Life after 50: Charles Assisi has a coming-of-middle-age story, in this week’s Life Hacks - Hindustan Times
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Life after 50: Charles Assisi has a coming-of-middle-age story, in this week’s Life Hacks

May 25, 2024 02:56 PM IST

At this age, one meets new realities and new kinds of fears. Used right, it can be a time of wake-up calls, and of simply growing wiser.

Turning 50 is described as a milestone. What no one tells you is that, on crossing this milestone, you start to understand what it might be like to be “abandoned”.

Manhood (1840), from the Voyage of Life series by Thomas Cole. What are the rapids that most threaten your peace and serenity? Middle-age is a time to figure that out. (Wikimedia Commons) PREMIUM
Manhood (1840), from the Voyage of Life series by Thomas Cole. What are the rapids that most threaten your peace and serenity? Middle-age is a time to figure that out. (Wikimedia Commons)

This is an age when one’s children are no longer children. They are teens straining at the leash to be adults, and it is time to start letting them go, because holding on too tight would be selfish.

The 50s are also that milestone decade when one’s parents begin to show signs of having grown old. Their imminent mortality stares one in the face, and one experiences a new kind of fear. In the spouse whom one turns to for strength in such times, one can see the same fear too.

These were thoughts that crossed the mind after a phone call a few days ago, in which I learnt that my mother had to be taken to hospital. She is fiercely independent and likes to live on her own terms. This had never happened before. Panic set in. I began to think of something an uncle said to me, when my father died seven years ago: “You’re a man now”. The significance of that seemed to hit home during the phone call.

While mum is now largely back on her feet and her usual self, the full import of it all is sinking in. When a parent dies, as dad did a few years ago, or falls unwell, as mum just did, it is a rite of passage. It is also part of becoming a wiser adult, one who knows which bonds to nourish and not take for granted.

To place that in perspective, when I am annoyed with my children, it is mum who tells me to calm down. When they grow to be adults, it will be their turn to be annoyed, she says. This is a time to build vital bonds with them.

She reminds me of how often she looked the other way as I partied when I should have been studying, or vanished with friends for a day or two, offering nonsensical stories that clearly concealed our real plans.

As I write this, my thoughts go to some of her other advice on parenting: offer advice only when asked, and aim to never impose your will.

In the bustle of adult life, I think back on how her nightly calls to check in on my well-being felt like an “intrusion”. When she was unwell and stopped calling, I experienced what felt like abandonment. I craved the love and concern that her voice carried.

I am learning that I can neglect the people who have shaped me. I am learning that I do not want to.

Few are really prepared for the irony of how life plays out. For how the strong adults who taught us to walk, talk, and navigate the world, gradually become the ones we need to care for. And how, when they are gone, we will be orphans, no matter our age.

I believe this is the feeling many of us grapple with, as we watch our parents age and falter. It is the fear of losing the loving anchors who have steadied us through life’s storms.

Despite this deep knowledge, it is easy to get caught up in daily life and prioritise the urgent over the important. Dad’s illness ought to have been my wake-up call. But humans forget.

Mum’s brush with vulnerability serves the purpose now.

This is my reminder to cherish the time I have with loved ones. It has certainly prompted me to revaluate my priorities. Perhaps that is what middle age is about: slowing down, taking stock of what truly matters, and honouring the legacy of love and wisdom that our parents have bestowed upon us.

Because, in the end, it is not the achievements or accolades that bring us the most joy, or even define us. It is the connections we nurture and the love we share. These lie at the heart of the human experience

I am headed home now, where I intend to indulge in a rather different human experience: eating mountains of appams, as mum pours the batter to make more, that go directly from pan to plate. That will be next week, when mum is back in her beloved kitchen, and in charge of things again.

(Charles Assisi is co-founder of Founding Fuel. He can be reached on assisi@foundingfuel.com)

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