I GOT a call the other day asking me if I’d be interested in going on a radio talk show, as I’d been recommended by someone as knowledgeable on the issue. I wondered what the issue was; probably storytelling, I thought.

But it wasn’t; the issue was the challenges of being an older parent! When they called me for a pre-programme chat, I was asked how my age affected my parenting. I was asked if I had less energy as an older parent and got very tired. My response was that every parent, no matter the age, gets very tired!

I agreed to do the show. Their intentions were good and I was treated very fairly, and I think the host was sympathetic and supportive. I’m not the oldest parent in the land, but I do concede that I’m older than most, at least in terms of my younger children, the youngest of whom is six.

But the experience raised some interesting questions for me about how age is often used to define us and our abilities, and indeed how we can define ourselves by it.

Thankfully, these days society is far more diverse and also, I believe, less judgmental, of people who don’t conform to stereotyped roles. But the truth is, recently I have begun to feel the cold wind of ageism affecting how I see myself and my opportunities.

This radio programme was just the most recent example of my age being regarded an issue. Of course, as we age we do change in our abilities, nobody could deny that. But that can be for the better as well. Being seen as older is relative to the context, I get that. As a dad of young children, I accept the label of older parent. But it was the assumptions about how my age must negatively affect my capabilities as a dad which hit me hard.

I felt uncomfortable even acknowledging these feelings to myself. Then I realised that was part of the problem: that people who are older can feel they have no entitlement to speak out against the unfair judgements they feel are attached to their age. Society’s message can be brutal: as people get older, they need to give way and quietly fade (the rules seem different for politicians, mind you!).

I’m nearly 60, not very old really, but certainly getting on. This is not about denying my age. I would not want to pretend to be younger. I am who I am. Actually, I’m quite proud to have made it this far and hope to have a couple more productive decades, at least, if my luck holds out.

But I fear that so far I’ve only had a taster of what is to come with assumptions about my age. It seems to begin in earnest when someone reaches their 50s.

Finding work after the impact of the lockdowns is a massive challenge, and huge source of anxiety, for millions of people. Those who are older, I suspect, will find their age a source of subtle discrimination, regardless of their actual abilities and family responsibilities.

And the key word here is ‘subtle’. Few employers will say out loud that they think someone is too old for a job, even if they have the abilities to do it well. There is anti-discriminatory legislation in place now to prevent that. So it’s unspoken and structural – the discrimination is so ingrained that most of us don’t see it or realise discrimination is taking place. Its most powerful effect is the internalisation of it by older people themselves, who don’t even apply for jobs they know they are fully qualified and able to do, because of the fear they will be seen as “too old”.

I myself have only come to understand this as I have grown older and experienced it personally. I was once young, of course, as all older people were, and I was as guilty as anyone else of judging older people because of their age when I had youth on my side. So I speak from no moral high ground and some may say it’s just the way of things.

That’s the pernicious nature of this kind of discrimination: it can be seen as a sad but inevitable rite of passage; part of the circle of life in which we will inevitably be marginalised by society in a host of different ways as we get older.

But I don’t believe it need be this way, and part of changing it is talking honestly about it, and calling it out when it happens. Age is just one part of who we are. It doesn’t completely define us or our abilities, capabilities or suitability for a job or life responsibility. And let us not forget that age discrimination doesn’t only affect older folk. Young people, including teenagers, can suffer from it too from older people.

There are cultures which revere the contribution and abilities of older people, rather than dismiss or diminish them; let’s try and make our society one of them. I don’t say this for me, but for everyone out there who is experiencing that gradual push into the margins they feel they just have to accept, regardless of what they can actually do.

It’s about inter-generational respect and it has to go both ways to be effective. In a sense, we would all be winners with this change, as we all learn, if we are lucky enough to become older, that time truly does fly.