So how does a man know if he’s getting old? Maybe he just gets to decide.

On a recent plane flight as I was walking down the aisle I noticed an elderly man trying to pick up his luggage to put it up in the overhead compartment. He was struggling mightily and his arms were shaking, and it looked like he was going to drop the bag. I reached out my hand put it under the luggage and ask if he needed some help. He looked me directly in the eye and said in a somewhat defensive tone, “No I don’t need any help I’m just fine.”

Obviously his pride was more important than getting help putting up a piece of luggage. As I sat down in my seat I thought about his response. It reminded me of an old male lion, looking into the eyes of a young male lion and saying with his eyes, “Don’t mess with me, back off you or you are going to regret the consequences.”

I have a birthday coming up soon and I spent the rest of the flight thinking about this one question- what age am I? Am I “old?” When will I be considered an old man? I will be 75 in a few weeks. So I am not by any means, a young man. I am far from that. I am also not by any means an old man. I didn’t even like it when I received my AARP card in the mail. It offended me that I was, or could be, a member of an organization with the word “retired” in it. So I guess I fall into that awkward category of being called “middle-aged.” But if I am middle-aged, that means I will live to be 112 years old. Now there is a goal.

So when does a man become an old man? Is there a magic number? I used to think 70 was “old” until I reached my current age. Now I think, “Well 70 is not that old, is it?” But to a young man it’s old. So what is the definition of old anyway?

A number?

It can’t be defined by a number because even though I will be 75 years old soon, I feel like I’m in my 30’s. So it seems strange even to me that in five years I’ll be 80. I don’t feel old or older. It kind of makes me sad sometimes to think I have more years behind me then in front of me, but at the same time lucky to be alive. This is some trick of nature, because I feel young. So when does a man become an old man if it’s not a number?

Appearance?

The wrinkles in the skin, the gray hair, the changes in appearance and posture, age spots can all make someone look older or appear old. People often tell me that I look a lot younger than my stated age. But I know as I age that I will eventually have more wrinkles and other outward appearances of being an older human being. Is this wrong or bad, no longer looking as youthful as I once did? Our society seems to think so. Would that make someone an old man?

Strength?

If there is one thing that most men seem to take great deal of pride in as part of their male ego and identity is being strong. I often chuckle at how many men gallantly offer to help a woman with her luggage on the plane to demonstrate their “maleness.” If you start to lose that strength as a man particularly, does that then make you an old man? Obviously a cane is a sign that a man does not have enough strength to walk and support himself physically. Does that make him old?

Vitality?

What happens when a man loses his vitality? When he no longer has energy or sex drive, or when he is no longer a lively dynamic man, when he’s lost that spark of energy? What happens when that flame is lowered to a glow and no longer burns as bright and he has less energy? Does that make him old?

The voice?

Sometimes when you talk to someone on the phone, you just know automatically from their thin whispery voice like autumn leaves that they are probably older. Are people who have that kind of voice “old”?

The answer to all of these in my mind is hell no! As I approach the age of 75, I realize that age is truly only a number. Dammit, I will be as old as I feel. I will act and feel younger and I will continue to do so until I take my last dying breath.

In terms of my appearance I will take care of myself to the best of my ability by working out and eating right and doing anything else I can to maintain my appearance and to fight the ravages of aging. As I get older I work out more, not less, in order to maintain my level of strength and vitality. I’ll also surround myself with people who do not think about old age, but only think about living life to its fullest.

If towards the end of my life my voice becomes thin and papery that will be okay, because I’ll be glad to be alive with a thin papery voice instead of dead with no voice. I will not go gently into the night.

So why do I bring this up? I think that as men we tend to age less gracefully — because aging is a threat to our masculine vitality, strength and ego. I think most women handle aging in a much more graceful way. Maybe that is why they live longer.

So I just want you to consider that you don’t have to give in to aging. You don’t have to think you are old, you don’t have to act old, you don’t have to be old and fading. You can fight it on all fronts, but more importantly, you can change the way that you think about age, because it is, after all just a number.

Joseph A. CORNACCHIA