Age really is just a number

Quite a few years ago, I was at a community prayer breakfast and happened to be seated next to the legendary Notre Dame coach and athletic director, the late Moose Krause. I initiated a conversation by saying, “Moose, you look good!”

Krause smiled and, in his trademark booming voice, said, “Thom, let me tell you. There are three stages of life. When you’re young. When you’re middle-aged. And when people tell you that you look good.” 

I was reminded of that conversation last weekend watching CBS Sunday Morning. One of the lead stories was about ageism. And how attitudes towards the elderly are just another prejudicial “ism” in our society. While I wouldn’t begin to compare ageism to racism or sexism or other significant forms of prejudice, there is certainly truth to the fact that societal attitudes diminish those of a certain advanced age.

Now that I fit into that elderly demographic, it is quite apparent that many people make and advance attitudes about the elderly.

Many of those attitudes are self-inflicted like when we send a silly birthday card with a joke about the foibles of getting old. Or when we can’t think of a certain word or someone’s name and refer to it as having a “senior moment,” I am certainly guilty of these indiscretions, but truth be told, I had trouble remembering names even when I was young and middle-aged.

I spent my entire career working in the creative side of advertising. And for as long as I can remember, the industry’s conventional wisdom was that 18–34-year-olds were the most coveted marketing demographic segment. The inherent ignorance of that attitude prompted me to write this blog: Apparently enough people related to the article’s premise that it was picked up by several other publications. I wish I could say that things have changed but I’m not sure they have. One needn’t look any further than all the advertising that promotes products to eliminate wrinkles or keep us looking young. Or the stereotypes that either denigrate the old or celebrate the young. Yes, I’m looking at you Dr. Rick for Progressive Insurance, and you, Liberty Mutual pool partiers.

One example of ageism is the attitude towards seniors and driving. Until a couple of years ago, I had not had any kind of automotive accident in more than 50 years. So, when I bumped into another car and did some token damage to the front grill of my car, I asked my insurance agent if it was worth reporting. He warned me not to make the report because my rates would increase dramatically. The reason? Because I was now over 70 years old.

Several of my family members have also had careers in advertising and I will never forget the day my niece’s husband said, “The ad business is for the young.” At the time, I was probably pushing 60 and while I am sure that young man didn’t mean to be offensive, I was certainly put off by his arrogance.

While I would have to admit that getting old brings its share of growing pains and other challenges, I truly believe that writing and other forms of creative expression now come easier than when I was much younger.

 Age really is just a number. And to quote another current advertisement, “Mine is unlisted.”