The Middle Age Mountaintop: Why Dads Should Be Celebrating Their 40s
Chako S. on 11 Jun 2014 at 8:30am
Written by: Jim Gill
What is it about Father’s Day that seems to bring out the middle-age cliches for dads? Goofy ties, ugly business socks, and little sports-themed tchotchkes for the office that remind you that you are no longer a boy of summer. But it’s all in good fun, and you’re mature enough to shrug it off with a smile and give your kids the biggest hugs in the world because they’re all that matters in this whole made-up greeting card holiday anyway. Still, why do we celebrate fatherhood with gag gifts and reminders of the glory days?
For starters, midlife is often marked as the period when things start to go south — literally. It’s often associated with critical words like love handles, crow’s feet, and wrinkles, but could middle age actually be man’s Golden Age? When asked which period of life they would most want to go back to, researchers found that the majority of participants 65 and older chose their 40s. This might surprise a lot of men currently trudging through midlife.
First, there’s the physical decline: It all starts when the hair on your head starts thinning, but you’ve got new bushels of body hair, and… Well, you get the point. And then there’s the stress. The 40 to 59-year-old male age group reports the highest levels of depression out of any other age group, which makes sense. Even without careers, relationships, kids, and aging parents, you've suddenly found yourself staring into the existential abyss everyday wondering if your life is half full or half empty.
But the idea of middle age is all a cultural construct — like so many other things we spend way too much time worrying about — and a perspective shift is in order. If we look to our predecessors and refer to a New York Times article from 1881, we’ll find the Victorians viewed midlife as the point when “[our] powers are at the highest point of development and our power of disciplining these powers should be at their best.” And this seems to bear out. Professional, artistic, and even sexual success all seem to rev up in these middle years, even if it feels like we're forging through our days with a parachute open behind us.
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I never thought so much about being middle-aged as when I started a relationship with a beautiful, artistic 20-something woman. Suddenly, I was self-conscious in ways I’d never known before. But after nearly two years of living together, I’m starting to see it was all misplaced. As Cohen’s article reminds us, “Middle age begins the moment you think of yourself as ‘not young.'" I feel younger than ever, but I also feel more in control of my life than I ever did at 22. Of all of our friends in relationships, so many of them include a man nearing or well into middle age connected to a partner of varying ages. It seems that whether you’re 25 or 55, a middle-aged man (and all of those high points of development and discipline that go with him) is an attractive thing.
This year for Father’s Day, my sons (ages 10 and 12) and my girlfriend are headed out to hike Tire Mountain, a 7.5-mile trek across the steep wildflower meadows of the Cascade Range’s foothills in Oregon. We’ll pack a lunch and tell stories, share jokes, quote movies, discuss internet memes, and take in the views of snowcapped volcanoes on the horizon. This is my ideal Father’s Day, and there’s nothing about it that makes me feel old. And more than not feeling old, it’s tangible proof that I’m not.
It’s this desire to look as good as you feel that could be why you’ll see clinics start to advertise Father’s Day specials for treatments like Botox, Ultherapy, and CoolSculpting. New York-based doctor Stephen Greenberg told the New York Times that “he’s seen requests for procedures around Father’s Day go up close to 50% among men; the highest level than any other time of year.”
In fact, RealSelf data shows that 72% of plastic surgeons we surveyed reported an increase in male patients in 2013. These men are seeking out treatments for facial rejuvenation (such as brow lift, eyelid surgery), skin tightening, and even liposuction, the latter of which was the number one surgical procedure for men last year.
In a Business Insider article on the growing popularity of male plastic surgery, Dr. Douglas Steinbrech calls out treatments with cheeky names like the “Forbes Facelift” and the “Daddy Do-over,” which are aimed at men who are at the height of their powers, but are worried they don’t look it. “I tell these men,” Dr. Steinbrech says, “I want to leave a little bit of wrinkles — since wrinkles are sexy and trustworthy.” Clearly, the end goal for men considering these elective procedures is not to look like are back in their 20s, but to dial back some of the ruggedness of their aging features — think Patrick Dempsey, who has openly admitted to using Botox.
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So the next time you look in the mirror and are pining for your lost youth, remember that you aren't over-the-hill. You’re on the mountaintop, so appreciate how far you’ve come and enjoy the view.
For more inspiration, here is Donald Justice’s beautiful poem “Men at Forty”:
And deep in mirrors
The face of the boy as he practices trying
His father’s tie there in secret
And the face of that father,
Still warm with the mystery of lather…
more fathers than sons themselves now
Happy Father’s Day!
Jim Gill is a father of two and a writer living in Eugene, OR, who has published fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in various literary magazines and anthologies across the country. Follow him on Twitter @jagill97.
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Photo credits: killarick on Instagram, CSMonaghan2012 on Instagram