I owe all of you an apology. This is my second hiatus from my blog-spot since I established it in August of last year. I’m going to rely once again on the excuse that my life is complicated and I often succumb to distraction, never mind that were you a proverbial fly on the wall of my life you would no-doubt blame my absence on whiskey. However, you would be wrong.
Like a loving wife, I hope you will once again receive me back into your good graces and sit with me while I offer a few recent events that will explain my momentary exodus. In addition to receiving a job offer after 252 days of unemployment, a week ago last Friday, I became a grandfather. A grandfather. Hmmm.
I’ve been pondering this notion as I prepare to re-enter the work force, because I’ve never thought of myself as old—and grandfathers are old. This in spite of the fact that I’ve been trying to embrace the idea since my oldest daughter, Rachel, gave me the news last October. Everyone else around me seems to be accepting their incremental aging quite gracefully.
My friend Fran frequently speaks about his need for reading glasses. Karoline talks about her granddaughter with great fondness. Tom talks incessantly about all his medications. Jeff talks about his late onset diabetes. The lives of my brother Mark and sister Suzan seem to revolve around their grandchildren. I, on the other hand, tend to sit in my office and wonder how I went from disaffected youth to cranky old man—and the answer is of course, I have no idea.
No amount of meditation or whiskey can reconcile the perception of ourselves as time passes compared to the way we are perceived by others. Allow me an illustrative moment.
About three weeks ago, back when the possibility of becoming a grandfather was still an abstract concept to me, several members of my immediate family came to town for Rachel’s baby shower. Heidi, Cindy, Maxine, and I all met my father, mother, sister, and my sister’s granddaughter, Ari, for an attendee swap in the parking lot of one of the local HEBs. The women got out of my car and transferred to my Dad’s car, while my Dad swiftly moved from his car to mine.
Neither my dad nor I had any intention of going to a baby shower, and we were about to head over for a beer at my favorite sports bar. Protocol being what it is, though, I stepped out of the car to greet my family. Suzan was the first to offer salutations:
Suzan: “Wow; it’s Guy with white hair!”
Me: “Hi Suzan; how are you.”
Mom: “My goodness Guy. You’re hair really is white.”
Me: “Hi mom. Thanks for noticing.”
Mom: “No seriously; your hair used to be so dark. I can’t believe you’re 53, your hair has turned completely white, and you’re going to be a grandfather.”
Me: “Well you know mom, time marches on.”
Suzan: “Yeah; it’s just such a shock. I was just looking at photos of Ashley’s wedding and you still had color in your hair. I can’t believe how much it’s lightened since then.”
Me: “Well, Dad and I need to be going. We’re meeting the guys.”
Brief hugs, a kiss goodbye for Heidi, and then dad and I got in the car at which point I simply sighed. Politely, my dad asked “Everything OK?” “Everything’s fine dad.” I replied.
Here’s the thing: When I look at my hair in the mirror, I see sort of a light salt and pepper—a kind of silver cast to what was admittedly a head of hair that was nearly jet at one time but is no longer. I can actually see the black hairs that still have color in them blending in with those devoid of color. Yet anytime someone describes me, I am known among other things as “the white-haired dude.” This is but one example.
Several weeks before this charming incident I was having lunch with my friend Jen, who is herself a recent mother. She began the conversation:
Jen: “So you’re going to be a grandfather. How do you feel?”
Me: “I have mixed feelings.”
Jen: “How so?”
Me: “Well Grandfathers are old, and I’m trying to come to grips with that aspect of my mortality.”
Jen: “But you are old.”
I stared at her for a moment, my mouth agape and then changed the subject as she laughed aloud, claiming she was just teasing.
If these two incidents weren’t enough to convince me of how subjectively I perceive myself, I naively moved the ball forwarded toward the “oldsville goalpost” by posting a high school photo of myself on FaceBook. Bad idea—or maybe not.
About a week ago, someone I attended high school with (an actual beauty queen in the Miss USA pageant mind you) posted an unflattering photo of herself from grade school, with a self deprecating remark as a joke. Sensing a competition unfolding, I posted an equally unflattering high school photo of myself.
Now I viewed this image as either a bad photo, or a photo of someone having a bad day. I had this image in my mind of myself in high school as a loner with devastating good looks, a poor self image, and a unique fashion sense. The image the photo presents, on the other hand, is one of a sad, shy, lonely person who didn’t have a friend in the world. And guess what happened next? A groundswell of comments poured in from my former classmates. To a person, they all said essentially the same thing: “Now that’s the Guy I remember.”
I was frankly floored, but I shouldn’t have been. This is how I was perceived by others—and this is exactly the affect the march of time has had on my current self esteem. I know this because last night my daughter posted a photo of me holding her son. I hardly recognized myself.
There were creases next to my eyes, known as “crow’s feet” by women when they are critiquing themselves. My hair, while not entirely white was thinning and missing much of the vibrancy it held in my youth. My ears and nose seemed a little larger, and my unshaven whiskers were also dotted with white specks. The only remaining sign of youth I could find was the color in my eyes—and all of this juxtaposed with the three-day-old infant, Roy, I held in my arms.
Maybe it was simply the camera, or the angle of the photo, or maybe I was buying into the voices of self-loathing once again but, whatever the reason, I felt as though I was seeing myself as others see me for the first time.
Somewhere in our minds, most of us see ourselves as youthful, kind, generous, and attractive—and the first three are typically true of the people I’ve known throughout my life. That’s because they are the result of a state of mind. That last item, however, is largely beyond our control.
Father Time is relentless, and no amount of wishing will keep us looking the way we remember ourselves in our 20s or 30s or even our 40s. So now, how to be gracious and accept the crow’s feet as badges of dignity and wisdom?
I’m not sure—but I think it involves spending time with your grandson, watching him grow, and patiently answering all those inevitable questions. Questions like “Why is grass green?“ and “Why is the sky blue?” or most importantly “Papa, why do you drink whiskey and carry a gun?”
The answer to all those questions given the fact that I’m neither a science teacher nor a psychologist is, of course, “Because. What do you say? Wanna go for ice cream?”