Older men are a dying breed. Sad to say. They are a species unto themselves and I worry about their extinction, which causes me to write on their behalf. I’d speak of older women, but I find myself frequently infatuated with older women. Not enough emotional distance to report accurately. But older men? To write about them is like talking about your old dog who pees periodically on the living room rug. You totally love that dog, and will be sad when he moves on, but, undeniably, there you are scrubbing on the carpet looking forward to the day you won’t be on your hands and knees cleaning up Rover’s mess. I’m not saying older men are incontinent dogs, but, let’s be honest, they’re not a bed of roses either.
Part of why older men are a little complicated to love is their sharp tongues. Just yesterday, this Dutch guy, who I guess is somewhere in his 70’s, saw me and shouted his typical greeting of the last six months, “Heh, American.” Sometimes he will switch it up with the greeting, “Heh, Obama,” to great hilarity among the octogenarians he hangs with; but yesterday he stuck with the tried and true — “Heh, American.”
“How are you feeling?” he said.
I told him I was great except for a blood vessel that broke in my eye last night when I sneezed too hard.
He looked at me closely, and then said, “Well, you are getting old.”
I told him that was the same thing my wife told me.
The old man looked startled and said: “I am surprised you have a wife.”
I asked him why.
“I am surprised because you are such an ugly man.”
See, older men, with one leg in the grave, are missing that part of the brain that says: “whoa,” “don’t say that,” “what will others think.” They are looking for unfiltered entertainment. Pure and simple. Their days are shorter, they are watching reruns of Sex and the City late at night, and they’re feeling frisky come morning. They will say and do anything.
But inside the rough exterior of every older man is the soft custard insides of a delicious pastry. I promise you. This is why they need to be saved from extinction. You want an example?
Okay, today I am indoors at the Dutch Nationals Powerlifting Masters Competition in Alkmaar, the Netherlands. Alkmaar is one more of the dozens of beautiful Dutch towns that dot Holland. And, of course, Alkmaar has an awesome windmill.
But I’m not sightseeing today. Today I’ve chosen to be in a gym with really big men who are sweating and occasionally grunting.
The guy I’m betting on at this national competition is a little past most men’s prime. Rik Priester is 58 years old. He has all the aches and pains men have of that age. But six days a week he puts iron into the air with the squat, the dead lift, and the chest press. Serious stuff. This type of lifting is not exactly the body sculpting advertised in men’s and women’s magazines at the checkout counter. No, this type of lifting is more like “hey, do you want me to lift up your car while you change that flat?” That kind of lifting.
Priester, a committed middle school teacher during the day, and a successful trainer of Dutch Olympic contenders in his off hours, is on his own personal quest. He wants a world championship in his weight class for powerlifting. He did it many years ago and is on track to do it again — yes, at the age of 58. So, he warms up in the back room with the other competitors and tries to prepare for the nine lifts he is going to do this day.
The audience is politely disengaged during the day-long competition. That is, until the competitors step up to the bar. At the first sign of struggle by the poor guy up front, we all begin to yell in support, collectively willing the iron upwards. You don’t even realize until the lift is over that you’re exhausted. Everyone is exhausted. Heck, we all just squatted over 500 pounds. Sure, the guy with the weights gets the credit, but, come on, who carried the day?
It’s Priester’s turn. He comes out, positions himself, and lifts an unholy amount of iron. Again and again and again. The guy is a monster. Even the weight bar bends under his strength. A champion to the bone.
Of course, he wins it all. A mark in the victory column against youth.
Ah, but what about that soft interior, which is the salvation of older men? Well, when Priester stood up on the podium to get his championship trophy, he waited for a moment, but jumped down too soon for his wife, Henriette, to get a picture. How do I know this? Well, from out of the audience came Henriette’s voice, lilting over the crowd, “Rik, ga near boven terug.” I don’t speak Dutch. I didn’t understand a word she said, but, of course, we all understood every word. I saw Priester quickly jump back up on the podium. And, sure enough, Henriette walked to the front and got her picture.
Okay, let’s recap: the champion, our hero, who just lifted a house, couldn’t get back up on the podium quickly enough after just five words spoken by his wife. Really.
Are you satisfied? Older men are marshmallows in a graham cracker crust. Save one today.