Ageing is a weird process because every living thing does it without ever – I suspect – fully knowing (or should that be ‘acknowledging’) it.
Every dog begins as a ball-of-fluff puppy, acts like one until they’re about eight or even ten and then gradually turns in to a wheezing, rarely running, slow-moving, rheumatic old hound who walks like a superannuated bow-legged matelot – mainly from his eating bowl to his favourite spot for a snooze on the patio – and then back again until his owner takes pity upon him and drives him on his last visit to the vet.
That’s what ‘dog-years’ (allegedly seven to every human one) does for you.
About fifteen years ago – catching up on each other’s news – I listed my latest ailments and aches for my daughter.
Attempting to comfort me, she came out with the line “Don’t worry, Dad – you’re only as old as you feel”, after which my tongue-in-cheek retort “I think you mean ‘only as old as the woman you feel’ …” had her recoiling and mock-retching in horror, the standard reaction of all later generations at any mention of would-be or actual sexual thoughts – let alone activity – in anyone over the age of forty.
John Lennon once sang “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans” [Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy) from his last album Double Fantasy before his untimely assassination in December 1980] and for me there’s an essential truth in there somewhere.
We all plan and conduct our lives as if we’re immortal – and most probably as if we’re permanently frozen at the age of 28, well okay, 38 absolute max – until and unless something, often a brush with serious disease or condition, or perhaps even a gentle push sideways in order to make space for a younger tyro at work to gain a promotion, proves and/or reminds us (sometimes with bells on) that we’re not.
I’m a subscriber to the logical extension of that thought, viz. that our perception of time passing and indeed its impact upon us and those around us – tends to occur in little ‘jumps’ of realisation and self-awareness.
To my mind, there’s nothing so calculated to make human beings register that their lives are flashing by than the effects of the instinctive desire of every species to perpetuate itself.
Whether you’re busy with your career, your social life, playing sport – or if not, pursuing your love of watching your favourite teams and sports in the flesh – or even just ‘doing nothing in particular’, as a father the commitments of your own life inevitably tend to hamper your appreciation of the ‘growing up’ years of your offspring.
(In the year 2020 I may be treading upon dangerous ground here, because – of course – these days a woman may be the breadwinner in any given family unit and the corresponding man a house-husband, not the other way around, but I’m giving myself a ‘free pass card’ by adding that I include this possibility in my generalisation).
This is how, looking back now, the phenomenon enveloped me.
My working life was pretty hectic, a factor which actually suited me because by nature I’d far rather be under a degree of pressure, ideally with a tight deadline by to finish each successive current project, than simply pen-pushing in some grey administrative office in which each item on your desk dealt with immediately followed by the next equivalent arriving in your in-tray, ad infinitum.
However, as a result, when I got home and joined the other half of my life, as much as anything I relied upon reports of my kids’ doings from my wife as the means by which I followed their development.
Whether this is a male thing – or just my own – I therefore operated via a series of ‘updating jumps’ as regards what stage they had reached as human beings in their own right.
In other words, when either my son or daughter was say fifteen months old, it was relatively simple to register their ‘first words’, or their path from crawling to standing and then walking, and so on.
Not so easy after that. Despite my best efforts – or even lack of any – I suspect I probably treated my kids as three-year-olds until they were at least five, as five years old until they were perhaps seven or eight, and so on.
Because I wasn’t with them 24/7 – well, except on weekends and holidays – from day to day I didn’t monitor in any instinctive sense how they were learning more and more about the world and how it works, or how they were reacting to each news skill they’d acquired, or even how their personalities were evolving.
And yet maybe that is what happens in life anyway, including as regards self-awareness.
It’s why humans tend to find it virtually impossible to keep an eye upon what’s happening to them – and fondly (and deludedly) see themselves as far younger than they really are – well, until confronted with the evidence that looks back at them in the shaving mirror every morning.
Writing from the perspective of someone who – at 68 – damaged his right leg Achilles tendon attempting to go for a jog just over five months ago now and still suffers from a chronic inflammation thereof that causes me to limp like a good ‘un, it is at least possible that I am gradually and at last coming to term with being an ‘oldie.
Some might say “About time too!” …
This takes no account, of course, of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’s famous poem that begins:
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light …“
Thomas (1914-1953) himself never got to do this, of course, departing this world at the age of 39 from a combination of dissolute preoccupations and drink. Or maybe he’d opted to ‘rage against the dying of the light’ from the start.
It’s why we continue to marvel at the likes of Mick Jagger – in his mid-seventies still apparently making whoopee (according to the tabloid press) with ladies young enough to be his granddaughter, albeit at the cost of an army of personal trainers and a very skilled hair colourist.
And yet, of course, we do this from the supposedly superior and condescending standpoint that it’s really not becoming for a gent of his age to be carrying on as he is – and why doesn’t he bloody well ‘grow up’ like the rest of us, the lucky sod …