Many years ago, I was friends with a fellow who was in his upper 80s. What impressed me the most about him was his complete lack of unabashment and thoroughly unabbreviated comfort with himself.
No matter the social situation, he would say what he wanted to say, do what he wanted to do, and even look how he wanted to look. And the weird thing was people always cut him slack and acquiesced to him, no matter how outrageous or brash he was.
And I did the same thing to him, as well. He’d tell me that my head was too small for my body, and I’d thank him for his observation. He’d inform me that he needed a cup of coffee, and I’d buy him one. He’d cut in line at the store, and I’d follow him like a little puppy as other customers knowingly nodded to me with approval.
I think it was his well-carried seniority, his gray-headedness, his aged eminence that commanded respect and tolerance. And we all just fell in line to allow him to celebrate himself in his final years.
Now, that got me thinking: Is there some kind of a process that leads to such societal consent and personal freedom? Are there stages we all reach in life in which we systematically can abandon embarrassment and inhibition in favor of convenience and personal preferences?
I believe so, and I also believe that I am going through one of those transitional stages right now. It has to do with what I call, “Appearance Abandonment,” which basically is that you’ve given up on caring what you look like to others. Here are its stages:
You don’t care what you look like to:
Stage I: Your wife
Stage II: Your family
Stage III: Your friends
Stage IV: To anyone
I think I entered Stage I in the first week of our marriage. The sights and accompanying sounds of me in my saggy baggie undies on my way to the bathroom in the morning pretty much welcomed my spouse to my entrance into Stage I of Appearance Abandonment and to a lifetime of cringe and bear it.
I stagnated at Stage I while we raised our four kids. Except for wearing my Ernie Banks jammies, I looked like a somewhat normal dad. But it was when we visited our oldest son and his family this past week that I realized something had changed.
While I was getting ready to go I decided to wear my old sweat pants. When I put them on, I noticed that they were a bit loose around my waist, but when I went to pull that cord to tighten them, it was gone. But I found a simple solution.
I tucked my “Body by Bacon” sleeveless T-shirt into my sweat pants and tied a belt around it. When I looked in a mirror at myself, I actually did pause and think about how ridiculous I looked, but, for some reason, it didn’t bother me.
When my son saw me he fell into his easy chair, hysterically laughing, and said, “Well, Dad, you finally gave up, didn’t you?”
No, I didn’t give up. I just entered Stage II of Appearance Abandonment. And the best part? I don’t really care.
• Michael Penkava taught a bunch of kids and wrote a bunch of stuff. His wife is warning their friends that he may be looking a bit funky soon. He can’t wait for Stage III. He can be reached at email@example.com.