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The fountain of youth has only two wheels....

 

The midnight road plays hide and seek through the late-night ground fog. My thoughts are drowned out by the sound of the wind singing through my helmet as insects tap a morse code on my face shield. I ease into another gear as I hug the black ribbon of country back-road with the stars as the only other lights for miles and just for a moment, i’m eighteen again….

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The more one has to live for, the faster life seems to go careening past us.  I’d guess the corollary is true as well, somewhat depressing for obvious reasons.  I’m not feeling melancholy for my own age or mortality.  No, today I celebrate my eldest child’s entrance into her teens.  I couldn’t be happier for her.  For me, not so much.

It’s not about the terrible teen headaches, or the dating or all those types of “father-daughter” frictions I’m told the teen years will bring.  No, it’s just that last week, I’m sure it was last week, I was rocking her to sleep, trying desperately to find her pacifier between the couch cushions at two am.  Wasn’t it last week?  No, you’re right, last week I was teaching her to ride her first tricycle, or maybe, no, I know, I was taking her training wheels off.

They don’t tell you in the birthing room that when they place your newborn in your arms for the first time, it rips a hole in the time continuum and the laws of physics no longer apply.  You are now on the father clock.  The father clock runs incredibly fast, but ticks very hushed so as not to draw attention to the fact that the limited time you have with your child is running through your hands much like the sandbox sand that squirts from between her chubby two-year old fingers.

Go ahead honey, make a big splash on the world....

The father clock does not run in a linear fashion.  It will run agonizingly slow when she falls and scrapes her knee, or when you see the injury about to happen but you’re just out of reach.  I’m sure it’ll slow down during those times where I’ll say something stupid or painful to her, allowing me to wallow in my guilt.  Or, when she realizes there are other men in the world and I have to compete for her attention against hormonally unstable teen-aged demons who I’m sure are out to do her harm.   And just as soon as we’re out hiking together, riding our bikes or just sitting on the beach chatting, it’ll fly by unnoticed, with only our uneaten lunches as proof that time over took us and ran by unfettered.

I know that we have very little time left together.  This is not meant to be depressing in any way.  It is however, a warning: The father clock does not come with an alarm bell. She’s leaving.  One baby-step to teenage gait at a time. It’s slow and gradual right now, but one day it’ll be sudden, like the first startling flash of a spring thunderstorm.  Sudden, jarring, and you’ll wonder where the heck that came from.

The gifts are put away; I just nibbled a late piece of birthday cake.  The house is quiet, save for the low rhythmic rumbling of sleep coming from behind the bedroom doors.  I’m about ready to call it a day.  I’ll walk by the kid’s bedrooms like I do most nights, just to peek in or listen for their breathing.  Dad habit. Then it’s off to bed so I can get up and face the workday world tomorrow on a clock different than the father clock.  But before I fall asleep tonight, I’ll lie there with my eyes fixed on a distant target in the dark ceiling, listening for the ticking of her childhood as it races away from me.

And the father clock quietly strikes another hour ahead.


Okay, so I’m turning 50 very shortly.  Like within a week shortly.  Yay.  To be honest, I’ve had my share of “shoulda, coulda, woulda” moments lately and maybe some of it is related to my age.  But I think more than anything else, it’s likely related to the fact that I’m still clawing my way back into this decrepit job market.  Oh, don’t get me wrong; I’m still shocked every so often when I realize that I’ve already spent half a century on this rock.  And most of that went whizzing right by me like a taxi on a rainy night.  So here’s my question: what’s a mid life crisis anyway?

Really, there are no rules are there? No guidelines, no “Mid-Life Crisis for Dummies” book I can pick up at the Barnes and Noble discount table?  I did a quick search on Google for mid-life crisis, and cheese-and-rice, if that didn’t make me both confused and more depressed than I already was.  Really, is it that bad?  Some of the descriptions or symptomology:  Abuse of alcohol, marital affairs, acquisition of unusual or expensive items like cars, motorcycles or tattoos, paying acute attention to physical appearance and on and on.  Great, now I feel gypped.  I already have a motorcycle (had one since I was 15), love my occasional martini and probably should have bought “Just for Men” when I went white at thirty-five.  Heck, I was planning to use this as an excuse to quit everything and move to Florida so I could play lousy golf everyday and lie about my handicap.  Not because I miss my youth, but because I’m tired of having a handicap over 11.

So what next? What am I going to do for say, the next 50 years?  Well for starters, I’m going to make sure I continue to spend that quality time with my two girls before they fully realize that there are other men in the world besides daddy and I have to start competing for their attention.  I’m going to continue to wake up every morning and thank god for that beautiful lady sleeping next to me.  Then I’ll probably whine about the weather, bitch about my job, play my guitar, speed-eat M&M’s and get on with life like normal.

I don’t know, maybe it all sounds soooo boring. But I’ve lived a pretty decent life, had some great adventures and have all the rewards I need.  I guess I just have simple tastes, that’s all.  I honestly don’t see what a new Mercedes would do to make me feel 20 again.  Well, if I still drove like I did when I was 20, maybe the speeding tickets might bring back memories of my youth, but that’s about it.

So what about the “Shoulda, coulda, woulda” moments?  What if I had done one of those “coulda’s”? Only the path to here and now would have been different.  I’d still eventually end up at 50 in some other life.  If I had chosen a different path, would I have met my wife?  Would I have two beautiful children whom I adore and who love their father deeply?  The law of unintended consequences combined with permutations of the what-if scenarios might leave me desiring those very things I have now.  Yow, that was way too deep for a Friday night with only a glass of cheap red wine for support.

At this point in my life, I don’t desire the car, the boat, nose-ring or the tattoo on my left butt cheek that says “rebel”.  Nope, I find that my desires are still the same as they’ve been most of my life; to be a better father than I had, to be the husband my wife deserves and to never be ashamed of the man I am.

So there’s my dilemma.  What should I do for my mid-life crisis?  I may buy a new car in a year or so, but it’ll probably be boring and practical.  And only because I have 120,000 miles on the one I own now.  I’ll pass on the nose ring because frankly, I have a weak stomach and the thought of it just makes me gag.  I’ll stick with the white hair because I pretty much bought most of my suits and ties to work with the white: I don’t know if my old reddish brown color would work into my wardrobe.  Maybe I’ll do something drastic like switch from vodka to gin in my martinis.

Nah, I hate gin. Crisis averted…..

 


I can’t post only when I’m irritated.  Wouldn’t that make me a curmudgeon?  As hard a time as I’m having facing 50, I can’t allow myself to be an old coot who’s PO’d all the time.

I’m usually a glass-half-full kind of guy.  The last few years have been a little tough on the family since the economy tanked and I became unemployed.  But for the most part, I’m usually happy, a little spacey, overly chatty (enough so that my poor wife used to try to push me out the door early with my gym partner so she could actually have her morning coffee in silence.)

The white hair bothers me from time to time.  And the fact that there’s just a little too much “me” gets on my nerves too.  (Yeah, my fault.  I’m a stress eater.)  But sometimes, I can get a little melancholy over the tiny blonde standing in silence in the corner of my office.

When I was young, I found her like a treasure hidden away under my parents’ bed.  The story connected with her is tragic if true:  My mother bought her from an old man whose son originally purchased her when he was young.  He never came back from Viet Nam.  She was alone, mute, gathering dust singing for no one.

I was a rocker.  Well, I started out that way. Later than most kids pick up a guitar, I started playing at 17.  At first, I didn’t actually play.  I only learned to tune them so I could roadie for my brother’s local cover band.  If there was anyway that I could get out of the house, drink on the cheap and meet young, available girls, heck I was in.

Somewhere along the way, I got my heart broken.  After dark I’d sit on the steps in front of my house for hours at a time and strum, practice a chord or two and wallow in teenage misery compounded by an abusive household.  It didn’t take long for me to find the connection, the emotional escape I was looking for.  The only guitar in the house, a Penco, used to belong to my eldest brother.   Pencos were made in the same Japanese factory as the Ibanez, not a real expensive guitar, but I loved it all the same.  He never really played it, never spent much time on it at all.  When he left for college and took it with him, a piece of my soul left with it.  To this day I still badger him to sell it to me, but to no avail.  Maybe his first love?

Stranded, no money, no job, no guitar.  I used to borrow one from my neighbor, an old man I called my uncle Norm.  He was a hell of a fiddle player and he liked jamming anytime he could.  But my mother knew.  Knew that at that point in my life, sanity was six strings and whole lot of turmoil focused into hours of endless practice.  Without even knowing what is was, she bought the Strat as a Christmas present without telling me and hid it under her bed.  By that time in my life, I was beyond searching the house for Christmas presents.  My younger brother wasn’t however and promptly told me what he had found.  I slid it out from under the bed, opened the hard shell case and immediately went to tears.

I’m not really sure of her age.  Gentlemen don’t ask, a lady won’t tell and of course, she’s no exception.  I had an expert look at it once; there are some discrepancies with the dating on the stock and the body.  Who cares, she’s almost as old as I am.  I’ve had quite a few stringed friends come and go from my life, but she’s remained, always within reach.  I probably miss my 12 string the most, although my banjo was a blast and my violin just plain made me angry.

My Ovation has stayed too.  I bought her to throw over my shoulder when I was hopping on planes every other day, which was my life for quite a few years.  I’ve dragged that guitar so many places, picked it up so many times that the pick-up no longer works, but it sounds much better today than the day I brought it home.

I was in a music store with my wife one day and felt a tickle on the top of my head.  When I looked up, I noticed that the price tag of a beautiful Guild, which had been hung from the ceiling, was gently tapping me on the head, trying to get my attention.  It worked.  I walked out with the Guild and effectively ended the twice-monthly music store shopping trips I used to make my wife endure.

You can’t walk through our house without bumping into a guitar now that my youngest has the baby Taylor.  I cringe when the kids pick up the Strat, but I would love for one of them to eventually own it one day.  Aside from the Taylor, none of my instruments are younger than 25.  Between those four guitars and the old Piano, this house has always had some sort of music drifting through it.

Odd how the simplest things can bring new life.  A new capo for Christmas and I’m back to playing at least an hour a day.   I battle with arthritis now, some days I can’t quite get my hands to do what I want them to.  That’s maddening enough, but what’s devastating is that they won’t do what they once did, effortlessly and seemingly on their own.

And as I get slower, their voices get sweeter, richer, more refined, holding tones longer.   We’re aging in different directions.  I struggle to keep up while they’ve all found their voices, matured gracefully.   I can only hope to do the same. They certainly are old, beautiful things.

 

 

 

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