I suspect an artist’s rendition of Peter Pan graces a wall of Hugh Hefner’s infamous playboy mansion. After all, isn’t that what we do with people we admire?
Behind every human lifestyle is a modus operandi, a theme that drives the way we live, the choices we make and priorities embraced. Examining the 84-year-old Hefner’s life reveals such a philosophy summarized in the simplistic credo of the mythical Pan: “I don’t want to grow up.”
Brigitte Berman, the Canadian director who filmed a documentary highlighting Hefner, calls it “…that whole arrested-development side of him, with the multiple girlfriends all cut from the early 20’s…He himself says he didn’t want to grow up.” (SP Aug. 19, 2010)
It’s a theme subconsciously embraced by multitudes of North Americans. We choose to become blondes, brunettes or redheads — anything but grey. Wrinkles are the enemy, combated with myriad anti-aging products hawked by shrewd manufacturers. Lifts, tucks and Botox have become a familiar part of societal vocabulary.
Despite it all, another candle is added to our birthday cake each year and the growing heat wave attests to the futility of battling the advance of years. And to be honest, I really don’t mind. In fact, contrary to Pan and Hefner, I quite enjoy growing older.
My relationships are deeper. Yes, some have fallen by the wayside, but an amazing number have proven to be solid and dependable. I love my wife more today than 22 years ago when we exchanged vows. Relationship with my children has kept pace with their physical development resulting in a genuine joy in being together. Dozens of friendships have endured decades of experiences and, though visits may be infrequent, a simple phone call would send them scrambling to be by my side. That level of confidence cannot exist in freshly minted relationships; it is proven through the sharing of both adversity and celebration — activities that require time.
The advance of years has inexplicably sent many of my youthful insecurities into retreat mode. I’m more comfortable in my own skin. Approval of others is still enjoyed, but not really necessary. I don’t mind the grey hair or the expanding solar panel on my head. I make my own fashion statements, doffing suits in favour of faded jeans and whatever t-shirt happens to be at the top of the pile. If people stare, it’s probably because they are jealous.
Right and wrong are more clearly defined than they used to be, resulting in a higher level of confidence when making decisions. More than moral impudence, this testifies to the regrettable reality that I’ve made more mistakes than I can count and would rather not repeat them.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of aging is the heightened awareness of eternity. My existence on Earth comes with an expiration date that approaches astoundingly fast. I am challenged accordingly to cast off the foolishness of youth that lived primarily for the moment, investing instead in that which will endure beyond my final breath: relationship with God, influencing children, and fighting injustice.
The Peter Pan philosophy is flawed. Humans do grow old. Photos of Hugh Hefner testify to that denial. Wealth and the feigned attention of shapely women fail to stem the relentless advance of age. Sorry, Hugh.
When it comes to aging, fairy tales don’t come true.
Rod Barks is a Saskatchewan pastor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org