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Aging gracefully

Published February 20. 2010 09:00AM

We all probably have a goal to "grow old gracefully" - whatever that means.

Too often, the description of us older folks is not a particularly pleasant one, especially since stereotypes, notably among the young, abound.

We've all heard it: As we age, we tend to get more demanding, grumpier, more opinionated and meddlesome. We're described as sour pusses, disagreeable and out-of-touch. Our children and younger acquaintances roll their eyes when we tell them something "for your own good," misspeak or commit a generational faux-pas.

Successful motion pictures such as Grumpy Old Men (1993) and Grumpier Old Men (1995), with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau did nothing to dispel the portrait of us seniors.

I suspect that, secretly, we would like to poll our friends, neighbors, children, grandchildren and others with whom we have contact on a fairly regular basis to find out what they really think of us as we enter our "golden years." Naturally, even if we were to conduct such a poll, we would need to have it done anonymously, because most people might be reluctant to tell us to our face what a pain-in-the-butt we really are.

As an adjunct college instructor, I have had the good fortune to have students evaluate me and the courses I have taught. This in itself was nothing new, but this time there was a new wrinkle. Here is what one item on the evaluation form said: "List five words that describe the instructor of this course."

More than 95 percent of the students who took the courses were traditional-age - between 18 and 23. For the record, I am 70.

With such an age spread, I try to bridge this chasm by keeping up on trends, new phenoms in the world of music, TV and motion pictures. I also have to keep reminding myself that there are many students who have never heard of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.

Here are some of the adjectives students used to describe me and the number of times each was used (the evaluations are done anonymously): intelligent/smart/knowledgeable (15); enthusiastic/energetic/passionate about subject (11); fair (9); caring (8); humorous (7); interesting (4) and well-organized (3).

There were a number of adjectives used just once, such as "sweet," "up-to-date," "charming," "compassionate," "understandable," "approachable" and "snappy dresser."

Then, there were students who said I was "phony," "close-minded" and "unwilling to see the other side."

There were a couple of responses that could be taken either way "perfectionist," "strict" and "tough."

It got me thinking: What adjectives would my wife, Marie, three children and two stepchildren use to describe me? Would they see me in such mostly glowing terms, or would they tell these students, "Yeh, yeh, that's fine having him in a classroom for a total of 150 minutes twice a week for a semester, but how would you like to put up with him for a lifetime (as in the case of my children) or nearly 19 years (as in the case of Marie and my stepchildren)?

So, I decided to ask, knowing full well that if the words weren't complimentary they were still going to be printed for the community to see and snicker over. Although I told Marie and the other five (and their spouses) to be as honest as possible, I realized that since these were not anonymous responses, they - especially my stepchildren might be reluctant to lay the truth on me.

As one friend said, not entirely in jest I suspect: "Do you think they are going to jeopardize their inheritance by being blunt?" I laughed, saying, "You don't know Marie and my kids." They are going to be brutally frank. As for the stepchildren, well, the best I could do was to remind them that, as a journalist, I have always had broad shoulders and a thick skin, so let it fly.

Here's Marie's assessment: kind, trustworthy, conscientious, loyal and agitating because of a carefree attitude.

Next, my children: steadfast, eloquent, extroverted, principled, literate, intelligent, fair, courteous, prideful and impatient.

And, finally, my stepchildren: considerate, respectful, generous, patient (when dealing with their mother), determined, giving/caring, awesome, tolerant, worldly/knowledgeable, obsessive and "handyman challenged."

A word about the last one: It's an inside joke among family members and friends that my motto is ``N.M.L. - no manual labor." It's not that I can't do it; it's just that I dislike doing it, so I look for alternate solutions - usually either begging family members or paying someone to do household and handyman chores that I am expected to do.

Reviewing the list, I was happy not to see a "grumpy," "disagreeable" "sour disposition" or "meddlesome," but it's clear I have some work to do.

You might want to seek an assessment from your spouse, children, maybe even other family members, such as siblings. The results might be an eye-opener, assuming, of course, that they will tell it as it is and that you don't become grumpy and disagreeable when you read or hear the results.

(Bruce Frassinelli, a native of Summit Hill, lives in Schnecksville and is an adjunct instructor at Lehigh Carbon Community College.)

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