I was on a ski lift with a group of college students when one asked me if I had sex in high school. It was a bold question, but it wasn’t shocking. I knew these students really well. I was 32, a father of three, and working as a college academic counselor for under represented students. This was a school trip. The three boys sitting next to me were between 18 and 19-years-old. Two were Latino, and one was white. All from low income families. This was their first time ever at a ski resort.
We were chatting about why I didn’t ever learn how to ski, and I told them, “I learned to snowboard in high school. It just seemed sexier. I suppose my goal was to get laid.”
“Did it work?” the white kid asked.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Did you get laid in high school?”
“Well… Yeah” I said. “But I don’t know if that was a direct result of snowboarding.”
I don’t think any of them heard the last half of my sentence because they were all laughing so hard. Long snorty giggles that reminded me of Beavis & Butt-head sitting on a sofa talking about sex.
I didn’t know just what to make of all this laughter. I didn’t know if this was a result of them never having sex, or if it was because me, their college counselor, just admitted to having sex. Perhaps they assumed that I didn’t have sex. That I never had. Or perhaps it was something they’d rather not think about. But in the moment, I assumed it was because they saw me as old. This was not the only sign of my students seeing me as old. When getting students signed up to go on the ski trip (we only had funding for about 15) I mentioned that I was going, and nearly all of them gave me a confused, perplexed look, the kind of scrunched up face one might make when seeing a UFO, and said, “You snowboard?” One even accused me of lying, as though snowboarding was too cool, or too hip, or too young for someone like me to do. An old, white, nerdy, academic type, with thick-framed glasses and collared shirts. At one point, in all this, I made the mistake of asking one student how old she thought I was, and she said, “You’ve got to be pretty old. You’ve got kids.”
As invalid as this argument was (people in high school have kids) it still gave me pause. The problem is I don’t feel that old, but there is something about working with college students that makes me realize that time is moving forward.
I looked at the students still laughing on the lift. “Really?” I said. “I don’t get why this is so funny?”
One of them put up his hand and said, “No. No. It’s not. It’s just…” then they all looked at each other and laughed again. And after a moment they started talking about some fat friend of theirs who gets laid all the time, and how strange that was, and I wondered how these two conversations were correlated.
I looked at these students on the lift for some time, and I started to see myself through their eyes. I was, indeed, this representation of age and stability. Some of these students I’d been meeting with every two weeks for more than a year. I was a man they came to for answers. I was educated, and settled, and had a few wrinkles and a little grey in my beard. I thought about when I was their age, and how I might have seen myself, and not surprisingly, I’d have had a difficult time understanding that this person with trim cut hair ever once had long hair, and smoked pot, and had sex, and all that other adolescent crap that most kids do. I looked at them, and realized that regardless of how young I felt, how cool I still thought I was, I was now, in the eyes of these young men, an old man with responsibilities and income and education.
The lift ride seemed forever long, nearly as long as the journey between my youth and the now. Not that I hadn’t thought about all this before, but it seemed more apparent as they laughed, and it gave me pause. I’ve heard people in their 40s and 50s tell me that I’m still young, and I’ve seen a lot of people in their teens and 20’s imply that I’m getting old, and in so many ways I’m trying to figure out what this all means. In the grand scheme of life and progression, the 30s are a strange middle ground, somewhere close to the top of the hill, but just low enough that I can’t see the other side. Neal Young said it’s “When you're old enough to repay. But young enough to sell.” I never really understood that line until this year. I knew that my back would hurt after this snowboarding trip, but I also knew that I could out board any of the students that came along, and thinking about that made the pain worth it. How long would that last?
We reached the end of the lift, and when we all got off, and all three students fell, while I stayed up. I put my hand out, and helped one of them up. He looked frustrated, and I said, “Don’t worry. You’ll figure it out. Takes time.”
He looked at me for a while, smiled, and said, “Yeah… you’re right,“ in a tone that seemed confident and cool and believing. As old as I assumed he saw me, it seemed that he knew I understood. That what I told him was believable because I’d been there. Perhaps that’s where I am. Still young enough to understand these student’s struggles, young enough to be believable, but old enough to know about priorities and sacrifice and make recommendations.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.