By Trent Rentsch
Imagine my surprise this morning when I walked in the bathroom and found this old man staring at me. Deep wrinkles, light brown hair peppered with white (not gray, WHITE!), the spare tire and slouch of the inactive aged. And the most surprised, dumbest expression you’ve ever seen… really, I’ve seen dopey, shocked expressions before, but this geezer had to be a total moron. And as it turns out, he was. A moron looking into a mirror.
I have a birthday in 3 days. I don’t tell you this expecting well wishes, cakes or presents, although there is a microphone from the Blue company I have my eye on, thank you. I mention it because it’s a significant year. My oldest turned 20 just last week, and my brother and only sibling turns 30 next week. As for me, it’s number 44, just 6 years from half a century, 11 from the dreaded AARP mailing (please tell me they won’t start till at least 55), 21 from what’s considered the magic age to hang it up and wear dark socks with sandals on the beach till the end of my days. And what the hell happened to 21? THAT was a magic age, everything was possible, I was going to be the biggest Audio Producer/Song Writer in the history of recorded music… and suddenly, my DAUGHTER is only a year from 21. And my baby brother is facing the possibility that there is life after 30. And I… I’m not taking any of it very well.
It’s never bothered me before, not really. Oh, I’d give it lip service, bemoan the fact that after magic 21, there wasn’t anything to look forward to when it came to birthdays. But I really didn’t pay attention to the passing years, not really. I was busy having 3 kids, landing and then walking away from my dream job, getting a divorce and then finding the great love of my life and adding 2 wonderful step-sons and a truly insane muppet of a dog to my circle. Oh, and let’s not forget that in between I was writing all those silly little spots and promos, doing all those goofy voices, and surrounding myself with more audio gear than my skills really deserve or can ever use to their full potential. It’s been a great ride, all of it, and I wouldn’t trade even the worst moments for one second. But now, here’s number 44, and if you’ll pardon my whining for another few words, it’s a bitch.
You know what it is? The fear. A whole new breed of it. Being the typical Creative, I’m always hounded with fear… failure, dreams not fulfilled, “Do they like me?” But this one is something new. For all of my phobias and quirks, I never for a second questioned whether I had something to offer, whether I was capable of doing something that would make a difference… or whether I ever was. Now I’m sensing that I’ve not only become out-dated, but that it’s also probable that I never really offered anything of value, creatively. And I’m afraid it’s true.
Nice little pity party, but what happens at closing time? Even if I invest a little money on a dye job and a little more time in the gym, the old guy isn’t going away. He’s just going to get older, and that stupid stunned expression is going to get REALLY old. So, I need to do something to wipe that deer in headlights look off his face.
Here are the facts. I’m not going to be 21 again. The Doobie Brothers are not going to record one of my songs and beg me to produce it. I will not be winning a Grammy for the song The Doobie Brothers won’t be recording. And while I might still have the mechanical potential to produce imaging for a hit music station, the days when I could get the language right have passed me by. I should’ve seen it coming years ago, when my kids would fall over laughing when I tried to use one of “their words.” I didn’t see it. I assumed they were just laughing with their cool Dad. Instead they were howling at the old man who thinks that Bling is something his Mom used to polish silver with.
It took just a little more crying in the one beer my doctor says I can have a week to realize that there is a flip side to it all. I’m not alone! Midlife crisis is an epidemic as the tail end of the baby boomers slip into their 40’s and 50’s. When their kids aren’t ignoring them, they’re putting down their language, their clothes, their music. It’s like being a teenager again and putting up with abuse from parents… shorter and snottier, but similar. And that’s just one thing I have in common with my fellow Boomers! These are my people, our world was and still is the same no matter how much it has changed over the years, and their language I CAN do!
So, I turn on the TV and there’s a girl younger than my daughter singing her latest hit song, with a VJ beside her who only a few years ago was worried about who he was going to get for 7th grade English… and SO WHAT? Let the young talk to the young, because they can’t possibly talk to people their parent’s age… but I can. And even when the old man is old enough to be that pop star’s Grandpa, there will still be a group of people I can relate to, and Create for.
And if you are 20 like my daughter, reading this and thinking that you’ll never be here, let the old man tell you what my Dad told me on my 21st birthday. “Someday, your kid is going to make YOU feel this old.” I can live with that. After all, I still have a whole year.