I’m just days away from turning 60; the big “six-oh”. On final approach to achieving sexagenarian status.
When I Googled sexagenarian (curiously, I had thrown in an extra ‘t’) a top hit was an article on Lindsey Buckingham being fired from his legendary Fleetwood Mac because he was a ‘sexagenarian curmudgeon’. (https://www.vulture.com/2018/12/the-best-of-lindsey-buckinghams-fleetwood-mac-insults.html) That scares me a little! The fact is, like most “big” birthdays, I actually feel differently than I thought I might at this age and stage.
Perhaps I was afraid I’d be wearing faded black sweats, sitting in a Barcalounger watching Fox News every night; but the last decade has proven to be anything but what I had feared.
While the cumulative effects of gravity have certainly slowed me down, I’m wrapping up my favorite decade of life to date on a proverbial roll. I’m still delightfully filled with the thoughts and questionable decisions of a terminally-17-year-old man-child. My “anti-curmudgeon” efforts include buying a soft-top Jeep Wrangler as my three-quarter life crisis vehicle, taking classes and performing regularly at Harrisburg Improv Theatre, and “running” around the house with my bride like a couple of grad students on Spring Break. With the mods I’ve made to the Jeep, I’m told I’m likely the envy of all the teenaged boys in the neighborhood.
So, I got that going for me.
I have a few reflections on the past 10 years as I approach this milestone. I find myself smack dab in the middle of the sandwich generation with my aging father on one side, and four delightful grandchildren on the other. The last decade has been filled with learning opportunities, evolution of perspectives, and full menu of physical, psychological and spiritual touchstones of growth and recalibration.
Physically, the changes over the past decade are not insignificant. While I’m now packing an extra 5 pounds since turning 50, like a human-accordion, I’m actually down about 15 pounds from my high of 232. I got two new knees this decade which, unlike most of my other body parts, do not ache constantly and generally work as designed. In getting ready for a golf junket, I went through my closet last week and retired 11 pairs of shorts. It seems as if the ‘fat ferry’ swooped in and added folds of extra fabric to the seats; or, perhaps, my ass is just disappearing. The focus of my workouts (now exclusively group training, only three days a week) is long-term core strength; the short-term social goals include post work-out “Bagel Wednesday” and “Bacon and Grits Friday”. Trust me, deep, deep down in there, somewhere, is a still a set of six-pack abs.
Psychologically I’ve been introduced to Vitamin Z: Zoloft. Billed as a treatment option for depression, OCD and panic attacks (quite frankly over the course of my life I’ve experience some degree of all three), it was an early morning anxiety attack last winter that was the real game-changer for me.
While ‘it’s never about what it’s about’, in hindsight, aside from the fancy problems of a hot industrial real estate market and four growing grandchildren under age 5, my father’s health had taken a turn. Slowed down by Parkinson’s Disease, he had sustained several bad falls and emergency room visits/hospital stays that, according to doctors and Hospice nurses, seemed quite ominous.
It was 2:30 AM; I couldn’t sleep. I decided to get up and work on my father’s taxes. After 45 minutes or so my heart suddenly began to race and my breathing became labored. I stood up and leaned against the wall of my home office, my arms and legs quaking. My whole world felt as if it were closing in on me.
I was scared.
It settled down, but I was moved to reach out to my family doc in the morning. When I sat down with her later that morning she said, “Therapy and writing and improv are nice, but you need drugs!”
Honestly, as open-minded, compassionate and supportive I thought I was when it comes to intertwining ‘addiction recovery’ and mental health ‘treatment’ , what I realized in that moment was that was great for other people. But when it happened to me, I wasn’t quite prepared for the emotional assault on my own masculinity and, even more concerning, the potential threat to my own sobriety. It was unsettling.
Following the first few weeks of living in a groggy netherworld, I settled in and have found Vitamin Z to be a necessary and vital enhancement to my wellbeing. My concerns were unfounded, and I’m grateful for the suggestion, the prescription, and support I’ve enjoyed.
You can’t hit 60 and not start to think about retirement. Actually, as I look back there have been signs that I wanted/did begin to slow down. I should have known transition was afoot when in 2013, on the same weekend I wrapped up the largest real estate deal I had ever brokered, I became a grandfather for the first time. The deal was nice, but the whole grandfather dynamic propelled my being into a different dimension. Over years of “spending less than I make” began to take over, I’ve found myself at a new level as I’ve migrated to $15 haircuts and a $5/month gym membership. My Jeep has slowly turned into a daily driver while the new (6 months) down-sized sedan still has that new-car smell!
Speaking of grandchildren, Levi (2013), Grace (2014), Nash (2015), Austin (2017). Each relationship is special and growing and changing. Words cannot describe.
You can’t be terminally-17 and not at least entertain the notion of tattoos in your 50’s. This decade added the Daideo (Gaelic for ‘grandpa’) to my ankle, Grands’ names and birth dates to my left bicep (always close to my heart!), along with my superpowers; Love, Tolerance, Gratitude. What ink will my 60’s bring?
No other area has spurred more reflection than holding my father’s hand as he ambles down the path of Parkinson’s Disease. At one moment of clarity he opined, “Travel all you can now because there will come a time when, all of a sudden, you can’t”.
We’ve taken that to heart with “big trips” over the past decade including visits to Ireland, Paris, Italy, Amsterdam, Tanzania. I hope he’s proud I’ve carried on the wanderlust instilled in all of us children.
While I have openly lamented the challenges of caregiving over the past three years, the fact is that I have learned things about myself, my family, and how I’d like to unwind, that I otherwise likely would not have.
Finally, the big surprise unfolding over the last several months: My father was adopted in Louisiana in 1935. As Louisiana adoption records are sealed, he has grown up with no definitive information about his birth parents. As we would learn, the lifelong depth and breadth of “not knowing” coupled with the lack of adoption information has tormented him to this day. Through the magic of DNA, Ancestry.com, and the chance contact by a cousin/professional genealogist Irene Cash (http://intrepidgenealogy.com ) , we have been able to learn the identities of his birth parents. There are no reasons found on “why” dad was put for adoption, but we’ve confirmed the family tree extends back to the mid-1600’s as a Mayflower descendant, multiple service-members in the Revolutionary War, and Johnny Cash as a cousin. Yes, the Man in Black, Johnny Cash! We are related to the ‘Man in Black’ through the newly discovered family tree branch extending to DeRoche, Arkansas.
Although the persistent poignant, sad, and heart wrenching question “Why?” will likely never be answered for Dad, the rollercoaster ride of hidden roots and unanswered questions continues as we learn more and more about our genealogical history.
Maybe I should start wearing black more often!
Ready or not 60’s – here I come! Hold the curmudgeon please!