As we grow older, we come to realize that we gradually lose power and become isolated from younger people. At work, for example, you may feel dismissed by younger people simply because you are old, unless you hold a powerful position. Perhaps that is why older people yearn for power. And sometimes this greed for power results in self-destruction; dictators such as Iraq's Hussein or Libya's Gadhafi could have lived happily for the rest of their lives if they had transferred political power to their successors before it was too late. Refusing to give up power, however, they met tragic endings.
You tend to lose stamina and appeal as you get older. Young men and women no longer find you charming or attractive. You feel betrayed when you notice young people no longer show interest in you, and you find yourself frequently left out in the cold.
The sad reality of aging drives some men to futilely prove their masculinity by having an affair with a younger woman, an attempt that almost always results in disgrace and shame. Although some younger women may genuinely love their older partners, others may simply be after the man's money and power.
Older people often feel that younger people usurp their thrones and take away their treasures. Recently on the Internet, I came across a photo of a black T-shirt with a father's funny manifesto. The t-shirt read: "Rules for dating my daughter: 1. Get a job. 2. Understand I don't like you. 3. I'm everywhere. 4. You hurt her. I hurt you. 5. Be home 30 minutes early. 6. Get a lawyer. 7. If you lie to me, I will find out. 8. She's my princess, not your conquest. 9. I don't mind going back to jail. 10. Whatever you do to her, I will do to you." Although largely exaggerated, the 10 rules reflect how all fathers feel when their beloved daughters begin to date someone. And to most fathers, the rules still hold even long after their daughters are married.
A father, however, should know that once their daughter finds a boyfriend or a husband, he is no longer his daughter's primary protector. A father must helplessly watch as his role is transferred to his daughter's partner. Surely the process is part of the cycle of life. And yet, fathers are reluctant to let their daughters go. But we should learn to give up and let go as we grow older.
As much as older people should learn to give up power, young people should also learn to respect the elderly. In today's Korean society, senior citizens are often pushed around and ignored, and at times treated as redundant, surplus beings. As someone who has lived both in Korea and the United States, I would say that the elderly are treated with much more respect in the US than in Korea these days. It is a shame because Korea was once known as a model Confucian country in which seniors were traditionally respected.
Unfortunately, however, such beautiful customs have faded and these days, older people are frequently insulted and humiliated by ill-mannered youngsters in public places such the subway.
Some youth are so discourteous that they do not use honorific expressions when speaking to the elderly, which is quite offensive in Korean society. In his celebrated poem, "Sailing to Byzantium," W.B. Yeats says that Byzantium is "no country for old men," and Cormac McCarthy metaphorically refers to America as "no country for old men" in his novel. One can also say that today's Korea, too, is "no country for old men."