Getting old poses challenges. One: defining old. A second: knowing when to step aside.

This quandary is evident in the historical play The Lehman Trilogy, closing in San Francisco this Sunday. Written by the Italian playwright Stefano Massini and translated into English by Mirella Cheeseman, The Lehman Trilogy, directed by Sam Mendes, opened in 2018 at London’s National Theatre. In 2020 it opened in New York pre-Covid.  

In mid-19th century, German-Jewish brothers Henry, Mayer and Emanuel Lehman immigrate to Montgomery, Alabama. They sell cotton clothing and fabric, become cotton brokers and expand to New York where they establish a bank. Lehman Brothers becomes a financial behemoth. The brothers and their descendants attain vast wealth. The 2008 subprime mortgage/banking crisis destroys the company. 

Henry, the first to America, died in 1859 at 33 but laid the foundation. Mayer lived to 67 (died 1897) and Emanuel to 80 (died 1907). As they aged, the latter brothers wanted to continue running their expanding business interests. But times were changing. Emanuel’s son Philip pushed Mayer and Emanuel aside. (Mayer’s son Herbert went into politics, becoming governor of New York and a U.S. senator.) Philip later got pushed out.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Lili Janiak aptly observed (‘Lehman Trilogy is gripping in every minute,’ June 9–15, 2024): “And another force is just as ruthless as the capitalism of the Lehmans’ adopted home: the way, with each generation, a brilliant businessman who made all the right bets suddenly finds himself out of touch with and cast out of the thing he created, ruing too late the irreversible plunder he has wrought.”

The late Hall-of-Fame San Francisco 49ers football coach Bill Walsh had a philosophy which might have helped the Lehmans: Better to trade a player a year early than a year late.

Today, Americans face an age challenge posed by the approaching presidential election. Joe Biden turns 82 in November. Donald Trump just became 78. Most voters prefer a younger candidate.

In July, I turn 80. Having reached this milestone, should I give up writing this post and my novels? I believe I’ll know when the time is right. Besides, I don’t have much impact on the nation.

Right now, I expect readers of this blog to keep reading. Regarding fiction, my wife Carolyn says that my novel The Short (Pun Intended) Redemptive Life of Little Ned is her favorite. It’s my eighth, brought out last year. A friend told me that his favorite is my ninth and latest, Taking StockKirkus Reviews made it a starred selection. I’m still capable of doing something right.

That’s why I’m engaged in research for my tenth novel. Set from pre-World War One through the 1950s, it lays out the slippery slope tumbled down by an ambitious American politician. My outline now runs 39 single-spaced pages. It includes preliminary drafts of many scenes. By the time I’m ready to write the first draft, I’ll be almost halfway there.

On an even more personal level, I’m available to give advice to my children—but only when asked. I acknowledge that they’re accomplished adults who can, and do, make their own decisions and live good lives. 

The upshot? Only by stepping aside can we elders enable younger people to move forward. Hanging on can hang up the next generation.

Please pass on this post. 

Order my new novel, TAKING STOCK (Kirkus Reviews starred selection) in softcover or e-book from Amazonbarnesandnoble.com or iuniverse.com. Or from your favorite bookstore.


  1. Sandy Lipkowitz on June 22, 2024 at 5:11 pm

    I’m starting the stepping aside in my business. The hardest thing is letting go and trusting. I’m working on that!

    • David Perlstein on June 22, 2024 at 5:14 pm

      It’s thought to do, Sandy. We’ll, it wasn’t for me because I was transitioning into writing, and work was interfering.

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