I will awake Sunday morning to another page having fallen from the calendar of my life. In total there will be 42 similar sheets lying scattered bearing witness to this mortal coil. Some of the pages remain in near pristine condition as testament to those ‘very good’ years while others reveal the blood stains of wounds endured, often self inflicted, that come as a consequence of merely living.
Strangely enough, what I immediately find fascinating isn’t the extra strands of gray or the deepening crow’s foot but the vivid memories I have of my own father when he was this same age. I can’t help but wonder if he ever clashed with these all too familiar demons I can’t seem to cast out, and if my son sees me as the giant I believed him to be.
I’m quick to admit it’s in this stage of life where many men begin regressing into what professionals call “mid life crisis”. Where in these watershed moments some of my contemporaries start feeling the heaviness of their mortality as they sense the years in their rearview are starting to outnumber those in the windshield. And some, in a hope to lighten this burden, will employ levers and pulleys that have made men my age the laughing stock of primetime sitcoms and The View. As if putting a band aide on a paper cut, these middle aged men seek women half their age and toys twice their budget. The first symptom is usually a sudden and inexplicable longing for 350 horsepower, two doors, and a retractable top. As by some automotive marvel a leather interior, dual exhaust, and the color red has the identical age defying effects of Botox.
But as humorous the visual is of the overweight crisis stricken man clinging to his toupee with one hand while turning the steering wheel of his Ferrari with the other, I can appreciate the wretch’s motives. It would take a fool to believe only women are allergic to getting old. Plastic surgery for men, while a smidgen to women’s, has exploded in the last decade. And anyone sitting in a moment of quiet reflection and deep contemplation of their own demise can’t help but wish to delay that inevitable as long as possible. But while there may be commonalities between the sexes and our hope of staying young – no matter how each goes about it – how they got to that point is vastly different.
I once considered myself a hero, warrior of myth, and a champion determined to grab Wall Street by the testicles and never let go. I saw myself claiming ultimate victory atop the mountain of a 57th story luxury high rise overlooking mid-town New York enshrined on the cover of business magazines chronicling my days as a financial legend and my nights as the most eligible playboy in the Western Hemisphere. Men would want to be me and women would want to be with me.
My journey towards this fairytale didn’t get very far. I soon realized I lacked the proper bloodline, SAT scores, Ivy League credentials, and failsafe trust fund should it all go sideways. Instead of dwelling on the past I kept myself busy with a less glamorous career, financed a Honda instead of stroking a check for the Ferrari, became married with kids in lieu of the World’s Most Eligible Bachelor; and ultimately saw it all go up in flames. All of that was effective in keeping my attention away from the beast I was destined to encounter. A monster all men must at some point wrestle, pin down, and finally defeat.
The time will come when every man must settle with the fact that the hero of his youth, the knight destined to slay the fieriest dragon, rescue the gorgeous princess, and save the kingdom – is dead. That the hopes and dreams he might have had in his youth must someday be sacrificed at the altar of reality. As boys we are told to dream big. We can be in the majors, date the super model, and be on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And innocently enough we believe the tales of the hero we are to become. But what we’re never told is how to carry on when the prophecy isn’t fulfilled and the hero dies.
I have fought the urge to turn and face this reality believing there is always more time. In the twenties I was immortal, the thirties I was preoccupied, but now that I’m into my forties and see all the pages laying around my heart quickens as I notice time moving exponentially faster but I’m nowhere near where I thought I’d be so many years ago. It’s a truth all men must come to terms with and it’s here the man’s woe truly begins. Because when he turns to face it he is left with two choices. He can either grieve the death of that youthful hero thereby beginning a new journey towards fulfillment and peace or he can attempt to resurrect what should remain dead, and like Dr. Frankenstein, create a monster resembling nothing of the original ambition.
Until a man properly buries the slain hero and mourning his passing not for what’s lost but instead for gained from the experience and the better person that emerges he will forever try to fulfill that long ago destiny in distorted and unhealthy ways. And by so doing enter that life crisis with the potential to destroy everyone and everything around him in the process. But unlike a traditional burial ceremony, the laying to rest of this fallen warrior is a long process requiring wisdom, maturity, and gut wrenching honesty. None of which seem in abundant supply with the majority of men.Facing that truth is often far too severe.
I’m not certain what this 43rd year holds for me, whether the page will remain unscathed and blemish free or end with scars of pain and injury . But amid the unknown one thing will remain certain – I will still be mourning the death of the innocent hero.