As my dad neared his 90th birthday, he took me to lunch at his regular eatery, a club overlooking a beautiful green meadow. A closer look revealed a number of flagpoles, pockets of white sand and old folks chasing little white balls.
My dad was a privacy-loving man, so his anxiety alarm went off when he spied one of his gin rummy opponents and a female companion maneuvering their walkers haltingly -- yet inexorably -- toward our table. He physically steeled himself for unwelcome contact. When introduced, the woman announced that she was 92. Somehow my dad's age came up, which prompted her to sigh and say with what appeared to be real nostalgia, "Aaaah, to be 89 again."
Feeling like a child in the midst of that roomful of 70-, 80- and 90-somethings, I enthusiastically volunteered that I'd recently turned 50.
Today, my 63rd birthday looms and the cultural messages are mixed. It feels uncool -- bordering on shameful -- to acknowledge my age. Yet I'm told I should be thrilled because I look young, and that thanks to advances in medicine, "63 is the new 53!" (Or is it 43? I can't remember). I ought to be especially grateful, my elders insist, because there are plenty of people much older than I.
My cohort is the first generation to have generated a dominant -- that is, mass -- "youth culture," one in which youthful rebellion, exercise, music, Eastern religions, sex and drugs (including drug-assisted sex) are only the most superficial and notorious aspects. Our obsession with self-actualization and perpetual youth have given us the spiritual bypass, vaginal rejuvenation surgery and the wishful thinking of 64-year-old Raymond Kurzweil, the Ponce de Leon of the digital age, whose writings suggest that, technology-wise, we're this close to having the capacity to live forever.
For an unvarnished take on aging, I turned to my longtime friend and veteran The New York Times man Peter Applebome, who's exactly my age. "As you get older you finally figure out that your life isn't your life -- it's only the life that you're living," he said. "So when you're younger you assume that, say, your life with your kids or having a job or career at a certain place goes on forever. And then sooner or later it doesn't, and you realize how much you took for granted. The hardest part of being over 60 is imagining things in the future that will be as good as things in the past that you thought would last forever."
True enough. But I also find that the older I get, the sweeter it can be to spend time with loved ones and friends of all ages. I recently reconnected with my first girlfriend Susan (thank you, Facebook), who has lived an entire week longer than Peter and I (she preferred younger guys, and when you're five a week isn't chopped liver). Our families grew up together, and her dad gave my dad the assignment to write the theme song for the TV series The Adventures of Robin Hood. During the show's run, a 16 year-old Paul McCartney wrote "When I'm 64," which was recorded for the Beatles' galaxy-shattering album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band a decade hence, the year Sir Paul's father turned 64.
The hit recording of "Robin Hood" was sung by Dick James, who would later become the Beatles' publisher and die just a year after he turned 64.
And what's the connection, you must be wondering, between "Robin Hood" and "When I'm 64"? Both were produced by "Fifth Beatle" George Martin, one of the greatest producers in recording, and recorded, history.
Another of my dad's songs, "Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)," -- Guy Lombardo's version became a No. 1 record a few months before my number one birthday -- might, on the surface, feel like a warning to aging boomers that our glasses are half empty, that we'd better start having fun right now or else. But the playfulness and humor of the tune are really meant to give hope that our glasses can be more than half full if we're open enough and lucky enough to experience such pleasures as ocean trips, night clubs, or ravishing brunettes.
It's hard enough for us 60-somethings to remember where our glasses are, let alone determine their fullness to emptiness ratio. What comes naturally is some combination of longing for the past, regretting that we didn't enjoy it enough and worrying about the disasters the future may or may not hold. To avoid that loop, we can try to minimize boomer-style navel-gazing and do our best to notice what it's like to be alive at each moment -- which, though it may not feel that way, is undeniably a miracle.