Men Over 55: Facing Uncanny Realities

Men over 55 are a strange lot. Now that 50 is said to be the new 40, and we’re all to believe that somehow the inevitable is magically being thwarted by exercise, diet and viagra, men are in a kind of limbo, looking back to what was and forward to what is fast approaching, only to realize what will never be. Men over 55 live in a kind of fog, fluctuating between wonderment and bleakness, surprised by how little we know and confused by the reversal of our dominant and submissive roles. Men over 55 men are confused about who to be. The world makes little sense to us.

I am a susceptible 57, which is closer to 60, and the difference between 55 and 57, psychologically and intellectually, is that you learn that any romantic notions you had when you were 50 or 55 are just that, convoluted ways of lying to yourself. I’ve learned that 57 is the male’s age of reality: the very real sense that you’ve lived and that there’s less time, not more, comes crashing in and you have to wonder, what have I done and what am I going to do with what’s left of me? Is there room for more fantasy? Because fantasy, after all, is essential; it’s how we experience the material world, our imagined selves waving at windmills. Without fantasy, there is no reality. Fantasy enables our sense of limitations. Only at 57, there’s less fantasy, more of a sense of how things are.

Over 55 means that a man is looking at his life through a prism that blurs certain things, but makes others — like the end of things — more acute. Carpe diem takes on new meaning.

Now I sit to pee — not stand. I did start this around the time I turned 50, though, because I figured that I should let gravity help all the way — a prostate is a prostate, something quite vulnerable in a man. Oh, did you hear? Stan has prostate cancer. Prostate and cancer are the most frightening of bedfellows, as breast cancer is for women. Only we men never talk about it and proceed silently into the abyss. Fantasies about manhood die slowly.

At 40, prostate exams began for me, but by the time I turned 50, unstressing the prostate became critical. Testosterone, the fuel of fantasies, becomes an agressor. Over 50, testosterone, once so dear to our souls, turns on us. I realized this when I had my first colonoscopy, that harrowing experience of probing the rectum and colon to detect inflammed tissue, ulcers, and abornormal growths. In other words, the procedure that determines how well you’ve handled processed foods and stress — children, marriage, work, the world coming apart, the ups and downs of the economy, McDonald’s food, one too many beers and too many cigars, and the realization that you have no control over anything. The prostate is not keen on uphevel.

The colonoscopy (women 50 and over also have these) is stressful. It begins with a taxing prep: a strong laxative that forces you on the toilet for most of the night before the procedure. I thought that the prostate exams I’ve had for ten years — basically the doctor asking me to assume the position so that he could do to me what everyone else had been doing to me for years — was it as far as humiliation. But when I saw the pinky size width of the three foot tube with a camera on its end — an eye to probe my inner most secrets? — that was to travel through my intestines, well, I knew I’d reached a new understanding of humility. I knew that I’d reached a new sense of what it means to be a man past a certain age. And I knew, from that day forward, that a man’s life is about everything below the waste — prostate, colon, penis; they all begin to falter and with them goes any exaggerated sense of manliness. Fantasies are effectively killed off at this point. Pragmatism reigns supreme. It’s about survival from here on out.  I take a heaping tablespoon of Green Vibrance, organic and freeze dried grass juices, a superfood, in a tall glass of water — my natural answer to viagra dreams.  With a healthy diet, it works wonders.  And I take a teaspoon of Norwegian Cold Liver Oil to get my Omega 3 fatty acids.

The family medical practice I go to has no male doctors (the only male MD has moved on), so my new prostate examiner is a woman MD. My first ever physical performed by a female was when I entered the Navy. Twelve or so young men in white underwear stood in a line. As the female Naval officer walked by, she checked us out. “Turn your head and cough, please.” When she walked behind us, accompanied by 2 nurses, we assumed the position. I didn’t know it then, but this was a life-lesson, a scene to be repeated over and over throughout my life. I don’t mind that a woman examines me, after all, plenty of male MD’s examine women. My mother’s generation had only men doctors. The tides have turned, and this is fine by me. A prostate is a prostate — who cares? I like the more submissive role we men have to assume.

But I do care that I have to check the unexpected hair popping from the edges of my ear lobes — a challenge to shaving. I do care that I have to manicure my nose hair that apparently grows at alarming rates. And recently, weird eyebrow hairs twist and turn and curl into exaggerated lengths, which then I crop. I’m losing the hair on my head, but new hairs are popping up in the strangest of places. It must mean that with age there’s less strength to push the hair up through the head, so what’s left grows in weaker extremities. Submission means acquiescing to deterioration, I suppose. When I’m but a corps I’ll be nothing but hair, the final joke.

I have to spend longer hours in the bathroom before an uncompromising mirror. But when I glance at my wife next to me, she actually looks better, as most women over 50 do — healthy, energetic, sexy. College kids, young men and young women, take second looks. No such luck for us old men, los viejos in a new America where we find that we’re not as important as we used to be. We’re more vulnerable, more pragmatic, adjusting reluctantly to our new locations in the world that is slowly balancing our roles, slowly enabling us into more convincing understandings of our sensitivities. We’re less dominant and more confused.

6 thoughts on “Men Over 55: Facing Uncanny Realities

  1. My husband, at 54, looks older. I, at 54, am often mistaken for someone 10-15 years younger. I suspect that men bear a shitload of stress….maybe because (?) you don’t expect physical change the way women grow up used to it, no matter how much we may dislike or resent it.

    You want uncontrollable? Try menstruation and cramps for 30+ years, never knowing when your period may show up to ruin a romantic evening or job interview or wilderness canoe trip. Labor. Menopause and **&%#@@ hot flashes. Triple ugh.

    A very good barber will help you with all those new hairs. As for the sense of loss…That’s the tougher one.

    • Thanks, again — maybe I should write about a men’s club that’s comprised of guys whose wives look much younger. My wife is 55 (am I suppose to say that?) and more than not people, especially students, say, “You’re so old. Is she your trophy wife?” My wife is quite intense about fitness and health: The pictures are of her studio. Thank god she keeps me healthy — and young! And I do rely on my (women) barbers! They understand …

  2. Anyone else over 55 feel like you’re slowly being erased? Little by little, the color of your youth starts fading, from your hair, to your skin tone, to the brightness of your eyes, to the strength of your dreams and ambitions. It’s like you come into this world with virtually no distinguishable identity: all babies are short, fat and cute with little difference. As you mature, your face changes to its unique shape, your hair figures out what its color is going to be, your personality develops. Then, on the back end of life, it’s like becoming a baby again: colorless, fat, toothless, bald, but unlike babyhood, no one finds all those features cute. As a baby, the sameness that all babies possess endears you. As an older person, the lack of color and differentiation from all other old people make you irrelevant and invisible. It’s funny how doing something as simple as coloring your hair seems to help unerase you in the eyes of others, and suddenly you find more inclusion. Get a tan, and you’re unerased a bit more. I’ve come to understand that color not only makes you visible, but it makes you a bit more relevant. After all, no one finds shades of white very interesting. White is the canvas, and color is what you add to it. Otherwise, people pass by the canvas and take no notice.

  3. Pingback: Fastened to a dying animal: Hot at 60? | The Uncanny

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