The kind older woman asked our 3-year-old foster daughter and me if we needed any help finding the doctor’s office we needed.
I found the right number on the directory, so I declined her help. Then she addressed the preschooler, telling her to hold grandpa’s hand and have a good day.
I walked in a daze onto the elevator. Grandpa? I don’t turn 42 until November. How could she think I’m a grandpa? Sure, my hair grayed prematurely. It started to turn in my mid-20s, and now it’s more white than the jet-black I had as a youth. Even my beard is about half-overtaken with gray.
I tried to dismiss her assault on my youth. A few days later, a cashier at a local fast-food restaurant gave me the senior citizen’s discount without even asking. That pushed me over the line.
I tried to ponder why these honest mistakes bothered me so much. I’m generally not a vain person, as evidenced by not putting dye into my hair over all those years.
Then I realized the problem: There’s such a disparity between their perceptions of my age and my own.
I don’t feel like a man old enough for a senior discount or grandchildren. I feel like a man still in my mid-20s.
When we went to Cedar Point recently, I rode any ride our daughters wanted to try and loved every minute of it. I continue to stubbornly move big pieces of furniture by myself. My brain still embraces the challenges of adopting new technology.
Appearances aside, my body hasn’t betrayed me yet.
That was the implied insult of their ageism, that I must be slowing down, that my best years must be behind me. In reality, my best years are still ahead of me, with the stamina to do what’s needed but the experience to not waste energy.
It also showed my own ageism. Mathematically speaking, I am old enough to be a 3-year-old’s grandfather, if I had a child at 19 and my child had a child at 19 too. That just doesn’t happen to be my circumstance.
And so what if I was eligible for the senior discount, even if it’s 20 years off? Some people say life begins at 60, as you replace the stressful monotony of child-rearing with a new era of doing what intrigues you.
Age is just a number. It’s more important to enjoy your years than count them. I’m sure there are people at 40 who are over the hill and embracing a slower lifestyle, but that’s not me or my wife. I suspect it’s not most of the people that society identifies as old.
Go ahead and call me grandpa. Give me the senior discount. It won’t hurt me. Deep down inside, I’m still confident I’m young enough to do whatever I want to do, even if outward grayness says otherwise.