He Wants the Law to Change His Age

A 69-year-old man has petitioned the courts in the Netherlands for the right to say he’s 20 years younger than his actual age: he wants his birth certificate altered to show that he was born in 1949 rather than 1969. That wouldn’t be so different, he argues, from letting people who are transgender change their gender on their birth certificates—apparently you can do that in the Netherlands.

At first, as I read the Guardian’s news story about Emile Ratelband’s petition, he had my sympathy. He complained that because of his age, he was unable to get a mortgage and it was hard to find jobs. He was also getting nowhere on the dating site Tinder. Because he was 69, he either got no responses on Tinder, he claimed, or he heard only from women who were his age. (That’s where he lost my sympathy. What’s wrong with women who are 68 or 69?)

Ratelband, by profession a motivational speaker and TV personality, also declared that doctors had told him he had the body of a 45-year-old and that he felt “about 40 or 45.”

That stopped me for a minute. When I was in my 30s, a dentist told me I had “an old mouth.” Not good news. When I was in my 70s, our family doctor said, reading test results, that I had “the bones of a 30-year-old.” I’m now 83. If you add up the ages of all my various body parts and average them, how old am I now? And should I be allowed to claim that age?

At first, Ratelband’s legal maneuver seemed to me like a clever argument against ageism. Maybe he wasn’t serious about becoming 49 under the law but was mounting an attention-getting protest against age discrimination.

But a video that accompanied the news story suggests that he really means it. Speaking into the camera, Ratelband fantasizes about how his life will be transformed if he’s allowed to change his age.

… when I’m really 49 again, I will have a baby again, I will buy a new car again… invest my money again. Because now I’m an old man, I have to save my money to give to my kids so they can live. But if I have that age again, I have hope again. I’m new again. And the whole future is there for me again.

He’s trying to find the fountain of youth in a courtroom, and life just doesn’t work that way.

I’m a satisfied 83. I wouldn’t want to be younger. I know so much more now than I did at, say, 73, and I’m still learning. I realize that my good health won’t hold up forever and that I’m not immortal, but why waste the years I have left, wishing I were younger?

Now if there were a way to stay 83 in actual, physical fact, I might go for that.

Flora Davis has written scores of magazine articles and is the author of five nonfiction books, including the award-winning Moving the Mountain: The Women’s Movement in America Since 1960 (1991, 1999). She currently lives in a retirement community and continues to work as a writer.