Man in the Middle – Chapter 53: Midlife crisis
By James Thellusson
A middle aged man realises his elderly mother can no longer cope alone, so she moves in with them. Squeezed by the demands of the demographic time bomb and the requirements of the rest of the family, the Man in the Middle is bemused that life has become a hi-wire act, just when he thought it should start getting easier. How can he keep everyone happy and survive with his sanity intact?
If you’d like to begin at the beginning and missed the first instalment, you can read
No. 1: The Letter here
No.53: Midlife crisis
My Godfather, Elliott Jacques, was the psychoanalyst who coined the phrase ‘mid-life crisis’. The Economist obit labelled him a ‘guru’. He was a kind man and I wish he was alive today because I am sure he would have been willing to listen to my laments about my own mid-life crisis.
Who knows, he might even have found me a worthy case study for one of his psychoanalytical papers? At the very least, he would have given me a family discount on his hourly consultation fee, which is more generous and sympathetic than my family are being to me at the moment. They don’t seem to want to listen to a thing I have to say, especially my midlife crisis, which they think is a chimera.
In fact, they’re so mightily bored by my ‘Boomer Laments’, as they call them, that they are evolving ways to avoid listening to me at all. Uncle Elliott would doubtless have labelled them ‘avoidance strategies’. For example, they turn up the volume on the TV when I come into the sitting room as a signal to me not to open my mouth. At dinner, when I am about to speak, they all simultaneously plug in their Apple EarPods and dive into their podcasts, like a synchronized swimming team, disappearing under the water in a pre-planned move.
Last night, I think I even heard my daughter suggest the family should introduce a traffic light system for me in which I have to give them a summary of what I want to talk to them about before I can actually say anything.
“Like submitting a play to the censor for approval?” asked my son.
“That’s right. If we think what he wants to say might be interesting or even new, we give him a green light. If it’s his usual old nonsense then we give him a red light” she explained, holding up some cardboard squares which she has painted red, yellow and green.
I’ve started to wonder if the family are hatching a conspiracy to ostracise me completely. I worry that one day I will come home and they will have disappeared beyond even Matt Hancock’s world class track and trace system, leaving me behind in the house with Mother, who can’t hear well and, sadly, has far bigger problems of her own to deal with than listening to my whines.
My paranoia has got so bad I have started drinking the CBD oil, which I bought for Mother to ease her arthritis, but which she has rejected as being useless. I am not sure if it is effective but since I started sipping it three times a day I have begun to have recurring nightmares which involve Uncle Elliott.
In these nightmares, I am laid out on his old leather consultation couch in South Kensington and I am always asking him the same question: is it possible for a man to become so boring and self-obsessed that his own family no longer want to talk to him?
‘Yes,’ replies Elliott. ‘You’re very stale, pale and male. It’s surprising they’ve put up with you this long.’
‘How can I get better?’ I ask in the dream.
‘Read the Guardian,’ he says, at which point I wake up sweating.
I don’t know what to do with this advice. Coincidentally, I am thinking of binning my subscription to The Times because it is getting quite right-wing, but I am not sure I am yet ready for a daily dose of wokeness from the Guardian.
More importantly, I am not sure I should be basing important life decisions on a series of bad dreams and the advice of a dead Godfather, even if he was a Jungian and, therefore, would have encouraged me to use my dreams as one way of coming to terms with life.
I decide the only way to know for sure if the family have finally given up on me is to speak to my wife. She is my Delphic Oracle and if she’s in a good mood she may give me up to two minutes of fee free top-quality life-style consultation, which is normally more than enough time for her to sort out my trivial problems.
I finish my pitch to her by saying: “Penn State research shows men of my age face 20% more stress than their parents. I am suffering a new type of generational squeeze and a new type of mid-life crisis. Is it any wonder that I may not be happy?”
My wife pauses and then says in an American accent: “You’re just not happy because your life didn’t turn out the way you thought it would?”
Confused, I ask her why her she is mimicking an American accent.
“Don’t you remember the American comic Dennis Leary?”
“One of my favourite” I say.
“Remember the sketch where he talks about his harsh upbringing in a poor Irish family?”
“Yes” I say.
“Remember the name of the school of psychoanalysis he uses in the joke?”
A long-forgotten joke suddenly comes back to mind and I realise the oracle is telling me what to do in her own oblique style.
“The School of Shut the f**k Up” I say under my breath.
“That’s right. The School of Shut the F**k Up” says my wife.
“That’s your advice?” I say.
She looks me solemnly in the eye for a moment and then brightens a little and asks: “what shall we have for dinner?”
Read more blogs by James Thellusson
Read the next in the series – Chapter 54: Sipping Roast Parsnip Soup
Read the previous one – Chapter 52: My diet got stuck in the buffet car
See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here
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