Once more, the dance begins. It’s the one that occurs annually between my brother and I when our birthdays roll around. You see there’s just under a year between us which means that, for a short time, we’re the same age. It’s been that way since we were kids and I see no prospect of it changing any time soon. So it is that my brother has now, once more, caught up to me.
The meaning, however, of this temporary state of equilibrium has changed over time. Suffice to say, it used to be an opportunity for my brother to claim that he was no longer my younger brother. Now, however, the tables, chairs and possibly the curtains have turned. This overlap now definitely works to my advantage.
I can still hear him – a broad grin wrapped around his face telling me that I was no longer ‘the boss’ of him. Upon hearing this, I was always somewhat conflicted. Firstly, I was unaware that I had been ‘the boss’ of my younger brother. Had I known, it’s fair to say I would have taken full advantage of the awesome power and responsibility it brings. Secondly, there was the small matter of mathematics.
Foolishly, I would try to explain that I was still older by several hundred days and that this would never change. He was immune to my attempts to reason. In retrospect, that was part of the fun – he knew that refusing to concede would drive me crazy. Which it duly did.
But things are different now. Whereas once, being the same age was seen by my brother as something to celebrate, middle age has seen a recalibration of sorts. The intersection of our Venn diagram is now seen by my brother as something to fear. Rather than have him lord it over me, it is now I who lords it over him. Somewhat callously, I now repeat to him the same thing he used to say to me – ‘we’re the same age’. Somewhat gratuitously, I have then added the word ‘sucker’.
Denial is not only a river in Egypt but a powerful force that lurks in all of us. My brother has been insisting that he is still ‘mid-forties’ even though he’s much closer to fifty. It’s obviously a point of some sensitivity. As an older brother (for all but four days a year), it is my duty to exploit this mercilessly. I do this using a variety of techniques.
Each year, I make a calendar full of family photos. On my brother’s birthday, there’s a picture of him, under which I posted the caption ‘late forties’. It sat on the wall at my father’s house all year. Only last week, I sent him a picture of it. As soon as lockdown was lifted, he was straight over there with a big, black texta, crossing out ‘late’ and scrawling ‘mid’ over the top. It was an act that reeked of desperation and texta (so aromatic!).
Earlier this week, I sent him a gift. I included an inscription that simply said ‘happy fiftieth birthday’. It is, so I will claim, a matter of rounding up. He later sent a photo of himself holding the card, pointing towards the message with a look of consternation on his face. The message accompanying it declared with the force of multiple exclamation points, ‘mid forties!!!!’
But if it’s my brother’s birthday, it means that very soon I have a birthday of my own to contend with. Sadly, for me, there’s no way I can use the term ‘mid-forties’ and keep a straight, albeit slightly creased, face. It’s a big one, and there’s no getting around it. ‘Fifty’ sounds so gargantuan, but it is what it is. To prepare, I did some research. When I was younger, ‘research’ was something you did at a library. Now it’s something you ‘Google’. The results were both perplexing and concerning.
I typed in ‘fifty is the new…’ hoping to get a much younger virtual age for myself. The first thing that came up was a question: ‘is fifty the new thirty?’ Excitedly, I clicked on the link expecting to be showered with life affirming declarations of positivity only to find a single word – ‘no’. The search also coughed up other helpful titles such as ‘how to survive turning fifty’ which makes it sound too much like a near-run thing. There were variations on the theme including ‘fifty is the new forty’ and, perhaps with my brother in mind, ‘fifty is the new mid-forties’.
I’ve never much been a fan of my birthday. I have, however, been lucky to have a brother whose birthday was right next to mine, meaning that I never really had to go through all the fuss on my own. Fifty, it seems, is the new fifty. It means that all those people I went to school with are reaching the same point. It’s impossible not to think of all those mullets and perms and to wonder what became of their owners. It seems like both forever ago and only yesterday.
Tonight, I’ll see my brother. He’ll use the term ‘mid-forties’ more often than can be considered reasonable in the circumstances. It will be a joyous occasion all the same. Not least for the fact that we can see each other in person. And even if my brother is currently growing a beard that screams ‘Santa-in-training’, when he uses the term ‘mid-forties’ I won’t say a thing. Other than, of course, ‘happy birthday Cameron.’