You Know You're Over 40 When…

Archive for the category “family”

You’re Less Of A D*ck Than You Used To Be

(Note: The word asterisked above is not ‘duck’. Nobody is less of a duck than they used to be when they’re over 40, except perhaps ducks, because they don’t live to that sort of age. By definition, if you’re a duck that’s over 40, you’re likely to be dead, and thus you are indeed less of a duck than you used to be. 100% less of one.)

In his recent speech to students graduating from Syracuse University, the writer George Saunders said many wise, funny, beautifully written things. But two points particularly leapt out at me as I read it (and ah, if I’d only been a young person hearing it!). Firstly, Saunders essential point, the speech’s main message, which was this:

“Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth? Those who were kindest to you, I bet. It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.”

He goes on to note that to do just that – to be kind – “is hard”. And that brings me (or rather, him) to the second point:

“One thing in our favor:  some of this “becoming kinder” happens naturally, with age.  It might be a simple matter of attrition:  as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish – how illogical, really.  We come to love other people and are thereby counter-instructed in our own centrality.  We get our butts kicked by real life, and people come to our defense, and help us, and we learn that we’re not separate, and don’t want to be.  We see people near and dear to us dropping away, and are gradually convinced that maybe we too will drop away (someday, a long time from now).  Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving.”

As I read those words (overlooking such glaring spelling errors as ‘favor’ and ‘defense’), I nodded. Because Saunders had expressed something which I had noticed in myself.

Namely: that I am less of a dick than I used to be.

I was having dinner last week with a friend who’s a year younger than me; and she spoke about the time her dad went through something similar to what my dad is experiencing right now. My friend was 25 when it happened and admitted to me: “I couldn’t cope with it back then”. The implication being that she could cope with it – or at least have a better understanding of it, and a different response to it – now. Now that she’s older.

I told her I felt exactly the same way about my response to my father’s illness.

Because as I sit here back at my childhood home caring for my dad, like the lead in a Zach Braff movie whose soundtrack is not hipster indie bands but BBC Midlands Today, I realise I am, simply put, a better person than I used to be in my 20s, or even my 30s. George Saunders is right: I find it easier to not only show but to genuinely feel kindness; easier to be caring and more tolerant; easier to put myself second or even third (not fourth, though. I have my limits). Could I have coped with my father’s illness in my 20s? Possibly. But it would have been just that – coping, and probably barely so – rather than genuinely dealing with it. I would undoubtedly have found it harder to be open and loving and kind (and just as importantly: brutally honest); and I probably would have been getting blind drunk far more often.

I’m not saying that I was a total dick (or a total drunk) when I was in my 20s and 30s – nor that I am some sort of saint now. But I know that I have a better idea of what’s important now, and different priorities. Better priorities, I hope. I value kindness and sweetness in others more than I’ve ever done, for example; plus their ability to mix a good martini. This would have been unheard of in my 20s, largely because I didn’t drink martinis. Back then, I would have admired someone’s ability to mix a good tape (still a quality I would admire, to be fair, not least because of their initiative at getting their hands on a cassette tape).

Not so long ago on Brainy Radio (Radio 4), I heard a man talking about his autism. He described how, when he was 17, his stepfather died and he didn’t understand why his mother had to see her late husband’s body before they buried him. He said that this was a sign of his autism – but as I listened to his story (and I don’t mean to deny his take on it in any way; this was simply mine), I thought to myself: ‘That’s not autism, that’s youth’.

When I was 17, my best friend’s mother died. And I’m not proud – indeed, I’m ashamed – of how I dealt with this awful event. Because I didn’t deal with it at all. I didn’t know how to deal with it. Because I was young.

But now, to paraphrase Maya Angelou: I would know better, so I would do better. And one of the many gifts/consolations (delete according to your world view) of getting older is that we hopefully learn what is better. Both for others and ourselves.

Are there plenty of people who are over 40 and still dicks? Of course. Vladimir Putin. Rush Limbaugh. A whole host of others, many of them EDL members. But does anyone become more of a dick than they used to be when they’re over 40? I very much doubt it.

As for becoming more of a duck than you used to be: also very improbable. Just look at the ugly duckling, for example. He turned into a swan.

Kindness-cat-and-ducklingHe may not look it, but this kitten is over 40 years old

People You Remember Being Born Are Now Having Babies

prince george two fingersPrince George shows the paparazzi what he thinks of them

I remember many momentous events from 1982.  Or at least several.

My favourite pop band at the time, Bucks Fizz, scored not one but TWO number one hits, both of which I bought from Woolworths for the princely sum of 99p. A German woman called Nicole won the Eurovision Song Contest with a catchy song called Ein Bißchen Frieden and stunned the world (or at least the European part of it) by singing the encore in English, almost as if she knew she was going to win. I celebrated my 11th birthday – and used some of the money I got to buy a knock-off ‘Fame’ T-shirt from a shop in Wolverhampton – because Fame had hit our television screens that year, and instantly became The Only Thing That Was Better Than Bucks Fizz. In other televisual news, Channel 4 was born – and with it came The Only Thing Almost As Good As Fame, the sitcom Cheers (I like to think I had sophisticated tastes; plus, my mum let me stay up late to watch it). And that summer, I went on a Girl Guide camp, where we followed trails in woods, ate burnt lumpy custard, and heard through the radio the indisputable pop hit of the year (after Bucks Fizz’s singles), Come On Eileen by Dexys Midnight Runners. I remember being slightly confused by this song. Why did Kevin Rowland want her to take off her pretty red dress? What did he mean when he said his thoughts verged on dirty? And why did he look like he needed a bath? It was all very strange for an 11-year-old, not least because Dexys were grown adults who wore denim dungarees.

Slightly less confusing, though, was the birth of a baby that year to the pretty Princess Diana. Because she’d got married the year before, and that’s what happens, right?

Yes, in June 1982, Prince William was born. And looking now at pictures of William as a baby, it all comes flooding back. His enormous christening gown. Diana’s enormous shoulder pads. Charles looking completely at ease in his role as a new father:

prince-william-christening

prince-william-charles

When Chuck and Di (as an episode of Cheers once referred to them) left the hospital after the birth of Prince William, Diana was wearing a green polka dot, shoulder-padded smock dress with a large white collar. An unremarkable event, you would think, until its significance became clear last week – when, as Every Single News Outlet In The World pointed out, Prince William’s wife Kate Middleton stepped out in a green polka dot, shoulder-padded smock dress with a large white collar when she left the hospital with their first baby:

1374612594_kate-middleton-prince-william-princess-diana-prince-charles-467Spot the similarity

Sorry, what was that? It’s not the same dress? Silly news outlets!

But I digress. Because, unless you’ve been living under a rock – lucky you! – you may have noticed that The Artist Formerly Known As Princess Diana’s Baby is now a father himself. And yet it doesn’t seem like 31 years ago that he was born and given what seemed at the time a terrifically posh name: William Arthur Philip Louis. He, in turn, has just named his newborn George Alexander Louis, and it’s a sign of the times – or at least the expansion of the middle classes – that ‘George Alexander Louis’ doesn’t seem half as daft or utterly removed from our commoner lives as ‘William Arthur Philip Louis’ did in 1982 (or ‘Henry Charles Albert David’ did in 1984).  Old-fashioned, traditionally upper class names may have become the norm for British babies born in the Noughties – but back in the Eighties, they were the preserve of royalty and the very occasional celebrity. I’ll never forget Tracy Ullman calling her first child ‘Mabel’, for example. It caused consternation, not least because Mabel was a boy.

But now? Now, a ‘George Alexander Louis’ could be the son of pretty much any parent in Britain – and there’s surely no greater evidence of the royals modernising than the fact that William and Kate have decided to give their child a mere three names as opposed to four of five. Hopefully they’ll call their second one Ethan.

Like anyone who’s older than Prince William, I’ve watched him grow up – albeit from a distance because a) I don’t mix in the same circles, b) I don’t care that much about the royals and c) they have extremely tight security. I’ve watched him do all the things an average child would do: go on trips with his parents, start life at university, meet his future wife, appear on stamps.

Yet it doesn’t seem like 31 years ago that he was crawling around, preparing for life as a royal by not doing much. And I feel this incredulity at how quickly the years have flown by whenever I hear that someone who I remember being born – whether that’s a famous person or not – has a baby themselves. But flown they have; and I know that the most likely explanation for this is that time simply passes more quickly as one gets older, because each day/month/year becomes a smaller percentage of the life you’ve lived so far. This phenomenon probably explains why the 1,000 year-old Doctor Who thinks he’s some sort of Time Lord. He’s not. He’s just really, really old.

But aside from that presumably scientific theory, there’s another reason why I feel this way: these people still seem like babies to me because somewhere in my heart, I am still my 11-year-old self. I still like the bubblegum pop I loved back then, after all. And I still dream of attending the New York High School of Performing Arts. But more than this: I still can’t understand why grown-ups would ever choose to wear denim dungarees.

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