At Least I'm Not 50

At Least I'm Not 50
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

The inevitable finally happened. I'd known it was coming for years -- known the exact date and time. I planned, stalled, and fought for as long as I could, but it still happened despite my best efforts.

I turned 40 this past Wednesday.

There's really nothing special about 40. I don't feel any different than I did the day before, when I was 39.99726 years old. But 40 is such a vastly different age than all my previous ages. Not only did my decade change, now there's a zero at the end of it. It's sort of how Western Civilization felt when the calendar year changed to 2000 (although the millennium didn't officially begin until 2001!). We had reached a major milestone, but we didn't know how to feel.

I was born exactly at midnight on June 27th, so on the night of the 26th, I watched the second hands march slowly toward 12:00 on my bedroom clock until they reached their target.

"I'm 40 now," I mumbled to my wife, wondering how much longer I would be able to stay up so late.

"Happy birthday, old man." She kissed me on the cheek. We watched a "Scrubs" rerun, and I fell asleep before it was half over. Dangit. I thought old people didn't need as much sleep.

My older friends and family scoffed at my worries. "Forty is nothing," they would say. "Wait until you hit your fifties."

On the other hand, Oldest Daughter would remind me 12 times a day for three weeks, "Wow, 40 years old. That's four decades."

"Oh yeah? Well, you're one decade."

"I know," she'd laugh, fully aware she had a good six or seven decades of life left, while I had just reached my halfway point.

"Just you wait," I'd warn. "You'll be this age sooner than you think, and it'll be your kids making fun of you." But my predictions went unheeded. Thirty years is an eternity to a 10-year-old. When I was 10, I was convinced 40 would never arrive. Shows what I know.

"You're only as old as you feel," my friends told me, which presents its own problems. I've got the knees of a 60-year-old, but I still have the sense of humor of a 12-year-old. In other words, "doody" make me giggle, but my knees grate and grind when I climb the stairs.

I've tried reframing how I think of my age. It's the 11th anniversary of my 29th birthday. Or better yet, the 19th anniversary of my 21st birthday. Or I'm not 40, I'm $39.95. But Oldest Daughter's words keep ringing in my ears: "Wow, 40 years old. That's four decades."

I was born in 1967, in the year of the Summer of Love, the Monterey Pops festival, and the Central Park Be-In. In 1967, gas was 33 cents a gallon, a new house cost $24,600, and Frank Sinatra won a Grammy for "Strangers in the Night." (Summer of Love, indeed!)

In June 1967, the Beatles release their greatest album, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, bans on interracial marriages were declared unconstitutional, and Winneconne, Wisconsin seceded from its home state and declared war, only to rejoin it a day later. 1967 was a momentous year, and it defined "The Sixties."

It was also 40 lo-o-o-o-ong freakin' years ago, which brings me back to my original whine: I'm 40 freakin' years old!

"Don't be so mopey," my wife said. "They say 40 is the new 30."

"But I liked the old 30 better."

She has a point though. With advances in personal health, nutrition, and exercise, 40 is a new beginning for many, not the beginning of the end. Of course, this means I'll have to start eating right and exercising more, so I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that. But if I want to see my fifth decade, I should probably start.

Wow, 40 years old. That's four decades.

"You think that's hard," my friend, Dick, told me on my birthday morning. "Try being 60."

"Yeah, but you've had 20 years to get used to the idea. This is my first day."

But it was my friend, Darrin, who made me appreciate my new age.

"You've reached the age of Wisdom. This is a major milestone among men. You're at the age where you can dispense counsel, and give advice," he said.

I was stunned at the thought: I have reached an Age of Importance. I am wise. I have experience. I have gravitas. (Best of all, I have the wisdom and experience to know what "gravitas" means.)

But some things haven't changed, even though I'm in a new marketing demographic. I still like listening to loud music. I can still play soccer and Ultimate Frisbee. I still won't wear dark socks with shorts.

And most importantly, I still think "doody" is hilarious.