If only I could talk to the fellow you saw in the photo accompanying this column last week. He was me when I was 32, and 34 years later I'd love the opportunity to spend an hour with him.
I know him well enough to know that he'd be pleasant company, that he'd listen, that he'd tell me when he disagreed, and that he'd ask more questions than I'd want to answer. But how well do I know him? I mean, is he the me of today, with the same foibles and fears, strengths and weaknesses, or is he so different that he is someone else?
To him I am the light at the end of the tunnel, retired and the children raised successfully to adults. And like all old codgers I am certain that I can tell him and every other young person where he or she is going wrong. My demeanour shouts to every young person I meet that he or she will be wise to hang on my every word.
I'll start with me aged 10, and I'll point out that the names I invented for my classmates were more unkind than clever. Neither plump Julie nor her mother were at all happy about Jellyfish Julie, and Rodney who had a big bum was not overjoyed by Rodney Rump. Boys with bright red hair, I'll explain, should not throw stones. Or something like that.
To the 20-year-old me I have three things to say. Stop smoking, drink less and slow down. No, not next year. And one other, think of the impact on others of what you say and do.
The next 10 years held much for that young fellow, among them world wanderings, marriage, children and mortgage, but unfortunately to me as a 30 year old I feel the need to repeat: stop smoking, drink less and slow down. No, not next week. And spend more time playing with your children. And think more carefully of the impact on others of what you say and do.
Turning 30 I saw as moving from young to something only marginally less dull than middle age. In the photo as a 32 year old I had a real sense that I was no longer young, and this was probably accentuated by the difference between me and the 20-somethings who were cadets or junior journalists at this paper. The world was their oyster and my world was my mortgage.
Perhaps young people don't realise that their world is open and it strikes me that many allow themselves to be tied so quickly to career and debt. My wife and I made that mistake, if it is a mistake. I don't know why we didn't just head off together into the adventurous unknown for a year or so before children and mortgage, and she doesn't know either.
Perhaps at some point in our 20s we need purpose, and adventure is not purpose enough.
So, at age 30 I mourned that the course of my life had been set, and it was and I have no complaints. It could have ended in tears so it would not be wise now for me to try to convince my younger self to not see the course of my life set at age 30. Such insight is another reason we old codgers deserve more respect.
To the 40-year-old me I will deliver a warning in very firm tones to quit smoking, because if he quits then he has a fair chance of being spared the throat cancer that may well have robbed him of the benefit of my advice here today. He doesn't drink less, either, but he has in a general sense slowed down.
Accept, I urge him, that he is never going to be a public speaker and stop worrying about the reason for that. It's just the way it is, or rather the way you are. And get all your pre-fluoride teeth out in one go rather than in dribs and drabs over the next decade. Spare yourself the dread.
My parting words to the 40 year old is to invest in real estate and, remember, think of your impact on others.
At age 50 it is high time, I tell him, he stopped chasing burglars, and I'll accept the credit for his abandoning pursuit as an option within a few years. The wider lesson here is to recognise that the first inclination is not necessarily the best course.
Try, too, to ignore the rebellious antics of your teenage children.
He would be thrilled at age 50 if I could tell him that he'd retire at 60, and I'll try to convince him to especially appreciate his last 10 years at work. Ten years is not interminable and, cruelly at age 50, it's not even a long time. Oh, and drink less, and congratulations on giving up smoking.
At age 60 I'd been retired a couple of weeks, and because the differences between me at 10-year intervals has decreased with age there is not much I can as a 66 year old offer me at 60.
Apart from the refrain to drink less, advice I'd deliver regardless of how much I drank. As I've pointed out every decade, a few drinks is a good thing and drinking less is a good thing too.
My younger self got much wrong but he did get a few things right, and so there are a few staples of old codgers' advice that I can't fairly issue, among them to be appreciative of your wife, to invest and to exercise.
I think, too, I got it right when throughout the ages I saw myself as working to live rather than the reverse.
In a general sense I don't think I'd do it differently, other than not smoking, drinking less and slowing down. And, of course, considering the impact of me on others.
- Jeff Corbett is a former journalist with the Newcastle Herald. He contributes a weekly column to Herald's Saturday edition. Contact Jeff: email@example.com
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