A Curious Bit of Parental Math Step into your parents’ shoes—across time

We are all the product of our parents—but as it happens, I happen to also be the sum of my parents. Let me explain.

I was born in the summer of 1968. My mother recalls thinking, What kind of world am I letting this child be born into? Remember, this was the year that had just witnessed violent civil protest throughout the world and the assas­si­na­tions of both Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the United States.

At the time, my mother was 31 years old; my father was 37. See what happened there? 31 + 37 = 68. The year of my birth was the sum of my parents’ age at that moment.

But it goes even further. Thanks to the wonder that is math­e­mat­ical logic, if your parents’ ages when you were born add up to the year of your birth, so will their own birth years! In my case, my father was born in 1931; my mother in 1937.

(Note: this double whammy only works if your parents both have birth­days that fall earlier in the calendar year than your own. So your mileage may vary.)

It works like a mirac­u­lous math­e­mat­ical puzzle, as long as you leave the millen­nial and cente­nary numbers out of it. My father (born ’31) was aged 37 at my birth, my mother (born ’37) was aged 31—all of which adds up to ’68.

Doing the Math

This is all very fine and dandy, but it got me thinking. For everyone, even if the adding-up trick doesn’t work for you, the age your parent had when you were born continues to follow you throughout life as the age differ­ence between the two of you. (The trick works grand­par­ents too.) If, say, your mother was 24 when she had you… by the time you are 30, she’ll be 54. Basic stuff.

But you can also turn the math around by incor­po­rating the current year itself. This opens up a curious time machine of sorts. And it gets better as you get older.

As an example, I’m 50 now and my mother is 31 years older than I am. That means that in 2018 — 31 = 1987, ­she was 50 too!

1987… To me, at age 19, that was the age of Spaceballs and Der Himmel Über Berlin, the age of sopho­more studies and relent­less poetry writing, the age of The Joshua Tree and Bad, the age of unre­quited infat­u­a­tions and awkward adoles­cence. I lived through a lot at the time, but I don’t think I ever stopped to realize (except on her birthday) that my mother was 50 years old. Let alone that I could image what it meant to have been in the world for half a century.

By now I can, of course, and I realize that my own chil­dren are now living through their equiv­a­lent life stage. Will Stranger Things be their Innerspace; will This Is America be their Livin’ On A Prayer? I don’t know, and I can’t know—because, you know, I’m 30-odd years older than they are.

Another example. My mother’s father was 64 when I (his first grand­child) was born; he would turn 65 later that year. That means that, on the date that would later become my birthday, he was 50 years old in 2018 — 64 = 1954.

1954! When my grand­fa­ther was as old as I am now, World War II hadn’t even been ten years ago. To him at the time, 1945 would have been like 2009 is to me now. Time warped, brain warped—but in a fun way.

A DIY Time Machine

So give it a try. Take the age (A) your father or mother (or grand­parent) was at your birth, and subtract it from the present year (Y). What you’ll get is the equiv­a­lent year (E), in which your parent had your current age.

In a  nutshell: Y — A = E.

If you’re younger than A, you’ll be trans­ported to your own prehis­tory: a time when you weren’t even in the world yet. But don’t forget: at that time, your parent was as old as you are now. Do a quick search for the goings-on at the time in world events, in enter­tain­ment, in science… It’s an eye-opener.

If you’re older now than your parent was when they had you, this little time machine will take you to a time when you saw the world through a different lens. The eyes of a child perhaps, or the eyes of a young parent. Then realize that at that moment, your parent was seeing the world through eyes that are age-equiv­a­lent to your own in the present.

A Final Philosophical Aside

You don’t have to believe in rein­car­na­tion to see how life is cyclical. Even if you believe there is nothing before or after death, you can see life repeating itself, iter­ating that gener­a­tional cycle from birth to death. A life is a life is a life, but each next one takes the great spiral dance of human history one step further.

We’ve all had moments when you hear your­self saying some­thing and think, Oh no, I sound just like my parent! But the oppo­site is also true. Your father and mother were once just like you. And that is, if nothing else, a comforting thought.

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Top image credit: Mere et enfant (Mother and child) (1902) by Pablo Picasso (source)

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