Shortly after he retired from the Marine Corps, my husband expressed a great deal of discontent, regret, and almost hostile ambiguity about the previous 20 years of his life because he realized he was no longer 25 years old. Despite all I’d read on the subject of the male mid-life crisis, I was still taken about by his reaction to himself.
I saw a strapping young buck when I met and married him. As the years went by, though, I came to see a grown man who only slowly conceded the triumphs of time and still managed to age gracefully, simultaneously respectful of his talents as well as his limits. Everything he’s physically withstood over the last couple of decades hasn’t taken nearly the toll it has on some of his peers; and he’s one of a lucky few to have grown into his looks rather than having peaked in high school or college.
He has always been open-minded and compassionate, and his sense of adventure, work ethic, and sense of humor haven’t suffered. He is more knowledgeable, understanding, and confident than ever. His new beard and mustache complements his eyes and solicits genuine comment from those who knew him before he re-entered the civilian world. He really does have the most beautiful eyes. Thankfully, so does our daughter.
Unfortunately, this is not what he sees at all.
As if he’d never looked into a mirror before, the reality of his reflection hit him like a drunk driver. He sincerely wasn’t expecting what he saw - and I’m still confused about what changed from one day to the next for him. The 48-year-old man who can still run, swim, bicycle, and work circles around most 20-somethings only sees the brushstrokes of time.
When I look in the mirror, I (desperately?) weigh wisdom and knowledge against wrinkles and gray hair. He does no such weighing; rather, he doesn’t take any internal good into consideration, allowing what he sees to override who he is and how he felt before looking into the mirror that fateful day.
Aging is a process that most women are acutely aware of from the moment their mothers introduce them to moisturizer. This usually happens somewhere between the last batch of Easy-Bake oven cookies and the onset of menstruation. We are taught to nip it in the bud even as we’re told the flower of our youth is rotting on the vine.