Few men inspired as much fear in others as Bob Probert. The 6'3", 230-pound left-winger would snort cocaine, swinging through blows, death in his eyes. He chased rival players around the ice, headhunting for a fight to keep him in the game. He headbutted a goalie. He boozed, philandered and went to jail, multiple times. And, he died at the age of 45 from a massive heart attack, leaving behind a wife and four children.
Bob Probert embodied a tough guy mentality — a belief that the value of a man is measured in his strength and ferocity.
And hockey teams, and fans, revered Bob Probert, in a way few professions would. In the 80s and early 90s, hockey games often devolved into bench-clearing brawls, with both camps embracing the sometimes savage wars on the ice. Some of it sold tickets, media billed matchups between players as though they were heavyweight championship bouts, but there was also a practical consideration—if an opposing team had a tough guy that hurt your star players, then you would lose many games.
Later NHL rules changed, and today we could never see another Bob Probert. He’d be banned or suspended far too quickly.
Eventually, Probert aged out. Like Mike Tyson, someone bigger came along. Someone tougher. The world suddenly found a new fighter, because the strength promised by youth is a gift given freely and one that time takes away.
Beauty holds the same allure. And, while beauty can vary from culture to culture, and person to person, it nearly always shares the trait that beautiful people are young. Models age out of their profession at 21-years-old, often starting at 16, or even younger.
There’s a reason why men and women chased the fountain of youth across oceans and continents. In addition to the promises of strength and beauty, it also offers to remove the pain of age — the mental or physical suffering sometimes brought on by beauty and strength.
In the case of Bob Probert, he had severe health issues, which ranged from chronic back pain to migraines to vision and ongoing mental issues. One doctor diagnosed him with CTE, a disease known to occur in people who suffer repetitive brain trauma. It has laid low many football stars, boxers and hockey players. It can cause trouble with memory and problem-solving; manifest as depression, hopelessness and anxiety; create severe, erratic behavior; and lead to falling, tremors or more.
Muhammad Ali famously suffered later in life with shaking and speech impediments. The greatest brought down by age and his pursuit of strength.
Lust for youth and beauty has led to deeply troubling facts about pedophilia and sex workers. Nearly eight out of every 10 prostitutes began working before the age of 16. More than 90 percent suffered childhood sexual abuse, often incest. Often, prostitutes are runaways from wealthy homes, who abandoned their families because of the abuse they endured.
These are the extremes. Not every person becomes a successful hockey player, nor a model. Not everyone who plays football develops CTE, nor every victim of sexual abuse destined for a life in prostitution.
But it is the pursuit of beauty and youth that deserves a hefty dose of skepticism. Consider someone who marries purely because of the man’s strength or woman’s beauty (or the opposite). As age takes its toll and the body breaks down, what is the basis for long-term love and happiness? Where is the trust when those things fade away?
The Fountain of Youth called to so many — the dream of perpetually staying young. But, while age brings with it deep, emotional fears of death and loss and loneliness, it also carries pride and experience and wisdom— a gift more precious than knowledge, and something that cannot be taught.
These, and so many more gifts of age, are much more significant and beneficial than strength and beauty. They improve our relationships with our friends, families and self. They give us a home. They bring us closer to a universe beyond our comprehension, and they make us comfortable with our naivete.
As Vampire Weekend said, “Wisdom’s a gift, but you trade it for youth//Age is an honor — it’s still not the truth.”