. My children are 19 and 16 and, although they are growing more and more independent, my youngest still has two years of high school remaining and my oldest wasn’t ready to attend college the past year and is only now taking six units at our local junior college. She kinda had to be coerced into doing that.
I bring this up in part because I’m feeling the inexorable acceleration of my physical and mental decline as I age. I’m thankful I notice it and, truth to tell, there are times I’m not sure I know what’s truly happening. I often say I’m unclear as to whether my memory is going, or I just don’t give a shit anymore, which means I find it far more difficult to pay attention to those things I don’t give a shit about.
Being stuck almost exclusively in the house during this pandemic presents its own challenges as well, and I’m pretty sure it’s adding to the pressure I feel to keep up with my kids and help them as best I can. At the same time, I have come to realize we really don’t have enough retirement savings to generate the income we require . . . at least not while the kids are here consuming large quantities of food, etc.
My oldest was working part-time for a while and she would have been able to reduce the burden somewhat, but when they decided she could no longer work remotely, she knew that wouldn’t fly at the time due to my and my wife’s ages, as well as our underlying conditions. This was especially true at the time it happened because there was a great deal of uncertainty then regarding how COVID-19 was transmitted, as well as resistance to the actions that would mitigate some of the risk, e.g. social distancing, wearing of masks, etc.
Truth to tell, there are times when I find myself understanding, somewhat viscerally, why some men “give up” and die after retirement. My situation is considerably different than most men who have reached my age, and the need to be there for my girls is a powerful motivator. Still, the angst and conflict sometimes wear me down.
To top it off, there are lots of physical consequences to aging I don’t believe most people even consider until they’re older. One of those is leg cramps. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the majority of adults over the age of 60 experience leg cramps at least once every two months. I’ve been experiencing them for years and have found that increasing the amount of potassium in my diet seems to keep them partially at bay. The easiest way for me to get that supplemental potassium is by eating bananas.
Unfortunately, the night before last reminded me I must not be eating enough of them. Normal leg craps—at least for me—happen mostly in the anterior muscles of my lower leg (looking at an anatomy chart, I believe the muscle involved is the Tibialis anterior, but don’t hold me to it.) This time was very different.
I awoke to the realization I was having a cramp, but it manifested itself by pulling my left big toe completely back so it was nearly vertical with relationship to the plane of my foot. It was painful and took nearly five minutes to slowly push it back to horizontal, where it belonged. I hope to never experience that particular form of cramp again as long as I live, though I have no confidence that will be the case.
One of the things I wanted to accomplish with my blogging was to share my experiences of aging. I haven’t checked the stats lately, but a decade ago there were very few bloggers as old as I am and it seemed I had the opportunity to share something that is both universal (in that we all age, unless we die young) and specific (in that it’s happening to me.) I hope I’ve done that, regardless of whether or not many people read what I write. I’ll continue doing so because it’s somewhat cathartic for me, it’s a way to leave behind some proof I actually existed, and it’s helping me in writing my memoirs, which I hope to finish sometime next year (though it may have to wait until my youngest finishes high school.)
I didn’t really realize until Linda pointed it out, but helping my youngest with her classes is forcing me to relive High School . . . and I hated it! I cut so frequently, it took me an extra semester and two excruciating terms of Summer school to graduate. And she’s only a sophomore!
Concurrently, time is beginning to exert itself. I had no trouble keeping up with my kids through my sixties, but my energy level is waning, probably exacerbated by the need to stay put, which results in lack of exercise and eating a little too much . . . of some of the “wrong” things.
Oh, well. It’s raining (actually, mostly drizzling) outside, so gloomy seems to fit the moment.
Welp . . . after a Summer vacation punctuated by a month of Summer School, the new school year began yesterday. As it now stands, I have another three years of taking my youngest to High School and picking her up. That means I will have just celebrated my 75th birthday when she graduates, unless I can afford to buy her a car before then.
Problem is, She has so many issues I’m worried she will be a real danger behind the wheel, not so much to the world, but to herself. I should be able to afford driving lessons for her pretty soon, then we’ll find out how well she’s going to do.
I have to admit I’m reaching the point where I really miss being a grown-up, solely a grown-up. If I live to be 90 I’ll have plenty of time to enjoy my children as adults, and plenty of time to once again enjoy being an adult. Since I’m already close to 13 years older than my father was when he died, I’m not sure I’ll make it that far. Which, basically, leads me to believe I need to just appreciate what I have now and stop worrying about the future. I’m normally pretty good at that, but it seems the beginning of school has jarred my psyche somewhat.
Kind of interesting to be spending part of my birthday waiting for my younger daughter to get out of school. I hadn’t quite put my foot on what always feels just a bit strange every time I’m here.
It finally hit me. It’s the knowledge I’m at least 54 years older than the oldest kids here. I’d venture to say the vast majority of parents here are no more than 30 years older than their kids. I mostly don’t feel like an outlier, but I am.
I’m also processing the reality that Alyssa had far more challenges than Aimee, who also has three friends who’ve known each other since kindergarten or the first grade, and whose families we have spent a lot of time with over the years. Alyssa doesn’t have any friends like that, which troubles me deeply.
I guess I’m living in interesting times. All I have to do is stay healthy and productive for about another eight to ten years. Slice pie!
I’ve been blogging now for at least 13 years. My first post on this blog was on January 8, 2008. Prior to that, I had a Blogger presence I called The Cranky Curmudgeon, where I mostly vented about things that pissed me off and that I thought might piss off others as well. Those posts still exist. You can find the first of them, which I posted on February 23, 2006, right here. Some of them I reposted here in “Systems Savvy.” Prior to that I had another site on Blogger called “A Muse Me”. I can find the reason I said I was starting the blog, but I can’t find any posts and I have no recollection of writing—or deleting—any of them.
I had many reasons for blogging. Prior to starting my own blog, I was blogging internally at Rocketdyne and wanted to test my voice outside the firewall. When I retired in 2010, I realized there weren’t very many people my age who were active bloggers. I reckoned, in addition to offering my thoughts on Systems Thinking, social media for business, religion, and lots of politics, I thought I might shed some light on what it’s like as one ages and approaches the end of life. Not in the way folks have blogged about their terminal disease (as I don’t yet have one), but rather about the aging process when one can only guess at how it’s going to go . . . and the evidence keeps changing as time rolls by.
People who have followed this blog site for a while no doubt know that I have had surgery to have a melanoma removed from my lower back, as well as a few lymph nodes taken from my arm pit and my groin. I spent an awful lot of time out in the sun as a boy and young man, when the only thing anyone wore for protection from it was zinc oxide. When I used to surf we put it on our noses and lower lips. Otherwise it was things like Coppertone or baby oil with iodine in it. We were enamored with being tan, which meant we were “fit”. Little did we know just how damaging being out in the sun so frequently was.
When my family used to go for three and four-day weekends to Palm Springs, which was generally the only kind of vacation we got, I would invariably get a really bad sunburn on my shoulders and back, which required me to wear a t-shirt in the water for the rest of the time we were there. I remember my skin peeling in sheets and thinking how cool it looked, never realizing the damage I was doing to myself.
Fast forward to today. I was going to start this post off by using the term “chicken skin” because that’s what I thought people called what happens to human skin when one reaches a certain age and it becomes a bit parchment like. It’s also referred to as crepe skin. I am fortunate in that, even at almost 72, I have virtually no wrinkles on my face. I do, however, have a lot of wrinkles and other weird things happening to my arms . . . especially my arms, probably because they’ve received more sunlight over the years than any other part of me.
I mentioned this to my dermatologist and he said it’s just normal, aging skin. Nevertheless, the transformation is something I find fascinating, especially when viewed at through the magnification available with my iPhone XR. Below are two photos. Actually one is an enlargement from the other. I was sitting in my car, waiting for my younger daughter to get out of school when I took this pic of my arm. I actually used the magnifier, took the pic at the high magnification level, then pinched out to the whole photo, both of which I saved to my phone. Note the first one looks pretty normal, at least for a man of my age. Yes, it’s a bit wrinkly, sports a few freckles and moles, and may be a bit dry, but still pretty normal.
This second one, however, is (for me) a mind blower, especially when you look at my skin in juxtaposition to the cloth of the shirt I’m wearing. BTW – this is an enlargement of the inner elbow from the above photo. Even looking at my arm as I’m writing this, it doesn’t look anything like it does in this enlargement. I think it’s a combination of the magnification and the angle of the light hitting my skin. I still can’t get over how weird it looks, though.
So . . . any of you out there who read this and are in your thirties, forties, or fifties, here’s something really exciting for you to look forward to. You’re welcome!
I have written previously about my feelings regarding the passage of time. In case you don’t feel like going back and reading, here’s the relevant portion:
Lest you think I’m being melancholy, I’m not . . . though I will admit to occasionally feeling as though time has slipped by far too fast. However, I have a trick I use to deal with that and I’ve been doing it so long I really don’t think about it much any more.
I’m of the opinion the feeling that time has slipped by far too fast is a low-level form of self-pity. That trick I mentioned is something I used to do many years ago when I sensed I was feeling sorry for myself. I would pick a day, perhaps six months or a year ago, and try to recreate all the things I had done or experienced in the intervening time. I never made it to “today” because I always got bored from “reliving” all those things I had already done. Nowadays, I don’t even have to go through the exercise. I only need to remind myself of its efficacy.
I bring this up to explain my feelings (somewhat) when I worked on — and now look at — this collage I made of pictures of me and Aimee, my oldest. I’ve been teaching myself Photoshop and one of the most valuable skills one can master, IMO, is that of layering; and not just using layers, but being able to manipulate pixels through selecting and masking very selectively. While there are plenty of technical issues one must master in order to be able to successfully create multi-layer pictures (in a timely manner), there is most definitely an art to doing it well.
So . . . I’ve been practicing with creating memes and sarcastic photos of the Groper-in-Chief, as well as touching up some personal photos and creating new ones from old ones. Here’s the picture I put together that’s now causing me some consternation:
Aimee and Daddy
I was most interested in the speed with which I could select and create layer masks for each one of these photos (there are 10 separate pics, plus one barely visible as background). Resizing, aligning them properly, and putting them in the right order is not terribly taxing or time consuming, but selecting and masking requires some patience. This is especially true when you have essential tremors and your hands shake, at times almost uncontrollably. I also experience occasional “jerks”, where my hand just jumps for no specific reason, at least none I can discern.
Now that I finished and posted it — actually, yesterday on Facebook — I’m taking some time to enjoy the photos. They are, after all, some of my favorite pictures of the two of us. It’s important to keep in mind, I was childless until my 56th year; long enough to be pretty convinced I would never be a parent. I was resigned to this fact and content with my situation. Little did I realize I would have a 14-month-old, 25 lb. bundle thrust into my arms halfway around the world in the People’s Republic of China, shortly after my 55th birthday. The story behind how my wife and I decided this would be a good thing to do is a long one, and I have no intention of going into it here.
I have now been a father for 15 years. In addition to adopting Aimee, we returned to the PRC to adopt our younger daughter, Alyssa, when I was 59. I’ll do a collage of me and Alyssa at some other time. I don’t know if I have enough pictures of the two of us; second child syndrome and all like that, but I’ll put together what I’ve got.
What’s bothering me now about this picture is, every time I look at it I’m reminded that she is now a full-blown teenager and, as such, I represent everything wrong, lame, and stupid about the world to her. I know our relationship will never be the same. Actually, I knew it the day we adopted Alyssa, who was a real handful — still is, and that’s not hyperbole in any way. This, however, is somewhat different. I’ve watched enough of my friends’ and family’s children grow up and go through this. It’s not like I’m surprised or taken aback by it. It’s just that experience tells me she may not appreciate me again for another five years or more.
I’m 70 years old and already over a decade older than my father was when he died. I’m healthy, take pretty good care of myself, and expect I’ve got a while to go. However, even if I live into my eighties, we won’t have a great deal of time together. I only got a couple of years to enjoy the relationship my father and I started building in my mid-thirties. I still miss him and occasionally lament not having had much time with him after we worked out our differences. I want more time with Aimee when we can once again relate to each other without her being embarrassed or confused.
I do want that relationship with her, though only the passage of the thing I’m not sure I have a lot of is going to allow it to happen. I guess I have no choice but to wait. Do I have to be patient too?
Since my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in 2010, I have spent quite a bit of energy on developing work as a social media marketer for small business, a business manager for an AI software development firm, and as an editor/proofreader for a number of business books and a couple of novels, as well as a two-year return engagement at Rocketdyne from 2015 to 2017.
I have decided to stop actively pursuing business in these fields and am now positioning myself to be a writer. I have done quite a bit of writing over the years, but I’ve never really attempted to make any money at it; at least not specifically. I’m starting out with a couple of memoirs and, currently, I’m studying the craft, creating a detailed outline and timeline, and honing my skills as a storyteller. Pretty sure I’ll be writing some fiction as well.
The views expressed herein are those of the author. Any opinions regarding the value or worth of particular business processes, tools, or procedures, whether at his former place of employment, at a current client's enterprise, or in general, are his responsibility alone.