February 22, 2020

How Good Is a 60th Birthday?

Soon I will celebrate a milestone birthday and turn 60. For some reason, I seem to be obsessed with this birthday unlike any other milestone birthday I’ve enjoyed. Perhaps because turning 60 symbolizes a certain and unique transition in one’s life.

If you have been blessed with a wonderful wife, life partner and best friend for as long as I have (33 years), you can enjoy being an empty nester and hanging out together at a much, much easier pace than when young children and teens are swirling around you and are the focal point of your everyday schedule.

While we miss having our kids nearby, the freedom of being an empty nester grows on you.

If you are blessed with amazing children, as I am, you see them growing up, pursuing their hopes and dreams, and making a life of their own (even if they still depend on you, in part, for financial support).

If you are blessed with one or more parents still living, then you should enjoy them to the fullest. My almost 88-year-old mother has been reminding me for months that I will be 60. In turn, I’ve said to her, “Are you old enough to have a 60-year-old son?” She smiles and laughs.

If you have worked your entire career in one profession, as I have, you begin to see the waning years of that career — there are a few years left but most of your working life is now behind you.

If you have spent the better part of those years employed by one organization, like I have, it’s hard to imagine that, at some point, you will no longer be spending a disproportionate amount of time at your office.

Many proclaim that 60 is the new 40. But I don’t want to be 40 again.

I look back at my career as a Jewish communal professional and realize how blessed I have been to see, and participate in, real miracles in the modern history of the Jewish people: the flourishing of the State of Israel; the emancipation of Jews living in the former Soviet Union; the blossoming and continued expansion of the Houston Jewish community; and the liberation of Jews in Ethiopia, among others.

If you are blessed with good health, wonderful! For me, I’ve begun to experience the normal aches and pains of getting older — for better or worse. But they are not slowing me down.

Will I feel anything different on my actual birthday than I did the day before? Unlikely. Will my life take a dramatic turn when the calendar page turns? Probably not.

Will I encounter some epiphany about the world? Doubtful. But as I enter the next decade of my life, I am sure to encounter life changes that millions before have experienced and that many of us baby boomers are going through every day.

Many proclaim that 60 is the new 40. But, quite frankly, I don’t want to be 40 again. Though I yearn for the days when our kids were still young and enjoying life at home, I really don’t want to go through their adolescent years again. They were and are good kids — but I can live without the teenage attitude.

Although my career was really expanding at age 40, I prefer the comfort zone, albeit with many challenges and stresses, that I’m in today.

According to Jewish tradition, Moses was 120 when he died. That’s the reason that, also according to Jewish tradition, we pray that everyone lives to 120. In that context, one could reasonably state that I have reached middle age. But when I have suggested in the past that I’m middle-aged, the realists have said I’m not in middle age unless I do plan to live past 100.

So, I’m past middle age, not quite a senior citizen (although thankful for the many restaurants and movie theaters that afford senior discounts at lower and lower ages), and yet, I am reaching some undefined age cohort.

Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

As this milestone approaches, I will appreciate the love and support of my family, and laugh at whatever jokes come with turning 60. Then I will get on with the beautiful and blessed life that I’ve led to date.

Here’s to age 60 … and beyond. May all of us live to 120.

Lee Wunsch is the retired president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston.