Yesterday, I celebrated my 67th birthday. It was a grand day which included a fine breakfast cooked by my wife, a dairy queen desert at lunch and a delicious dinner at night. During the day I got to visit my favorite places like the Home Depot and Tractor Supply. I also received calls from my many family members congratulating me on my birthday. As corny as it may sound it does make me feel good when so many people take the time to call and wish me a happy birthday. During several of the conversations with my sons I stated that I did not feel like I was 67 years old. The image in my mind while growing up of somebody in their 60s was a very gray haired and somewhat physically impaired person.
I thought about why I had such a vision. I think that I might have somewhat of an answer to it. When I look back to the 20th century, let’s say 1910 in 1920, the life expectancy of most men was usually below 60 years old. If you look back at the century before that and a century before that the life expectancy of a man was even shorter. When they were pioneers traveling across this great country to find their new homes, the life expectancy there was just in your mid-30s. So I think that when I was a young man or even before that, a child, I did not see or hear of many men who live past the age of the 60s. There was always the occasional news article about someone reaching 80 years old. But many of the men who served during the World War II era had a much shorter lifespan. I think one of the big reasons was that everybody smoked cigarettes. It was a sign of growing up and being accepted by the adult environment. I would watch commercials on TV, movies and television with celebrities smoking a certain kind of cigarette. It was also during the 1940s up to the end of the century that the medical community made such great strides in the advancement of medicines that would extend life.
There was a life before computers and it included everything from; coal miners digging out coal from the earth, steelworkers forging steel to men walking precariously on metal frames of high buildings. Buildings in every school and business had asbestos and its walls and ceilings which exposed all children from the early age of kindergarten on to the end of a career. As the horseless carriage went away and was replaced by the automobile, more lives were taken on the highway than in many wars. After the era of prohibition it seemed like every working man would come home to drink some form of alcohol or and smoke a cigarette. Men and women both suffered from heart attacks due to clogged arteries without any real warnings from an attorney general. I believe life was so much harder, physically and mentally, for the men and women of the 20th century and those in the 21st century. I imagine this has been the story since the beginning of man’s time on this earth. And for my generation, the baby boomers, we witnessed that a senior citizen would be lucky to make it to the age of 70. And so I believe that is what created the image of a man in his 60s.
I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. When I talk to men and women of my age they also seem to say they can’t believe that at this age they would fell this good. While visiting my friend in Sacramento who is in his early 90s, he also found it hard to believe he was in his 90s and feeling so good.
The culture we live in today starts putting out the black balloons on your 40th birthday, sometimes on your 30th birthday. Although most of the time it is done in jest, the black balloons represent death. On many occasions I have received canes and walkers. When first receiving my AARP card I was taken aback by the fact that I’ve become a senior citizen. The humor associated with such gifts as black balloons is not received well by the person receiving the gift. I spoke of the bias against age in an earlier blog. And it certainly exists in the working world where your age will make you retire or leave your job. Pilots of commercial aircraft are usually made to retire when they turn 60. It is not because they show to be mentally or physically unable to perform the task, but some groups some where set the standard. There are other jobs that prevent you from even applying because of your age. It wasn’t until recently Los Angeles police department allowed a 60-year-old man to join the force.
I believe that most of this is happening because those standards and limitations were established many years ago. With the growing number of centurions living amongst us the focus should be taken off of the number of years that I have survived and put upon my existing capabilities and mental capacity. In the middle of the 20th century many men were expected to join the company and stay there for some 30 or 40 years. In today’s world the professionals are more likely to spend 2 to 5 years at a location before moving on. So rather than looking at an employee that you want to get 20, 30 or 40 years out of you can expect to get two to five years out that person. That to me puts the senior citizen back into the equation.
In another perspective of celebrating a birthday, it is a time to appreciate all those things that you’ve done to reach this age. I enjoy hearing my relatives sing happy birthday to me and I enjoy singing to them on their birthdays. Although I am surprised that I’ve made it to 67 I look forward to making it to 68. Happily when I’m 68 I look forward to making 69 and so on.. I believe that birthdays should be celebrated. I may find it hard to believe I am 67 but I’m in no rush to stop at 67. I know that when I was 21 I didn’t think I’d make it to live to be the right old age of 30. And then from 30 to 50 the years pass by so fast that they are almost a blur. These are the years you are usually raising a family and developing a profession to support that family. I don’t know what I expected originally when I turn 60, but I was still working at that point. I have celebrated my birthday in all types of styles and fashions. The one thing that seems to be constant as that comes way too fast and yet it is very much appreciated.
Happy birthday to the many other Leos out there, enjoy the day.