I remember it like yesterday (thankfully my memory is relatively intact). Age 35 was one of my more "challenging" birthdays. As the big day approached, a much older friend (by two months) pointed out that I would be closer in age to 50 than to 20. (In my mind I was still 20.) I had no doubt that if I were attending an event with 20 year olds in one room and 50 year olds in another, I would be partying with the kiddos. After all, I could down tequila shooters with the best of them; I still enjoyed the late-night bar scene and would occasionally stop by the frat house on football weekends to Austin. Besides people who were 50, well, they were just plain old.
In reality, I clearly would have been hobnobbing with the old fogeys, discussing Governor Bush's strong bipartisan record in Texas; comparing investment alternatives for my retirement account; complaining about my diminishing eyesight and trying on my friends' readers. Truth be told, I hadn't touched tequila since college; the bars I once frequented seemed to really be boosting up the volume and the fratters insisted on calling me "sir" when I crashed their parties.
A few months post birthday, my friend's prophesy played out. I went on a cruise with my family and spotted some college-aged "foxes" by the pool. (Do 20-year olds still use the term foxy?) My one-time fail-proof pickup lines about horoscopes and college major brought me nothing but blank stares. By the end of the trip, however, I was trading business cards with their financial planner dad, hoping to drum up some technical writing projects. (By the way, he was a Capricorn and had been an accounting major.)
Fast Forward Five Years...
I eagerly tackled 40 and threw myself a birthday bash to prove I was over my post-35 depression. I planned a dinner with my buds, most of whom were married with 2.3 kids and relished the chance for a "guys night out." The dinner served as a bit of a payback for all the weddings and other milestone celebrations they treated me to through the years. As a 40-year old "wild" bachelor, I had no idea whether I would ever return the favor. I laughed as my friends compared notes about the difficulties of algebra homework, the traumas of the drinking/drugs/sex talks and the importance of SAT tutors.
They lived vicariously through my lack of parental/husbandry responsibilities and ached for stories about my crazy Saturday night escapades. (I suspect they were sadly disappointed.) They were jealous that I could relive every college football bowl game as their days of lounging in front of SportsCenter for hours at a time had long ended. They never considered those weekend nights that I spent out with them and their wives as a third wheel. Fortunately they thought I was kidding when I talked about spending New Year's Eve on the couch watching Woody Allen movies (alone).
And Another Five...
Once 45 arrived, I had become a genuine adult, complete with a trophy bride (16 months my junior) and toddler daughter. Life had taken a dramatic turn for the better and my Sundays no longer revolved around DirecTV's NFL Ticket, but rather music class and treks to the zoo. My wife and I had a wealth of good friends and never expected to begin forging new relationships in our 40s. Then again, most of them were in different stages of life and suddenly we found our social calendars filled with outings with new friends, many of whom were parents of our daughter's pre-schoolmates. Despite our age differences, we realized that we had far more in common with them (though at one dinner I learned I was closer in age to my new friend's mother).
For the past few years, our family grew and my older friends began celebrating their big 5-0s. Some threw wild parties to relive college days (I passed on the tequila shots); others held intimate dinners with a few good friends. Conversations revolved around the late teen years: college applications and parents' weekends; hopes and fears of becoming empty nesters; plans for not-so-distant retirements. They fondly remembered those carefree days when their kids were entering kindergarten and starting to potty train and reminded us to enjoy them to the fullest because the years begin to fly and teenage "challenges" certainly prove more stressful than skinned knees and separation anxiety.
50 is the New 35...
As my 50th neared, I participated in many of the same rituals as my "much older" friends. I spent a long weekend away with my beautiful bride (sans kids) and enjoyed a few celebratory dinners with family and close friends. While many related pre-50 conversations included some good-natured (I think?) ribbing about old age, I actually felt pretty good about my station in life. I have most of my hair and have been told that the slight gray makes me look distinguished (thanks Mom). My schedule allows flexibility to participate in my daughters' school functions. I have maintained a regular jogging regimen for many years (though shorter distances at a slower pace these days) that has helped me keep my "girlish" figure despite enjoying similar fast-food eating habits as my kids.
I still have the stamina (not always the patience) to coach my daughter's six-and-under sports teams, though my strengths lie in general silliness and practice-ending games of Duck Duck Goose. I plan to relinquish those responsibilities soon to more competent (athletically-gifted) parents, but hope to resume my coaching role for my younger daughter's squads in a few years. I also am able to keep up with my favorite college and pro sports teams, and new priorities ease the pain and suffering after tough losses or difficult seasons.
My big day was a family-oriented affair and I wouldn't have had it any other way. My daughters' homemade cards and artwork highlighted the gifts and lunch with extended family made for a delightful afternoon. That evening we celebrated New Year's Eve with our normal group of families with thankfully only a brief mention of my birthday. At midnight, we said goodbye to 2012 (and to my 40s) and awoke the next day eager to tackle the new year (and my next decade). I actually made it through my milestone without much anxiety or depression (until my friend pointed out that I am now closer in age to 65 than to 35).
Earlier on Huff/Post50: