It’s been happening slowly over time, but lately, I’ve become more aware of it. It’s the “looking back” syndrome, one that comes into play as we get older.
I noticed it over the holidays as we spent time with our now-adult kids, their significant others (has there ever been a more sterile, benign term for “boyfriend/girlfriend”?), extended family and friends. It seems I’ve become the de facto “way back when” guy; the one who talks about “what it was like when I was a kid running around the neighborhood/when I was in high school/had a part-time job/what final exams were like back then,” etc.
Whether it was sitting at the kitchen table in a large group, quietly lounging in the family room after a day of “whatever,” or driving to or from a holiday celebration, I had become “that guy.”
And you know what? I didn’t mind it. I didn’t mind being the older dude spinning tales of yore, opening a new generation of eyes to things they’d likely never experience (beer can collections and mix tapes), or things they would certainly encounter (choosing a health insurance provider or deciding how long to keep one’s first car), but likely in a much different way than I ever did.
Mind you, I’m not an advice-giver; at least I don’t think I am. I’m not saying I’m perfect; suggestions and directives sometimes leak from my brain to my mouth and into the atmosphere for any and all to hear and/or roll their eyes at. However, I try not to give unsolicited advice. That said, if someone asks for my opinion, I’ll give it, hopefully in a tactful, productive way, and the recipient can do what he/she/they want with it.
What I like to do is reminisce rather than advise. I love to think about things that happened to me, that I happened upon or that I made happen (good, bad and indifferent) “back then,” and I like to share those experiences. Almost without fail, someone in the audience will be entertained, another will be interested and yet another (maybe more than one) will groan as if to say, “There he goes again.”
I realized I’d become an “way back when” guy (also known as a “back in my day” or “I remember when” guy) one recent evening when I spent a good portion of time and many, many words to excitedly describe two of my childhood passions – beer cans and coins – to an audience who’d only known those two categories as something to consume (or consume from), and not gather close to one’s self and cherish as valuable commodities to be hoarded and someday sold for a small fortune, one that would put many through college and be used to buy expensive, lavish vacation homes.
I won’t bore you with the details of these monologues or the collections they covered (fact is, I have done just that in essays about both these hobbies, among others, in recent months and years). Suffice it to say, some in the audience (a captive audience, I must admit) were entertained (at least, patronizingly so), others were enlightened, and yes, still others (those who’d heard the stories before; repetition being a common trait of an “I remember when” guy) were left to groan with boredom.
Is this a case of a person “turning into their parents,” as one major insurance company has so brilliantly conveyed in their TV commercials? Most certainly, as certain as the slippers on my feet, a new and reluctantly acquired feature marking this phase of my life, purchased and worn not because my feet get cold or because they’re so “comfy,” but because my feet have started to ache when I walk on our hardwood floors without shoes on. (Age, among other things in life, is, after all, inevitable … heavy sigh.)
Am I old? The ever-increasing number next to my name might indicate so, yet I don’t feel old, and for the most part, I don’t think I act it either. And that’s what matters, right? Sometimes (who am I kidding, it happens all the time) I still feel like I’m 12 years old, and I love that.
And it’s because of that fact that I love to reminisce and tell stories, especially to the folks just coming up; the ones who never collected beer cans or coins, never used a typewriter, had a paper route or sat for hours making the perfect collection of music (yes, a “playlist” before they were called that) before you and your friends left on your next (and probably first) road trip.
I’m OK giving advice, I guess, though most advice is either unwelcome, obvious or just downright off-the-mark. Besides, it’s easy to get advice nowadays, so I try to leave that for the know-it-alls and the Internet. What I like to do is remember, and to share my experiences in the hope that others will be entertained, inspired, informed, and yes, maybe even brought to their knees in painful boredom. (I never fault someone for walking away while I’m telling a story.)
I’m comfortable with my new role as the “I remember when” guy. More than that, I love it because ironically it makes me feel and think “young” as I continue to get older, but it also makes me feel somehow wiser as well. So, if it’s OK, I think I’ll throw myself into the role, relish it, make it my own, and continue to tell my stories of “back then” (often to the chagrin of those closest to me) to anyone willing hear them.
Because the alternative is sitting in the corner in my (sad but admittedly) comfy slippers telling them to no one. And that doesn’t seem like any fun at all. “Embrace who you are.” That’s my one and only piece of (unsolicited) advice to you and all of us.
And, let’s raise a glass to remembering, and if you don’t want to reminisce about your own experiences, just let me know. I’m happy to share mine.
© 2022 David R. Haznaw