Life has made us who we are. The loves, the rigors, the tragedies… By the time a man reaches 60 or 70, or 80, he’s been beaten and bruised—physically and mentally. Most of us would not trade our scars. They’re symbols of our tempering, of how we’ve been heated and hammered on the anvil of life and forged into steel.
That’s not the general perception. At 65 you’re supposed to be old. Society almost demands it. I recall one patient brought into the office by his daughter and son-in-law. The two younger people were upset. “Doctor Rabuffo, pleaaase tell him to stop.” “Stop? Stop what?” It was mid-summer. “He’s sixty seven, he shouldn’t be doing it.” My patient, disheartened, shrugged and said, “I’m fine.” I look at the daughter. She was desperate. “He insists on mowing the lawn!” “Oh,” I said. Her concern was based strictly on the number of years he’d been alive. He was in great shape. I pointed a finger at him, shook it in his face and said, “You watch… You watch what those Red Sox do. This is the year!”
To some people gray hair is enough to judge a man old, teetering, and probably incompetent. Not long ago I went to see my son’s band play at a local dive. I had come from the gym, so I had on a sweatshirt. The hood was crumpled up behind my neck. I sat down next to his wife. She leaned over, kissed me on the forehead, then reached back and smoothed out the hood. I pulled back and gave her a “what are you doing?” look. She said, “I didn’t want you looking like an old man.” I’m thinking, Am I looking like an old man? I just came from the gym. I just leg-pressed 400 pounds.
Actually, one of the recurrent themes with the guys at the gym—these guys are all retired, in their 60s or 70s, extremely fit and healthy—is the resentment of the fact that, since they have gray hair, people think they’re feeble and incompetent. I had a conversation with one who coaches wrestling—a part time job with his 13-year-old grandson’s team. He was trying to talk to his students about some strategies or holds. One kid began to sass him because he thought the coach was too old to coach wrestling. Now this guy was as fit as anybody you might see; but he had a whole head of hair, and it was gray. He had also been a state champion wrestler. He
said, “I talked to this kid about being polite and not saying things like that, but he just wouldn’t stop. So I said, “Okay. Let’s wrestle.” I asked, “What happened?” He said, “I beat the shit out of him. I felt he really needed to learn that just because you’re a particular age, things don’t stop.” I asked, “Did he get it?” He said, “Yeah. He got it… the third time.”
With some people it takes more than three times. I was trail running, well, trail jogging, and my shoe caught a protruding root. As I stumbled I felt a twinge in my right hamstring. The next day I was having lunch with a younger friend. I limped into the restaurant. He said, “Ah, yer having problems with yer back.” I said, “Hamstring,” and told him what had happened. He said, “Yer a good example of the active elderly.”
If I had enough hair it would have bristled. My first thought was, “Up yours!” but instead I said, “Excuse me?” He backed off. I told him a story of one of my patients. “He was this wiry little guy; 90 years old. He exercised every morning. He had a 16-pound maul. He’d hold it in one hand and raise and lower it 50 times. Then he’d do it in the other hand. He’d do that every day. He told me, ‘One day some guy said to me, ‘Wow! Isn’t that great that you’re so active at your age!’ So I said to him, ‘Bring me your wife, drop her off and she can tell you tomorrow how active I am.’”
Men are fighters. We don’t accept our frailties, our set-backs, our diseases. It’s built in to our biological role, and those tags—active elderly, old man, old fart, codger, geezer, senior citizen—are prejudices against the WISE (Wisdom, Intuition, Sagaciousness, Experience), or the term I prefer, The Sage. As with any prejudice, the characteristics bestowed upon the entire class are often based upon a small sampling.
Jeffrey Rabuffo, MD
Dr. Jeff has a weekly, half hour, live radio show on WLIS/WMRD, 1150AM (Old Saybrook, CT), which can be streamed live or on demand via http://wliswmrd.net. The show airs Mondays at 11AM with a replay on Thursdays at 11AM.
You can also order a copy of Dr. Jeff’s book, The Life of Men, available in a 2nd edition paperback on Amazon at this link http://amzn.to/2oICjjx
Dr. Jeff is also available to speak at your group, club, or organization.
He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org