On my lunch break today I walked down to the gas station on the corner. The first thing I noticed was that there is a new cashier and I thought, “Oh, where is the grumpy old man?” I know, that sounds awful, but in my head it was actually sort of affectionate and I was genuinely disappointed that he wasn’t there. I realized that I actually am quite fond of several curmudgeonly “old” men, and that the applicability of that adjective is part and parcel of the relationships.
When I was a very little girl (under 5) , my mother tells me, I was afraid of men; specifically there were several men in our lives who were quite loud, boisterous and large, both in physicality and in presence. My parents came up with all kinds of strategies to help me overcome this. One of their friends had a particularly impressive handle-bar mustache and to this day I think of him as “funny man Joe”, the nickname they gave him to make him seem less intimidating.
Fortunately as I got a little bigger I outgrew my fear. As a matter of fact, growing up I was something of a tom-boy and my closest friends always tended to be guys. By the time that hormones hit, I thought that the male half of the species was pretty nifty. 🙂
Somewhere in my early twenties, however, I realized that while I liked men well enough, I seemed to have a prejudice against older men. (My own grandfather being a notable exception, and a man I was exceedingly fond of.) Not ageist really, as I liked and admired (still do!) a number of older women and the idea of the crone has always been quite appealing to me. I couldn’t easily define an age or reason … but something about elderly men made me extremely uncomfortable.
I like to think of myself as a pretty open-minded, loving and accepting person so this realization really bothered me a lot. I started talking to those close to me about my unexpected and semi-shocking prejudice. My mom speculated that I may have been mildly traumatized by a neighbor from early childhood. He was the stereotypical slightly creepy old man who would invite the neighborhood kids to sit in his lap. I do remember the neighbor – mostly I remember that I really liked his wife – but I don’t have any specifically good or bad memories about him. I don’t know about the traumatized theory. Regardless of its source – once I had identified this quality, which I categorically classified as a character flaw and personal failing, I set out to “fix” it.
I haven’t thought about it in a long time. I am now in my early forties, and it seems that somewhere along the way I not only stopped avoiding older men, but have in fact grown a bit of a soft spot for them. I don’t know if it is because of the closing age gap or because I actually overcame some sort of personal issues along the way. Perhaps it has to do with missing my grandpa who passed away some ten years ago now; or maybe I’ve just made a point of meeting some pretty cool old guys along the way.
Whatever it is – I missed seeing the “grumpy old guy” who works the counter at the gas station down the street. Next time I see him I think I will make an effort to learn his name so I can stop calling him that in my head, and maybe I’ll let him know that I appreciate his presence. 🙂