Seeing myself through my son’s eyes eases the sting of getting older

Have you ever read the obituaries and wondered why some people use photos from the year they passed while others use photos from a time long past? That day when her hair was styled just right, no wrinkles, no extra pound?

I spend quite a bit of time thinking about my obituary, sort of like my final column. Should I post that snap from 1984 that no one will recognize as me, or should I take a new one every January just in case I go that year?

My husband Brian and I recently went to the lesbian house down the block for a barbecue. Yes, the Outer, Outer, Outer, Outer Excelsior is the kind of neighborhood where you can give directions like, “Until you turn right before you get to the Cow Palace.” Take the next right after the Dachshund. As soon as you get past the lesbians in the neighborhood, you’re almost at the gays in the neighborhood.” That’s us, the gays-up-the-block.

At the party, a new neighbor looked at me and said, “You! You’re the guy on the back of The Chronicle.” I nodded, although I don’t like the fact that the last page of the diary is called the ‘back’. Nevertheless he insisted. “Dude, you have to change the picture. It makes you look like a fat old Irish bartender.”

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I shrugged my shoulders. My mixology days were long gone, but the fatness, age and Irishness were undeniable. Apparently, this guy didn’t see me as the angelic guy in the purple shirt, but rather as an urban, charming, and under-the-radar sovereign who happened to be photographed on a bad day.

Over lunch at the Westfield San Francisco Center, I told this story to Leah Garchik, with whom I once shared “the back cover of The Chronicle.” “Do you know why I had my recording redone?” she said. “I was at a wedding and one of the guests said, ‘You’re Leah Garchik? The picture in the newspaper must have been taken very a long time ago.'”

There are images and there is imagination.

Space was at a premium in the Bedlam Blue Bungalow. To put things in order, Brian and I donated our excess wedding favors to the Community Thrift Store, based on the theory that we would probably not use that sterling silver sugar strainer for the first 35 years of our marriage for the next 35 years.

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Then we started the bookshelves and donated a few hundred books, mostly the tomes I had been keeping but had long given up hope that I would ever have the discipline to read. Oh, I made it through War and Peace, but no matter how many stitches I took on Dubliners, I never got over Mr. Duffy didn’t live far from his body.”

There were photo albums on the bottom row of the last bookshelf, so I scanned shots that made me look young and beautiful. Brian always looks hateful young and beautiful. My sons Zane and Aidan are still teenagers so of course every shot is young and beautiful. But for me, nine out of ten shots give away this ill-cut, double-chinned, prone guy with a crooked smile. So I had scanned maybe four pictures of myself from the first album.

Zane noticed one of the JPEGs on my computer screen. It was from the Reagan years, when I was just a little bit older than Zane is now. Me, 40 years younger and 41 pounds lighter, wearing a black cardigan, leaned against a tree in the Elysian Fields in Hoboken on a day when youth swayed to wisdom. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the last picture I took as a bachelor and I had clearly peaked. This was this perfect obituary picture day.

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Zane narrowed his eyes. “That’s creepy. I just don’t see you as a skinny person. I like you better the way you are now, a little grey, a little fuzzy.”

What a gift. To see myself not as a two-dimensional piece of paper, but as the man my son knows.

If I think I have an image to maintain, I’m wrong. There is no diet or Lady Clairol that will ever bring me back to this boy I no longer am or want to be. Why waste energy making me look like the person I think other people want me to look like when I can just look like the father who is loved? A little grey. A little blurry. And not quite ready for the obituary.

Join me and Jill Hedgecock on Saturday, September 24 at 3:30 p.m. at Reasonable Books, 3645 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette. I will read from her book and she from mine.

Kevin Fisher-Paulson’s column appears in Datebook on Wednesdays. Email: [email protected]

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