Every year on my birthday I write about growing older. But 52 isn’t that old.
It’s twice as old as 26, which is about the median age of the software engineers who work for me. I feel twice their age as I notice their youthful good looks and see them struggle through things I mastered long ago. I miss my youthful good looks but would not unlearn these valuable life skills to get them back.
As the rest of my 50s unfold I look forward foremost to our children all building independent lives. I’m eager to see what they choose and whether it brings them joy and satisfaction. I am eager for Margaret and I to turn our attention toward the life we want to build for ourselves, and to enjoy our children and grandchildren.
I liked being 50. I liked saying that I was 50. I told everybody who’d listen, as a Kindergartner happily tells everyone he’s 5.
I’ve always enjoyed the ages that end in zero. I feel like I’ve crossed some threshold, and I dream about the next phase of my life. What new adventures will come?
My 50s truly are turning out to be a new phase, with adventures unlike anything that came before. I never dreamed of some of the adventures we’re on, most of which I never would have chosen. Frankly, some intensely hard stuff has come my family’s way. We’re pushing through it okay.
But that’s what I wrote about last year when I turned 50. This year I want to write about vanity, specifically mine, and how looking in the mirror bruises it. I’m looking noticeably older.
I remember in my 20s noticing middle-aged men who tried in humorously ineffective ways to look younger and hide what time had stolen from them.
I swore then I’d let aging just happen to me. If my hair were to fall out, there would be no Propecia or Rogaine or Hair Club for Men for me — if the hair loss became serious enough I’d just shave my head. When I went gray, I vowed not to reach for hair dye or even Grecian Formula. If my face turned into used-up shoe leather, fine. Well, not fine, but I was going to just let it be. Aging, do your worst — I would not let your signs rule me. I would find peace and happiness regardless of how I looked.
And then I was blessed not only to keep all of my hair, but also to never have more than a few random wisps of gray. And I just kept looking young, even through my late 40s. When I’d get carded buying beer cashiers would do a double take. Some of them even said, “You can’t possibly be this old.” Man, that felt good.
Those days are over. Cashiers never say anything when they hand me my driver’s license anymore — if they bother to ask for it at all. The lines on my face tell no lies. And after a haircut now I can see right through to my scalp on top. It was a genuine shock the first time I saw that. At the rate I’m going I’ll have a pretty healthy bald spot up there by the time I’m 53.
I expect no pity parties. I’ve had a great run and I know it. It just hurts to see my youthful looks go. It is a daily surprise to see my morning face in the mirror.
But I’m determined to stay true to my youthful vows: I will age boldly and proudly. It looks like my 50s is where physical aging will accelerate, so I’ll have plenty of practice.
I’m going to miss saying “I’m 50!” though. 51 just isn’t as exciting of a number to say.
My hair is thinning on top. I wondered if this would ever happen. It started happening to my dad when he was in his late 30s, and he tells me his dad went bald in his 20s. Now it’s my turn. I’m glad I’m tall, or everybody’d be able to see through to my scalp. My eyebrows are thinning, too; my height doesn’t mask that. At least you have to look really hard to notice my gray hairs. They don’t show up at all in this photograph!
I can no longer deny that I need reading glasses, but I forget to carry them most of the time and so look at my phone at arm’s length.
My new normal weight, the one my body defaults to when I don’t overeat, is 10 pounds more than it was 10 years ago.
And I tire more easily now. My athletic friends have complained about loss of ability and stamina since their early 30s. An advantage of being mostly sedentary is that there’s a lot less to lose, and you lose it a lot later.
I’m lucky: I’ve aged physically a lot more slowly than most of my age peers. Yet each of these changes in my body has come with some feelings of resistance and loss, and has taken effort to accept.
I decided a long time ago not to fight physical aging. I’m not going to resort to Rogaine or hair dye, and certainly not cosmetic surgery (tempting as it may be as I really hate how my right eyelid has gone droopy). A little more exercise would do me good, though.
But no regrets, because I’m happy and content now. That wasn’t always true when I was twentysomething and thirtysomething. I say it every year at this time: you couldn’t pay me enough to go back.
I’ve known many people who wring their hands over the birthdays that end in zero. They’re milestones of getting old, after all. But none of them have bothered me so far — certainly not 20, but also not 30, not 40.
Some odd birthdays have troubled me unexpectedly. 33 was tough. I felt I couldn’t avoid anymore that I was firmly in my adult years. I wasn’t sure I always liked it.
Last year’s birthday, 47, hit me hard too. To my surprise, because my middle years have been the best of my life. But where 46 was “middle aged,” 47 felt like “pushing 50,” and something about 50 feels more old than middle aged. I’m sure that if you’re significantly older than 50, you’re chuckling over that statement. But it got me down for a bit.
I’m good with it now. And if 47 is “pushing 50,” 48 is on the downhill slide, hurtling headlong, picking up speed. Look out, I’m throwing in the clutch.
When I was in my 20s I used to look at the older guys at work – the guys in their 40s, with their receding hairlines and expanding waistlines – and shudder, and try not to think about my eventual fate.
Yesterday was my 45th birthday. Fate has a way of catching up with you.
Except that I like being this age. You couldn’t pay me enough to go back to my 20s – you couldn’t drag me back there kicking and screaming.
It doesn’t hurt that somehow I still have all of my hair and that I weigh only about ten pounds more (and my friends tell me I was too skinny in those days). But more than that, I have the maturity and wisdom to handle challenges that baffled me 20 years ago. I am much more peaceful and content.
My former metabolism
That’s not to say 45 is all wine and roses. I have bigger problems now than I did in my 20s, mostly because I chose to have children. (Bless their little hearts.) Providing for them and making sure they’re well and loved has challenged me in ways I never could have imagined, even if you had told me.
My body has changed, too. I used to have a blast-furnace metabolism. I know I was unusually blessed, but I really could eat pretty much anything I wanted in any quantity with no consequences. No more! If I don’t limit my intake, soon I can’t button my pants. Also, the foods I choose now have a direct and often immediate effect on how good I feel. So my diet has shifted from pizza and cheeseburgers to fish and chicken, fruits and vegetables.
I can’t run as hard and as long as I did then, either. I used to stay out with friends until 2 am, sleep a few hours, get to work by 8 am, and have plenty of energy for the day. Now I turn into a pumpkin at 10 pm and if I don’t get at least six hours of sleep, preferably seven or eight, I’m a zombie.
But I find the tradeoffs to be more than fair. So far, my 40s have been my best decade so far.
A few recent college graduates just joined the company where I work. I’ve been working longer than they’ve been alive! But if my experience is typical, their best is two decades ahead of them.
This may be my best decade, but the pinnacle of my career
happened when I was in my 30s. Read that story.