My 38th birthday was last week—though there wasn’t much celebrating going on. I just didn’t feel up to it. I was in a funk. And I couldn’t figure out why.
And then it hit me.
I’m approaching middle age.
Let me rephrase that. I’m hitting what pop culture defines as middle age.
Looking back on shows like "The Wonder Years," "All in the Family" and—most recently—"Mad Men," middle-aged men, just like Jack Arnold, Archie Bunker and Don Draper, are unhappy fathers who are incapable of change; grumpy most, if not all, of the time; and not a whole lot of fun to be around. That’s what I think of as I get older.
And sometimes, I can be this way. So what does this mean? At what age does middle age begin? Am I already there? Or is this just the beginning of the downward spiral toward this particular milestone in life? And is this something that just happens naturally, like the change of seasons?
I know that times change and modern medicine allows us to live much longer lives than even just 20 years ago. So after Googling it, I found out that the average lifespan of a modern American male is about 76. So after dividing that by half, I’ve deduced that I should hit middle age at 38. Wait …huh? S#&%!
Wait a minute. That can’t be right.
To try to shed some light on this (and to try to make myself feel better), I took to Facebook and asked people what they consider to be middle-aged. I got answers ranging from the mid-30s to the 60s. In other words, nobody is really sure—though my cousin pointed out that, medically, middle age begins in your 40s. That explains those cracking noises I hear every time I stand up.
My former rabbi posted something interesting. He quoted Hebrew essayist Ahad Ha-Am: "Those who only see the future are children. Those who only see the past are old. Being in the middle means balancing past and future."
Now, that’s something I can get behind. But I can’t help but think about how in pop culture, middle age is always portrayed as something depressing, a time of the dreaded midlife crisis. Maybe that’s why I’m growing my hair longer. Subconsciously, I’m trying to reclaim my youth, make up for things I didn’t do when I was younger, the regrets I have. Or maybe I’m just scared of getting old. I mean, I’m a Gen Xer. I’m not supposed to be old, right? I’m supposed to be a slacker (which I was for many of my teen years), rebelling against responsibility, reluctant to grow up and all of those things associated with my generation.
I read an article the other day on Salon’s website called "Generation X Gets Really Old: How Do Slackers Have a Midlife Crisis?"
In it, the author, Sarah Scribner, wrote about the differences between aging baby boomers (1946 to 1964); the generation before that, the Silent Generation (1925 to 1945); and my generation (1965 to 1979). The article argues that my generation was always told that our options to achieve the things we wanted to achieve while growing up were limitless. And as we age, we’re realizing that it’s not necessarily true. And so, unlike the Silent Generation, who arguably invented the midlife crisis, Generation X hasn’t necessarily experienced such an event but, rather, many smaller crises while growing up through the 1970s, '80s and '90s because of the nature of the times. Things weren’t as black and white for us. They were gray.
And our parents, who fought so hard for change to live their lives the way they wanted, taught us to believe that we could achieve anything we wanted. And now that we’re getting older, the time for achieving our hopes and dreams is slipping away.
I get that. And I think that’s what my problem is. I’m afraid of not living up to my childhood dreams, of not achieving these goals I’ve set for myself. Even though 38 these days may or may not technically be middle age, I realize that time is not as infinite as I thought it was when I was younger. I have a wife, kids, a mortgage, bills and a job. I have little time to achieve those dreams.
But at the same time, I have a wife, kids, a mortgage, bills and a job. I’m very fortunate. And I get to write this column every week.
So it’s all about perspective. I’ve realized it’s not so bad being middle-aged, if, in fact, I am. And I’m different from Don Draper, Archie Bunker and Jack Arnold. Because as much as I miss my younger days, and as much as I regret things I did or didn’t do, I know that I am in the prime of my life right now. I’ve tried very hard to create balance in my life. And I finally realize that I have succeeded.
Charlie Moss writes about local history and popular culture, including music, movies and comics. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
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