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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The most common question you hear on your birthday seems to be, "Do you feel any different?" Sometimes "older" substitutes for the final word in that question, depending upon how blunt the questioner is. Usually, I give the polite and defensive answer, "no", trying either to sound confident about my continual youth, or trying to avoid conversing about the fact that my knee and shoulder hurt more this year than last.

But now, on my 33rd birthday, the answer is to that question is "yes".

Not for the reasons you might think, though. Aging for me has never been something I've been worried about. I see my father, a man in his early sixties, only noticeably changed from my youth around the beltline and his chin. My father's is blessed with facial hair growth that is, well, glacial. His beard has looked virtually the same ever since I've known the man (just about 33 years now). Steadily, there have been more white hairs (we Smiths don't do gray) in that beard. I remember the first time I noticed them, when I was in high school. He was in his late 40s then, and I remembered that being the second time I was ever truly scared of losing my father. (The first I'll get to some other time.) It may not make a lot of sense, but when your only true frame of reference for getting older seems to be the grade you're in and you've never (to that point) experienced the death of a love one...little things can scare you.

Truth is, it still does sometimes. I look at his face and see the white hairs unmistakably dominating that same beard. I look at his eyes and see them weighted down by oh, so many things. But he's still the same man. He looks the same, he talks the same. He is who he is.

There's a lot of me that's still that kid, looking up at my father, noticing the first white hairs in his beard. There's a lot of that kid that still needs to become a man. I feel that even more urgently today.

I'm not as blessed as my father, so every few days, I spot the same white hairs on my chin before they're shaved off. And yes, I notice physical aging, as anyone with vision does. But for me, it's not the physical aging that's been as important. Everyone gets old. Not everyone grows up.

There are so many milestones associated with aging when you're young, mainly because then, growing older gains you tangible things. At 16, you can get car keys. 18, the vote (and a cigarette when you watch the dismal election returns later that night). 21, a beer. But when you get to be my age, celebration isn't really encouraged. Frankly, there are too many reminders that you're getting ever closer other milestones you'd rather not reach. (The white hairs are a clue.) I ran through When Harry Met Sally... again recently, and was struck when Sally cried, irrationally, the following (yes, the link's in Italian - relax, it's the best I could find):
"And I'm gonna be 40!!!"



"In eight years!"

At first I was taken aback. First, hold up - I'm about to be older than Sally Albright? I've been watching this movie for twenty f'in years! 'scuse me?

After checking the mirror for more white hairs and putting away the Just For Men bottle, I became rational again. (Luckily, it didn't take sleeping with Harry for this to happen, as it did Sally.)

Here's the funny thing - I was cool with being old for once. Having a job (the one that actually pays me) and a personality such as mine might make it difficult to be the old head, but I've seen enough of my friends and family experience the joys and trials of marriage, of parenthood, of all the things that come with being an adult that it's high time I got on with it. Come to think of it, there may be something tangible, after all, that I may finally be getting this year.


And while I love being young, on this birthday - perhaps for the first time since gazed with wonderment at the first white hairs in my father's chin...

...I really want to be a grown-up.

I am who I am. Finally.

  • P.S.

  • This is the 500th post on this blog. Thanks for reading.


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