A friend recently turned 40. His wife let me know he wasn’t keen on that. I decided to write him a letter. Here it is.
Congratulations sir. You’ve stayed on the warm side of the dirt for 40 years now. Most people in history haven’t been able to do that. It wasn’t long ago could count on being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger, or being poisoned by your own teeth at about age 36.
Being this old is relatively new in the human experience. It’s a gift. It’s a gift that we as species don’t really understand. Our child-bearing years are over. Our enthusiasm for going out and “making our way in the world” often wanes. Be careful, ennui can creep in during these years.
I had my 40th birthday nearly 6 years ago. I’ve experienced some of that ennui. Most of my friends have as well. Country music knows all about it. “The Back Side of Thirty” Jerry Lee wrote about “Middle-Aged Crazy.’ Dale Watson sings about “Crashin’ into 40, might better think about growin’ up.” That ennui is dark. I hope you avoid it.
As best as I can tell, here are some ways to do so:
- Recognize what you are good at then mentor younger men in this skill. Doing so will rekindle your interest in your own skills and give you new purpose. It will also bring you into close contact with young, energetic folks. It’s well worth it.
- Accept your position in life. You are no longer young. You aren’t old either. You are in the uncomfortable middle. It’s ok….. once you understand that. There’s nothing worse than a middle-aged person that doesn’t understand the reality of their own situation. We all hated it when the baby boomers said that 40 was the new 20. It ain’t. It’s precisely 40. The more closely you live in according to reality, the cleaner life is. Know the reality.
- Your peak earning years are nigh. Salt that money away. There’s a fair chance you’ve made more than half of all you’ll ever make (adjusted for inflation.) You’re gonna need that money when you are expected to live off the excess productivity of your younger years.
- Play lots of cards with your kids. Clear the decks. No goddam TV. No goddam phones. Make some snacks and play some cards. I recommend “wizards” for kids from 8-12. Bridge for older kids. Both of these games are stimulating and fun. Make a date. Sunday dinner at 5pm, after dinner we all clear the table, then listen to music and play cards ‘til bedtime. They’ll come to expect it. I bet they come home for Sunday dinner and cards as young adults.
- Read Plato, Aristotle, and later Aquinas. NOW is the time to find out about what the highest aim in life is. These guys knew. Look over their shoulders and cheat off their papers.
- Get your hormones checked. I reckon low testosterone is responsible for 80% of the depression and 90% of divorces in men over 40. Don’t let it get you.
- Your role a parent is coming to the fore right now. Very young children actively need mother. Very young children need father to keep them safe and set good examples of masculinity; work ethic, proper emotional response to crisis, how we love our women, etc. You’ll have to keep doing that, but they’ll need you for more now. Mother is less important than she was to the children who are 13 and up. You are now more important. Your job is to transition them into adulthood. Find chances for them to take appropriate risk. Let them screw it up. Help them fix it. Show them how to fight another day. Provide the safety net that gives them the confidence to strike out on their own little by little. Mother gets them to mouth their first words, father helps get them to their first homestead.
- Protect the vitality of your marriage. Make sure your wife knows how hot you think she is. If you’ve started to lose that attraction to her, get control of yourself and rekindle it. The best way to do that is to make sure you’re attractive in your own important ways. It’s counterintuitive, but it works. We’re too far along to fall into a sexless, loveless, dead marriage. Pair bonding is deeply rooted in the sex and attraction. Protect that, because without it, the pair bond weakens and eventually breaks.
These are a few things that can stave off the ennui. If you can dodge that, it’s the best time. My 40’s have been real good. I mean that as in a real, genuine, absolute good. I pray that yours will be as well. Keep your hand on the tiller and make this last half what you and yours need it to be. No cruise control or auto-pilot, but active living and choosing like a grown ass man.
Happy Birthday friend.