How old were you when you kissed your first partner, had your first alcoholic drink, met the person of your dreams, had your first child, dealt with your first serious loss, got your first big job or made your first million?
We can use age to motivate us, give us a sense of time and place, and allow us to hear the alarm bells, or to hit the snooze button for the next phase of our lives.
We compare ourselves to those around us to see if we’re approaching the landmarks at the right pace. We take pride in our accomplishments, or in the accomplishments of our children, as in, “My son started walking when he was 7 months old.”
The comparisons often start with our parents, even though we come from a different generation. I wasn’t anywhere close to getting married at the same age as my parents were when they wed. I thought about that when I passed that landmark age. Was I moving too slowly? Was I missing something or someone? Was I falling behind?
I took comfort in knowing that I lived at a different time. Then again, I also passed the age at which my brother got married. Did I need to do a hard target search of every outhouse, henhouse and farmhouse to find my fugitive wife?
Fortunately, the answer had nothing to do with age. I could have married other women, but I hadn’t met the right person.
Before my wife and I got married, we were in sync about when we wanted to try to make that wonderfully challenging transition toward parenthood.
Now, as the years have passed and our children have learned to drive the car — and us crazy — we have reached other milestone ages.
They have celebrated academic landmarks, graduating from elementary and middle schools while working their way through high school.
Our milestone birthday numbers don’t come as frequently as 16, 18, 21, and 25 do for our kids.
But, every so often, we hit a number that has significance either on its own, ending in a zero or a five, or because of some family connection.
I am approaching just such a challenging milestone. My father was this old when he died. I know there are people like Mickey Mantle, who expected to live a relatively short life. Mantle’s grandfather died at 60 and his father passed away at 40, both from Hodgkin disease. In the event, the baseball legend lived until he was nearly 64.
At every annual physical, my doctor and I review my family history. We are aware of the diseases that may be lurking somewhere in my genes. It makes sense to monitor my health and to catch anything early, particularly something that may run in the family.
Still, I don’t share Mantle’s sense of predestination, just as I didn’t feel an overwhelming urge to grab the nearest woman I found relatively unobjectionable because I had to get married at the same age as my parents or my brother.
My life doesn’t come with a playbook or a chapter outline. Maybe I would have made more money by now, reached more personal milestones, or run a few more marathons — OK, one — if I’d recognized all the age-related alarm bells.
Then again, if I had, I would have missed out on knowing my wife and our children, three people whose lives enrich and define my own.
So, yes, while I keep an eye on the genetic footprints in the sand ahead of me, I also hope to follow my own compass as I imagine the days ahead when I become older than my father.