In seven days, I will be 50 years-old. This is … weird. I do not feel the way I expected I would feel when I was approaching 50, nor do any of my friends. The only time I feel like I’m middle-aged is when my body does some bullshit that takes me down for hours because I had the nerve to stand up quickly. And I really hate it when I have to use the flashlight on my phone to see a menu. I mean, at that point, I may as well be dropping my pants for free and singing the Old Gray Mare.
Anyway. This has been on my mind for a little bit, so I had something to say when someone used my tumblr ask me thingy earlier this week:
Q: I hope I’m as cool as you when I’m 49. I’d like to think I’m taking the right steps towards that version of myself.
A: So I’m not sure I’m cool, but I do know that I don’t suck, and that it’s a choice I make every day.
I desperately wish someone in my family had told me, or shown me by example, that getting older doesn’t mean getting stupid and boring and stuffy and extremely uncool. I wish I’d known that, because I spent all of my life until I was in my 40s feeling like there was this day coming very soon when I would have to stop listening to punk, stop playing video games, put on a suit, and start yelling at kids for no good reason. I didn’t know that you don’t have to suddenly stop being who you are and become something or someone you hate, just because of a certain age. I know that’s super obvious, but to young me, it was not. My dad was an asshole, my mom never showed up for me. Directors and people on set had been treating me like a thing for my entire life. I got yelled at for no reason from adults who knew better almost every day. Most of my elementary school teachers were authoritarian, evangelical assholes. All of these different adults, consistently, shut me down and made me feel like I didn’t matter, the things I liked were stupid, and my opinions were invalid because of reasons I didn’t understand because I was a dumb kid. So I presumed that when you got to be a certain age, that’s what happened. I didn’t want to be that, at all, and I was sincerely afraid of the day it would happen.
But as I got older, I discovered that all that stuff I hated about adults doesn’t automatically happen. Those adults I just mentioned all made a choice to be an asshole. I just didn’t know it. I was in my early 20s when I did a movie with a cinematographer who was, I think, 45 at the time. He was the coolest, kindest, most artistic dude I’d ever known. He mentored me and we had epic fun making great art together. I remember telling him, “I’m not afraid of being in my 40s like I used to be. I didn’t know you could still be cool.”
It’s sad, that I grew up in such a toxic environment, and didn’t know any of these things.
So, 9 days before I turn 50, here are a couple things I have figured out: You know who sucks when they hit 49 and 50? People who sucked when they were 20 and never grew up. You know who is an asshole at 49 and 50? Yep. Someone who was an asshole as a kid and never experienced consequences for being an asshole.
Hitting middle age has been awesome for me. Other than the aging of my body and its reluctance / refusal to do what I want it to do, I love everything about it. I wish I hadn’t spent so much of my life being afraid that, when I hit 50, it was all over. Because honestly it’s kind of just starting. The coolest stuff in my life to date has all happened in the last ten years, and I’m so grateful that it coincided with me figuring out a lot of shit so I could enjoy it.
The best part of getting older, by several thousand light years, is the part where we figure out how to stop putting up with other people’s bullshit, and we contract our social circle until it’s only populated with a VERY few people who deserve us. And I am incredibly grateful for these occasional opportunities to be a 49 year-old dad who can say all the things that would have been reassuring for 19 year-old me to hear (he wouldn’t have understood, but 29 year-old me would have remembered, and he would have understood. I think.) I sincerely hope someone hears it and finds it helpful.
Anyway, you’re gonna be fine. Just remember that being cool, kind, honest, honorable, reliable, listening and showing up … they are all choices. If you want to be cool when you’re 49, make the choice and set the example for someone to follow you.
Treat kids the way you wanted to be treated when you were young. Listen to them when they offer you the privilege, because that means they trust you, and you have credibility with them. Be a mentor. Be supportive. Show up. Make a choice to be the person you need in the world, and never stop being that person. Start today, and when you’re nearing 50 like I am, hopefully you’ll remember who you needed right now, so you can be that person to someone else in the future. You’re already asking the right questions and taking the first steps. I believe in you. You’ve got this.