Getting older

I mentioned earlier that I thought to post about what getting older has gotten me and then thought better of doing so. Now, with some editing, here is the post I resisted.

I’m not sure why I’ve been thinking about my age lately. Perhaps it is what I do instead of making resolutions at the new year. Though I know I’m the oldest of the permanent bloggers and I’m pretty sure I’m older than the average visitor to T&S, I’m not that old. I’m fifty-seven. Nevertheless, I have been thinking about being older off and on for a week or so, partly because of the phone call from Rudi that I referred to in the post to which I link, above.

Thinking about the fact that I am much nearer the end of my career than I used to be made me reflect on the last almost thirty years that I have been teaching. I asked myself how I have changed over that time. That isn’t an easy question to answer, especially since I don’t feel any different than I did when I started. I am still sometimes surprised when I see myself in the mirror and, at first, don’t realize that the old guy I see is me. I am always still surprised to be told that some particular ache or pain is “just age.”

Age is supposed to make one wiser, but I don’t feel any wiser. Psychologically I don’t think I feel any different than I did when I was in my mid-twenties. But one thing that has changed because I’m older is that other faculty at BYU are more likely to recognize me and, so, to listen if I have an opinion than they were when I first came here. But that has as much to do with longevity–and finally looking older–than perhaps anything else. When I first came to BYU, I was often (well into my thirties) mistaken for an undergraduate. Though, of course, my colleagues in the department and the college knew I wasn’t one, I think that my looks worked against me among them too. I was consistently thought of as “the new guy” even ten and more years after I arrived. However, one area in which I do feel wiser is in university politics. I think I understand better its unofficial structure and, so, how it really works. Unfortunately, that’s not a very important skill. It won’t even do me any good beyond my retirement date, much less in the hereafter.

I also think I am more relaxed about life than I used to be, and perhaps that is a kind of wisdom. I’m more relaxed professionally. I realize that I’m not going to write any important philosophy books, but I’m comfortable with being a teacher rather than an important scholar. The scholarship is important–without it I’m not likely to be a decent teacher–but it doesn’t define who I am. For a long time I hoped that perhaps I would get a fellowship (or, per impossibile a chair) that would give me a little more time and some resources for working on some of my pet projects, finishing my work on Romans, writing a book on community, sponsoring conferences, attending conferences, and so on. Now I see that as unlikely, but I don’t feel bad about it. I see my contribution to BYU in what I’ve done as a teacher (more about that later). Recently being able to work, campus-wide, on questions of faith and the intellect is also something I’m enjoying very much, and it may be a more important contribution than whatever I might have done as a scholar.

I think I am more relaxed and, so, a little wiser in my relations to my children, now that it is too late for my wisdom to help them much. I’m a better father now than I was, though I don’t know whether that is because I’ve changed or because it is easier to be the father of adult children. I also think I’m a reasonably good grandfather, though that is quite easy: play with them, tickle them, give them candy, remember their birthdays, go the movies with them occasionally, and take their side against their parents. It’s a cinch.

I also think I’m a better husband than I was, but that, too, may be as much a consequence of changing circumstances as anything else. By American standards we aren’t wealthy, though we live much better than a huge percentage of the world’s population. By American standards we live comfortably. Not having big financial concerns nor children’s problems has removed two of the biggest possible sources of contention between us (though the few real arguments we had were over children rather than money). Janice and I have always had a good marriage, but I think it is better than ever now.

I think I’m also more relaxed in my other personal relations. The reasons are too complicated and too personal to discuss, but I think I have been able to get beyond caring what opinions others have of me and, so, also to get beyond secretly caring what position in the Church I hold. All of my life in the Church I’ve known that I ought not to covet position. All that time, I’ve despised the fact that, secretly, I did anyway–in spite of myself. I truly didn’t want position and, at the same time, I wanted the “honor” of the position. Now I’ve been liberated from that desire, with surprising consequences.

For example, I’ve come to understand that if someone doesn’t like the way I do my church job, the “worst” that can happen is that I won’t someday be called to be a bishop, a stake president, or a mission president. Once I thought about what that really meant–that I wouldn’t be given difficult responsibilities, but my relationship to God wouldn’t be changed one whit–I relaxed a whole lot. I’m not a very rebellious person. I got over that shortly after the 60s. I think I am willing to take counsel and to recognize that my judgment is sometimes not very good. Nevertheless, in the end I don’t fear that someone might think I’ve made a mistake. After listening to counsel, praying, and thinking, I do what seems best to me. If those who supervise me don’t agree with the course I’ve taken, I don’t mind being released. That’s their call; having them disagree with me about what I’ve done doesn’t hurt my feelings.

I feel the same way about the various jobs I’ve had in the university though, as Matthew, my second son, pointed out, it is a lot easier to feel that way when “We don’t like the job you’ve done as x” means “Go back to your department and teach your classes” rather than “Clean out your office and hit the sidewalk.”

In contrast, however, I’m less sure of myself as a teacher today than I used to be. For a couple of years I’ve been relatively unsuccessful at engaging first-year students, so I’ve decided not to teach them any more. I’ll leave that to younger professors who can get their interest better. I’m not sure why I don’t seem to be able to make contact with them and draw them into conversations about philosophy. It is tempting to take the traditional route and say, “There’s something wrong with this younger generation,” but I think the problem is at least as much on my side of things as it is on theirs, and I am fairly sure that my age has a lot to do with it. I can’t get across whatever chasm that creates. There was a time when I had a more friendly and personal relation with students, including beginning students. The difference in our ages makes that a lot harder today, and for first-year students, I think the difference is fatal.

On the other hand, thank goodness, I think I am still able to engage upper-division philosophy students, so I’ll continue to teach those classes. I look forward to meeting with them, and I often leave class exhilarated by what has happened. Rather than sitting and staring at me, no matter what, the students in these classes ask questions, respond to mine, talk to each other, say interesting things, . . . . That is where the pleasure of teaching is.

Another result of age is that I’m much more concerned about civility, manners, dress, and such than I used to be. I think that change has been gradual, but it became clear to me that I was changing several years ago, living in Paris. I had library privileges at the Ecole Normale Superieur. There I found everyone but me dressed in slacks and a sport coat. Some had ties, some did not, but everyone was wearing a jacket and slacks, and I was in a sport shirt and jeans–though only for the first day. I realized that the etiquette of the library required more than jeans, and that etiquette seemed reasonable and natural, though it wouldn’t have when I was in my 20s or perhaps not in my 30s. That change in my thinking about dress is reflected in other ways as well. One of those is, as I’m sure many who frequent Times and Seasons have noticed, I am very much opposed to the kind of nastiness that sometimes gets started on venues such as this. I think that Emmanuel Levinas (a twentieth-century Lithuanian-French philosopher) was right to think of good manners as the best example of the relation to “the Other.” Chalk it up to age.

Religiously one of the biggest changes is that I’m not as interested in what will happen to me in the hereafter as I once was. I’m much more interested in what happens to us now. Sometimes I think my feelings about the hereafter are a manifestation of confidence: I’m confident about the things I’ve come to believe, so I don’t worry about it. Occasionally I’m less sure: perhaps they just show that I don’t care. But the truth is that I really don’t think much about the Second Coming nor the hereafter nor other things like them, nor do I worry about which reason explains my lack of worry. I assume the hereafter will take care of itself if I take care of this life, and if I don’t take care of this life, then worrying about the next will be pointless. I have a strong testimony of the Gospel. That isn’t a problem and rarely has been since my conversion. I think that the covenants we make are crucial. I wish I did a better job of acting on the seriousness with which I believe I should take the obligations those covenants create. But I am uninterested in questions about the signs of the times or the millennium, about the levels in the Celestial Kingdom, about whether people can move from one kingdom to another, and so on. I’m not very interested in which resurrection I’ll be in, while, at the same time, I cannot imagine living without Janice.

Oh, and I’m a better cook than I used to be.

46 comments for “Getting older

  1. Wilfried
    January 18, 2005 at 8:03 am

    Except for the cooking, it’s also my experience, Jim. But then again, we only differ a few months. Thank you for allowing me to peek in this mirror.

  2. January 18, 2005 at 8:21 am


    What a fine and honest little essay; it’s worthy of Montesquieu in the symathy yet also the unsparingness with which you treat your subject: yourself. James Baldwin once stated that his highest aim was to be “an honest man and a good writer”; this sort of writing demonstrates why it’s so important that the two be linked.

    In relation to that, I should note you leave out one area assessment entirely: your writing. You mention scholarship, and how you don’t worry about not having produced or your lack of drive to produce “important philosophy books”; but what about your many essays and published talks and sermons? I say this not to praise you or give you a shot of confidence (because as worthy as you are of those things, this essay plaining shows you’re past needing or asking for such), but because such works as, for example, your essay on self-image and self-confidence have a deep and wide impact, both intellectually and spiritually. To not bring your prose talents into this self-assessment seems a shame.

    While 36 isn’t 57, some of what you write resonates with me. I’ve never particularly believed that God is in the details, and I’ve become more and more concerned about the context rather than the content of my life and that of others’ as the years have gone by. Yet paradoxically, that’s made me focus on details which at one time I gave far less respect to: decorum, manners, ritual, tradition, authority, civility. Is this a universal process of aging? Obviously not: witness Bertand Russell. (But maybe he was just a loony.)

    Aging and the passage of time is, unfortunately, a curse for many: some because they foolishly make it so, but for most others because constant poverty, sickness, violence and fear rob them of the economic and social “space” to turn around and see their own lives without despair. But for those on this planet to have such, time and age can be seen as the blessings they are. Thank God we grow, and aren’t ever left as we are. When I was young, I thought youth was ridiculous, and I couldn’t wait to get out of it; the 30s is where it’s at, I thought. Now that I’m in my 30s, I’ve found myself thinking that my 50s will be an even better age. Your thoughts, Jim, give me even more reason to hope so. Thank you.

  3. Jim F.
    January 18, 2005 at 10:44 am

    Wilfired and Russell, thanks for your responses. Wilfried, one of the reasons I was glad to see you join us was that it is nice to have another permanent blogger of about the same age. Russell, I didn’t mean to ignore the essays and such. For some reason I didn’t think of them as I was writing. Perhaps that is because I see them as part of my career as a teacher rather than as a scholar.

  4. Nate Oman
    January 18, 2005 at 10:57 am

    It is interesting to me that Jim confesses problems connecting with first year students. It reminds me of my initial interactions with Jim a little more than ten years ago. I did not go to BYU willingly. The bottom line was that I could not afford to attend my first choice schools which were farther east and higher up the U.S. News rankings, and I lacked the courage to take on tens of thousands of dollars of debt in order to finish my undergraduate degree. I ended up at BYU because (for me at least) it was free and because it was better than living at home and going to the University of Utah. My wife — what was one of my good friends at the time — went to Boston for school and remembers me as very bitter about being relegated to Provo.

    My freshman year, I had a history of philosophy class from Jim. I remember going to his office hours to ask some question or another about Hegel (I have no doubt that it was a very stupid question). Jim was on the way to pick up his laundry from the dry cleaners. He took me with him and after we had his shirts, we went to the Brick Oven, and he explained Hegel to me over garlic bread. This was one of a handful of experiences that convinced me that I neen’t regard an education at BYU as an utter catastrophe.

    I suspect that this may reinforce Jim’s assessment of his ability to connect with first year students. It was over ten years ago, and even then Jim seems to have been connecting with misfits. Despite the teaching, however, I would still like to see the book on community. ;->

  5. Jack
    January 18, 2005 at 10:57 am


    That was a fun read. No mid-life crisis? Sheesh! The more I learn from those who’ve been around longer than I have, the more I become convinced that the whole “mid-life crisis” thing is a myth – at least in terms of some strange psychological Jungian transition. I guess I’ll have to chalk my “crisis” up to discovering that my slight mental illness and the gospel are not compatible anymore. (I say that slightly tongue in cheek because I fear the real problem may be that those who are more self-centered will go through greater pains in learning that they have lose themselves to find happiness)

    I like your bit about counsel. I think you’ve struck the right balance. I find, as I look back, that in my zeal to prove that I’m not such a bad guy, I’ve allowed myself to be played like a marionette. And now, as the pendulum begins to swing in the other direction, I have to deal with a lot of anger because of it.

  6. Kevin Barney
    January 18, 2005 at 1:21 pm

    Great little essay, Jim.

    The key to relating to younger students is listening to hip hop music. So, in the final analysis, it’s not really worth it.

    A lot of your comments resonated with me as well, although I’m only 46. In my head I’m about 23. But I’ve decided that I’m too old to play football in the Turkey Bowl on Thanksgiving Day morning, having badly sprained my ankle during the last attempt. So that is a certain wisdom and acceptance, I guess.

  7. Larry
    January 18, 2005 at 4:10 pm

    Great read Jim. Although I am a year older than you my reflections are the same and yet different. I loved your comments on the hereafter and what matters most. This to me reflects the “hope” that is the gospel.

  8. January 18, 2005 at 4:32 pm

    I had my midlife crisis at 31 when I got the boot from the singles ward. Now that I’ve got that over I don’t need to worry about it I guess.

  9. Jim F.
    January 18, 2005 at 5:20 pm

    I haven’t had a mid-life crisis, so I don’t really understand what one is. Of course, I know what people are talking about, but I can’t relate to it. In some ways I’ve had what I suppose are mini-mid-life crises over and over again, recognizing that some things are now past and will remain that way and finding that disconcerting. But none of them has been sufficiently disconcerting to make me completely rethink my life. Perhaps I don’t have enough imagination.

  10. January 18, 2005 at 6:04 pm

    Jim, I’m glad you decided to post this essay after all. I enjoyed it immensely (as I do most of your posts).

  11. January 18, 2005 at 7:14 pm

    It may be a cliche, but I have “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mack running through my head right now.

  12. Susan
    January 18, 2005 at 10:30 pm

    Thanks. I had a bit more a mid-life crisis than you describe. And change has been more a constant in my life than continuity. That complicates life for those around me.I often worry about that–more for them than for me. I imagined a life more like the one you describe. Continuity. Teaching, The academy.The church. I find myself in the crazy world of software, technology, business. And I guess I’m an apostate. Never would have seen it coming. I can still see the continuity, but I may be the only one. And mostly I’ve thrived on change and transformation. Still I identify as one of your class–we arrived at BYU pretty much together. We ARE getting older–can that be true? Still believe that as a group we haven’t done all that bad. . . . .

  13. Kaimi
    January 18, 2005 at 10:37 pm

    “Still believe that as a group we haven’t done all that bad. . . . ”

    I don’t know, Susan — rumor has it that you have a son who’s a lawyer.

  14. Jim F.
    January 18, 2005 at 10:57 pm

    Susan, I always enjoying reading your posts. And I always remember you as you were at BYU a few years back when we were both students. Of course that is made much easier by the fact that I don’t think I’ve seen you since then. I agree. As a group we’ve not done all that bad. I don’t know what your relation to the Church is–obviously–but whatever the degree of disaffection, you don’t seem to me like an apostate. That is too harsh a word.

  15. Kristine
    January 18, 2005 at 11:05 pm

    Jim, I’ve never spent a minute wishing I’d gone to BYU until just now. I would give a lot to have been in on the Hegel discussion with you and Nate, and to have taken some of your classes.

  16. Jim F.
    January 18, 2005 at 11:59 pm

    Kristine, how kind. Thank you very much.

  17. Jim F.
    January 19, 2005 at 12:11 am

    Repentance: I just got around to reading the bios of our most recent additions at T&S and I discovered that I am not the oldest perma-blogger. Wilfried is. He was born in 1946 and I in 1947, so he is some months older than I.

    Wilfried, my apologies for trying to usurp your position.

  18. Rosalynde Welch
    January 19, 2005 at 12:16 am

    Who’s the youngest? Nate or Frank, I think, although there’s a bunch of us that are really close.

  19. Wilfried
    January 19, 2005 at 7:12 am

    Jim, I had hoped you wouldn’t have noticed! To be “the oldest” feels, well. On the other hand, having married late, and my wife being 13 years younger, and having a 16-year old daughter, and teaching undergrads, and writing textbooks for 10-year olds, it all helps me to blur the reality we both share.

  20. January 19, 2005 at 7:53 am

    “Who’s the youngest?”

    Going off what data I can find on T&S (and realizing I’m probably missing an announcement or three somewhere along the line):


    I’m almost certain (but can’t find any evidentiary support for my generally poor memory) that Kristine is slightly younger than me; for the others I draw a blank. Still, allowing for outliers, that puts the median age of the T&S permabloggers at around….my own, 36. Ha! That must mean I symbolize something, though I don’t know what.

  21. January 19, 2005 at 9:57 am

    Hey, I’m still 30 for a few more days!


    If I, like you, ever have former students all over the country who feel grateful to have known me, who feel they were well-taught, challenged and inspired by taking my classes, I will feel like my work has mattered. As one who takes teaching very seriously, I can’t imagine a greater success.

  22. Kaimi
    January 19, 2005 at 10:34 am

    Rosalynde is Steve’s age (I think) so that would put her about a year ahead of me.*

    Kristine is older than I am, by an amount that I’ll let her specify.*

    I’m not sure about Julie, but I’ve always had the impression that she’s about my age (29 or 30).* I fuzzily think that I derived this impression from a comment of hers, some time ago.

    Adam is, I think, younger than I am. He may be the youngest of the group.

    Ben is a Ph.D. student, so he’s gotta be at least 28 or 29. Maybe 30.

    *Blanket disclaimer — it is a law of the universe that no woman looks a day older than 29. That law clearly applies in spades to both Kris and Ros. Thus, the correct terminology is not “she’s thirty-one” but rather “she has celebrated the second anniversary of her twenty-ninth birthday.”

  23. Kristine
    January 19, 2005 at 10:41 am

    I’m 35, and really happy that I finally look old enough for people at the park to stop asking me if I’m interested in another babysitting job when I’m out playing with my kids. You won’t catch me counting anniversaries of my 29th birthday!

  24. Rosalynde Welch
    January 19, 2005 at 10:45 am

    I’m a newish 30. (Like all subordinate women at BYU, I tended to date older men.)

  25. Kaimi
    January 19, 2005 at 10:50 am

    Yikes – how many 1974/1975 people do we have? It seems possible that we’ve got ten.

  26. Bryce I
    January 19, 2005 at 10:52 am

    I guess this is the place to mention that the new picture in the bio looks great, Kristine.

  27. Bryce I
    January 19, 2005 at 10:54 am

    Jim, I really enjoyed reading this post. It makes me feel good about the prospect of growing older. One of the things I like about Times and Seasons is the presence of voices like yours, that give me a thoughtful perspective on the topics you post on that I normally don’t have access to.

  28. January 19, 2005 at 10:55 am

    “Like all insubordinate women at BYU, I tended to date older men.”

    Yeah, having that year on you really made me feel like the boss.

  29. Kaimi
    January 19, 2005 at 10:55 am

    The new picture does look great.

    Of course, I think the one that I photo-shopped to show her in a Yankees replica jersey looks even better. But for some reason, Kristine hasn’t wanted me to post that one . . .

  30. Kristine
    January 19, 2005 at 11:02 am

    Thanks, Bryce. Perhaps, then, this is also the place to reassure everyone that my oldest son has no major medical or psychological problems that we’re aware of–it’s just a really weird picture!

  31. Kaimi
    January 19, 2005 at 11:05 am


    The lit thread made me think about something to mention, and that is that fifty-seven isn’t by any means too late to write something “important.” Cervantes published the first part of Don Quijote at age fifty-seven (he started drafting it years earlier, obviously).

  32. January 19, 2005 at 11:18 am

    Kant also did his best work when he was in his 50s, and Tolkien didn’t publish LOTR until he was over 60. Though of course, he’s been working on it for decades by then. Perhaps your commentary on Romans could be your magnum opus, Jim? (I’m just hoping; the one volume of Notes and Commentary you’ve produced so far is, in my mind, one of the best and most likely-to-last thing FARMS has ever published.)

  33. January 19, 2005 at 11:21 am

    Agreed — the Romans book has a prominent place on our bookshelf. It would be a fine oeuvre to have as a legacy.

  34. Julie in Austin
    January 19, 2005 at 4:15 pm

    Coming late to this (been sick), but I was born in 1975. I have noted before that we have an uncanny number of permabloggers bornin 1974/195. I have no theories about this, but it does seem strange.

    So–who IS the youngest?

  35. Kaimi
    January 19, 2005 at 4:23 pm


    I think the remaining candidates for youngest are you, Nate, Frank (all 75-ers, I believe) and Ben (I’m not sure his age). I don’t believe that Matt or Greg have given enough information to rule them out, but I don’t think either of them is under 30.

  36. Kaimi
    January 19, 2005 at 4:30 pm

    Correction — Greg previously ruled himself out. (See ).

  37. greenfrog
    January 20, 2005 at 12:45 am

    Jim F,

    Interesting essay.

    If you had to guess, which dimension of your life and self would you expect to change the most in the next five years?

  38. Jim F.
    January 20, 2005 at 1:15 am

    Greenfrog, I don’t know that I could guess. It seems to me that there aren’t a lot of big changes in my life any more, for which I am quite grateful. However, the result is that I don’t expect particularly significant changes. I hope I become more attentive to what contemporary European philosophers sometimes refer to as the “excess” of the world–of things, of people, of experiences.

  39. January 20, 2005 at 2:44 am

    Once I was asked in a job interview, “What was the most important class you took in college?” My reply was that I had two most important classes. The first was a class on Hegel taught by Jim Faulconer, because from that class I had to work harder than I ever had previously to read with understanding and write with precision. The second was a class on community, also taught by Jim Faulconer, because (in addition to teaching me to read and write with clarity), it taught me how to see my fellow man in a whole new way.

    In my professional life it is interesting to me that as I am called upon to solve problems I utilize lessons I learned in those classes more frequently than any lessons I learned from my business courses (I won’t bore you with examples or details). In my family and church life, the principles I learned from the class on community have been of inestimable practical value.

    While I had many fine professors at BYU and later for post-grad studies at NYU, I never felt that I learned from a better teacher. I recognize that Dr. Faulconer’s method lent itself to the way I learnt best, but part of the effectiveness was that I understood that it was important to Jim that I worked hard and understood the material. He took the time to verify that I learned. On a number of occasions I submitted papers that came back with more commentary from Jim than source text provided by me!

    As far as getting individual attention, It also didn’t hurt that Dr. Faulconer had some reputation for actually requiring effort from his students – leading to smaller classes – leading to much more individual attention to those who took them. This was a great benefit to those of us who needed some extra attention/teaching.

    My point in bringing this up is to note that in my opinion (resulting from my experience) the work of a teacher, as opposed to a scholar, is a higher work. Teachers alter the course of their people’s lives in a way that simply publishing ideas cannot. And college teachers who infuse their teachings and lives with moral elements can really never measure the value of their contribution to young people whose own lives are so impressionable and who are seeking example.

    (Dr. Faulconer – for old times sake I would be disappointed if your reply failed to note any syntactical errors that may have crept into this missive!)

  40. January 20, 2005 at 10:05 am


    If I’m not mistaken, Ben is 33 (maybe, 34? I can’t remember exactly, but definitely not the youngest)

  41. Jack
    January 20, 2005 at 10:52 am

    Talk about getting old! I have memories of Ben when he was in his teens, and even then he was smarter than I am now!

  42. Rebecca
    January 20, 2005 at 3:13 pm

    It is funny that the wisdom you say you have gained with age I have always thought you have had. I have never really noticing any change in you becoming wiser over my thirty years. I’ve always thought you were the wisest and still do… AND the best cook I know.

  43. Rosalynde
    January 20, 2005 at 3:27 pm

    Awww, Rebecca… that was so sweet! ((hugs))

  44. Jim F
    January 20, 2005 at 6:12 pm

    Pay no attention to Rebecca, she’s trying to butter up her father (something he really appreciates).

    Drex, thank you very much for your kind words.

  45. Tom Settle
    January 23, 2005 at 1:28 am

    I remember sitting in the mission home in Korea and listening to your poetry. What a treasure to find you here in these blogs. Your essay resonated so much with many of my own feelings. The connections that you have made and are making with these essays and blogs are as valuable a legacy as any. Although I would like to see you finish you book on Romans. I have the beginning you made, and is has been a very good tool in studying all scripture. Thanks again.

  46. Jim F.
    January 25, 2005 at 8:23 pm

    Tom! I’m so pleased that you found T&S. Thanks very much for your response. Best wishes to you (and next time you are in Utah, call).

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