On Becoming “That Old”

20 Jul 2007
July 20, 2007

I’ve been outted. At our monthly all-staff meeting the other day, before attending to the business at hand, I was asked to stand. It was my birthday and I found myself the center of attention. Suddenly, in that way-too-bright spotlight someone asked how old I was.

Instinctively, I dodged the question with this quick retort: “Well, my children think I’m 45.” The group laughed and finally, I fessed up: I was 58. I said it proudly as only a card-carrying AARP member should. A low-level gasp permeated the room, finished with a touch of polite applause. My years of workplace subterfuge had finally come to an end.

Every year I am faced with the same dilemma: I want to look forward to celebrating my birthday just so: perfect gifts and the perfect adoration from family and a few close friends, just like I did when I was seven. Remember when the month leading up to your special day was exciting? The night before you counted down the hours to your birthday party. Okay, I’ve matured just a bit and like to give a little back each year.

But as I inch ever closer to gizzerhood, this tick in time doesn’t fit me as well as it used to. Like the zillions who have come before me I will reply when asked how it feels to be a year older: “I don’t feel any different.” And like my predecessors I will ask myself: “How did I get to be so old?” I fingered the gold watch they would give me on retirement.

Gifts from my coworkers trickled in throughout the rest of the day; people stopped me in the halls to wish me a Happy Birthday and some stopped by my cubicle to marvel at how well preserved I was. More than once I heard “I am shocked, totally shocked you are THAT OLD.”

My ten year old daughter’s birthday gift came, as these had, totally unannounced the weekend before. I was driving her to a sleepover when, all of a sudden, she said, “Dad, you act really young.” Fishing for the important details I nonchalantly asked, “Why what do you mean, sweetheart?”

“Well, you like cool music, and you dress in cool clothes, and you’re into the latest technology. I’ll make you a longer list for your birthday!” I wonder what she’ll think ten years from now. I wonder what I’ll think.

Esquire says

Esquire says: Wear White

So, what did I make of this unplanned workplace reveal? To be honest, I don’t look my age. Some of that credit must go to having good genes. My father had a few folds but not a wrinkle up to the day he died. And some credit must be assigned to the obvious: exercising, not smoking, watching my weight, and lathering on that sunscreen. But while many of my contemporaries are keeping old age at bay with facelifts, collagen injections, and hair transplants, I have devised a few less invasive strategies for fooling most of the people some of the time.

  1. Have children later in life. People who see me with my girls think I’m younger because my children are young–in fact, people assume I am about ten years younger. I was 46 when our first was born. (And I haven’t been asked if I’m their grandfather once!)
  2. No facial hair. I grew a mustache when I was a sophomore in college. That was 1969, you young’uns. I wore it, without interruption, until a few years ago when, suddenly one Thanksgiving, I shaved it off to the surprise of my family. As my beard got grayer I knew my days as a swarthy macho man were numbered. By shaving my stashe, I shaved five years off my age.
  3. Wear glasses to hide the bags or dark circles under your eyes. Okay, I don’t have any bags but every so often I see some dark rings down below. No need for dark sunglasses. My regular specs rest perfectly against those shadows, disappearing in the camouflage of my lenses. (Never wear bifocals or half-lens reading glasses for this trick unless you enjoy being taken for a grandparent).
  4. Finally, from this month’s Esquire comes this tidbit: Wear really bright white sneakers. According to the magazine’s editors it will take off ten years. (Would someone explain this to me?). This must be the reason my coworkers were shocked to discover my age. My super white Converse sneakers (which I have been wearing for the last month) blinded them.

Given a choice, I’d let everyone continue assuming I was in my 40s. But once outted, I have embraced my age and the wisdom that have come with it. Yeah, that’s my story.

9 replies
  1. Donna says:

    Very funny story. I have no idea why the white tennies work but I’m going to buy my husband a pair. I don’t think it works for women.
    You forgot another tip for looking young – I think people who are creative tend to look younger.

  2. Jeff says:

    I don’t know, Donna. I think being creative keeps you young. Though I’m not sure if it keeps you looking young.

  3. Christine says:

    Dang! It got by me. Happy birthday, Jeff!

  4. SharonO says:

    Happiest of birthdays, Jeff! I do the white sneakers thing, too!
    I get the same reaction every year on my birthday from co-workers. They don’t believe I am as old as I am. I’ve gotten several comments that they had me pegged as in my 30’s.
    My students, however, put me back in my place. “43? You’re as old as my GRANDMA!”

  5. Arlene says:

    Jeff, hope you enjoyed a wonderful birthday celebration.
    Best wishes!

  6. Marika Olsen says:

    Happy birthday! Is there a photo of you on this site? I’d love to see what “You Can’t Be That Old” looks like.

  7. Jeff says:

    Come to think of it, no, Marika. I don’t have a pic of me on the site.
    There’s an old Uzbeki wives’ tale that says: the more you have photos taken of you, the faster you age. There is no “retouching” in Uzbekistan. -g

  8. Sheila says:

    From the time my kids were born, I was pegged as being their grandmother, even when I was pregnant with my 3rd. “Oh yes, I am carrying this one for my daughter too.”
    It always irritated me because it meant all they were doing was looking at my hair color (I went all white at age 30) and not my face which was not old. Yeah, I could have colored my hair, but with law school and toddlers I just didn’t have the time. Besides that, confident women let their hair go natural.

  9. Ben Fernström says:

    Hey, based on the design here I definitely thought you were young(er). It’s a funny thing with perception. But don’t worry, I’ll keep coming back…
    I should have seen that ISSN at the bottom. That, I think, is a tell. Ha!
    Nice blog, I only found it recently. Can’t remember who’s link I followed here anymore though.

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