40 used to seem old to me. It looked old to me. My own parents had me when they were 41 and 40. I came along in 1972 to a family of five, already established as a couple and three girls approaching teenhood. I didn’t know Mom and Dad were older than other parents until I started going to school and seeing what most kids’ parents looked like. The moms that came to pick up their kids at Brick Street Public School were often blonde. They had bobbed hair that moved when they did. They wore denim, one-piece jumpsuits with cream coloured turtlenecks and big fat shoes that were ready to run when they needed them to. They had names like Linda and Brenda.
My own mother’s hair didn’t move so much. It was permed to be curly and it was grey. Mom worked at Price Waterhouse as a secretary so she wore skirts with matching jackets, and shoes with thin heels that weren’t conducive to running. Her name is Elaine.
Other dads were different too. They were often tan. They wore t-shirts and Adidas jackets with stripes on the sleeves. Some wore gold chains or big rings. They moved fast and spoke in loud voices. Some had beards. My own Dad, Jim, was gentle. He spoke mildly and slowly. He didn’t like jeans so much, opting instead for grey or khaki slacks with a shirt that would button up the front. Dad was approaching 50 when most of my friends’ fathers were likely coming up to their mid-thirties.
I couldn’t believe it when Gina Nagy – the five-foot tall eight-year-old – told me in Grade 3 that her parents slept naked in their bed. They sounded like wild people to me. I’d picture their bedroom messy, with dirty crumpled white sheets on the bed and ashtrays on the side tables. I met them once. They drove a big blue Lincoln. They were tall and spoke with accents. I knew they slept naked. I hated that I knew that.
And Michael Brock's mother was the local Beaver leader. We called her Akela, but her name was Diane. She wore track suits and was always out running in the neighbourhood. She was "active". At Michael's birthday parties, Akela would play a game with us called Poor Pussy. She’d sit on the floor in the middle of the room and one by one, each kid there would have to go sit with her and stare into her eyes without turning away or laughing, this while she stroked your face and repeated the words "poooooor pussy" over and over again. It was humiliating, but at least she baked money into the cake.
My own parents didn’t play games on the floor with us. We played cards at the table sometimes – crazy eights maybe, or cribbage. They slept in pajamas like my sisters and I did and on Sundays we went to church before coming home to eat molasses poured on crusty bread from the Italian bakery downtown. They taught my sisters and me to be polite and to speak to strangers with kindness. They loved me and they told me so every day.
I am finally older now than my mother was when she gave birth to me and almost as old as my father was, and my 40 feels different than I perceived theirs to be. I never pictured that I’d live in Toronto. I never thought that I wouldn't own a car by now, or that I wouldn't be a dad. I didn't know that I wouldn't have traveled as much by now as I would have wanted, or that I'd have stopped drinking coffee because of the effect that caffeine has on my nervous system. With a slowly balding pate, a greying beard and one root canal behind me, this is what my 40 looks like, what it feels like; a conspiracy led by my body and denied by my heart.