The reinvention of the 60-year-old man

Let’s be clear: I don’t feel that I am in competition with these fellows. I don’t measure my appearance against Clooney, or my achievements against Obama – just as well, of course. Nor do I feel obliged to put my musical talents up against Boy George, Billy Ray Cyrus or Axl Rose, take on Tom Ford in the sartorial stakes, or audition against actors Tim Roth, Tom Cruise, Woody Harrelson and Matthew Broderick, all, like me, 60 this year. I’m not in the same league as this lot, have never aimed to be and it doesn’t bother me that I never will be.

What gives me pause for thought is the many different kinds of man that one can be at 60 – and that is before also considering the unfamous folk who, by definition, don’t figure in any list of celebrity 60-year-olds.

There are a lot of us about. More than ever, in fact. Through the latter half of the 20th century, the population of the UK has been steadily getting older, and the baby boomers and their elders (people of 60 and over) now make up more than 20 per cent of the population – a powerful and relatively wealthy cohort that is still becoming larger, as a segment of the total population, every year. We are numerous, varied and versatile.

I’m sure this wasn’t always the case. My father turned 60 when I was at university in the 1980s. He had just retired from his main career but, unusually for his generation, went on to work as a freelancer for another 25 years. It was much more in character for his contemporaries to treat 60 as the signpost for the sidelines – time to slip on the Hush Puppies or the golf shoes, light up a pipe of Old Holborn and pop that Val Doonican album on the hi-fi.

Sixty is different now. It’s true that I have friends who have retired to cultivate their gardens, explore ancient buildings or work on their French. But many others are highly, if not always wisely, active: chasing yet another million – or another wife – or chasing their new toddlers around a playground.

Still others are locked in dogged pursuit of new ambitions and new milestones: another mountain to climb, route to cycle, tech innovation to be mastered. And there are one or two who have succumbed along the way to drink and drugs, divorce, remorse and financial chaos.

Some of us – not all, clearly – have learned the Dos and Don’ts of late middle age male life, which mostly revolve around wardrobe… and how to respond to other people’s wardrobes. Twenty-something friends of offspring in skimpy outfits? Don’t gawp. Don’t comment. Creepy old man has never been an attractive lifestyle choice, and if creepy behaviour is less acceptable now than ever before, that’s really no bad thing.

So… where am I in all of this? And how do I measure up? We’ll keep this brisk, to avoid any hint of smugness or suggestion of group therapy. I am healthy, solvent, in full-time employment, happily married and contentedly housed. I have grown-up children who not only love but also, I think, like me (and I them, of course).

For all of this I am appropriately, but not loudly, grateful. Is it enough? Do I feel successful? Happy? Fulfilled? Do I feel, crucially, that beyond the age of 60 there are good things yet to come? Have I, not to put too fine point on it, peaked?

Probably. I’m not going to become a CEO – or any kind of O, come to that. I’m unlikely to write the Great Novel or to become significantly richer or fitter. And I don’t expect, or want, dramatic romantic adventures with a new love.

I’m not ruling anything out – that would be too depressing. I’ll be happy to try new pastimes, visit new places and acquire new skills. But it’s clear, nonetheless, that in many ways this is as good as it is going to get. And that is OK.

The path this far has not always been smooth: I wouldn’t want to revisit my stressy, messy 40s. But after plenty of careful thought in my 50s, and conversations with people older than me who seem to be contented, it belatedly began to dawn on me that the way to be happy, and stay happy, is to align as far as possible what I want with what I can get. Even if the rest of my life looks like what archaeologists sometimes call “managed decline”, at least I am the kind of 60-year-old man that I truly wish to be.

I’m not having such a wild and crazy time as I was when I was 20, but I know how daft I would be to try. And I’m a great deal happier, healthier and less financially frazzled than I was when I was 40, largely because I’m no longer trying to be what I’m not.

As a fortunate 60-year-old man, life is what I make of it, and if I can avoid making an idiot of myself in the process, that will do nicely.

Gym wardrobe: “I have the body of a man half my age. Here, feel this…”

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