Many will doubtless consider it rather cheeky (or else simply self indulgent) for someone who is only thirty years old to write on the topic of middle age, yet the topic has been somewhat on my mind of late. As I was enjoying the cool autumn air the other day, it occurred to me that I was already more than half the age my father was when he died. This, combined with the fact that I married rather younger than my father and had children sooner often leaves me with the feeling that I am already advanced well upon life's road -- and by implication wondering if mine is shorter than most.
The above may make me sound rather morbid, but it's not really any fear of death that I'm thinking of here. Dante may have found himself, midway through life's journey, in a gloomy wood (even Dante was jumping the gun less -- he was about to turn 35 when he found himself in the gloomy wood in Lent, 1300, at the beginning of Inferno) -- by my experience is more of finding myself hurdling along at tremendous speed and wondering exactly I'm going, and how soon I shall arrive. We measure ourselves by the patterns we know, and so it seems natural to measure my life by that of my father. Yet having got married earlier, had children earlier, bought a house earlier, and settled on a single full time job earlier, I can't help an odd sort of feeling of: What happens later?
To add to the effect, outside the small splinter culture in which we live in our private lives, the people I know professionally have moved in the opposite direction, with most of them having first children in their mid thirties. The picture of the four kids on my desk marks me (depending on how people choose to analyze it) as being either a very young looking 38-40 or else quite dangerously insane. (For my part, I try to provide supporting evidence for both alternatives.)
In a world in which most people seem to expect to have college age children when in their 50s and being "father of the bride" in their sixties -- there seems little precedent for someone whose children will range form 27 to 20 when he turns 50 is supposed to do with the rest of his life. In a sense, it's rather exhilarating. Uncharted territory. Age-ward ho! Yet because it's uncharted, one can't shake the odd feeling that pretty soon all the path will be covered, and one will be left standing around saying, "Well. Here we are. Where are we anyway?"
Fortnightly Book, December 4
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