A few years back my Dad turned 70. It was a bit of an eyeopener for me. I remember when my grandfather turned 70. He seemed so old. My Dad has never struck me as old. When my Grandpa turned 70 he used to tell me while saying goodbye to us at the airport that he has had a good life. It felt like he was preparing us for the sad reality that we might not see him again. He lived across the country so we only saw him a couple times a year. These words always came with a few tears. They never felt desperate or regretful, the tears were more of an acknowledgement of what we meant to each other. He lived for 23 more years.
So when my Dad turned 70 it felt a bit weird. He has outlived his own father. I’m not sure my Dad expected that was going to happen. He has always been a bit paranoid about his health. In my mind at 70 he magically turned into a senior. It isn’t a transition that I particularly liked, at least not at first. I don’t like the idea that my Dad won’t be around some day.
When I was growing up my Dad in many ways fit the stereotypes. He was a salesman for Kodak which meant he was away for work often. My Mom was left to single parent us a good chunk of the time. She was a stay at home Mom. She sewed and cooked as well as took care of most of the mundane child rearing stuff like picking kids up and dropping them off. She wiped our tears and bandaged our cuts.
My Dad did the “Dad stuff.” He fixed the bikes, mowed the lawn and barbecued the burgers. I have a vivid memory of my Dad trying to explain to me what an off-side was in soccer. He had salt shakers, pens and quarters all over the table positioned in the form of a soccer field trying to help me to get the concept. I also remember one of my favorite childhood games in which my brothers and I would try to wrestle my Dad to the ground to steal his cigarettes from him. Times have changed.
My Dad was also involved with us kids in other ways too. He was a very active Scout Leader. He loved to take us camping. He would drive us for hours on family trips just to get a picture of us in front of something for two minutes and then we would drive back. At least that is what it felt like. My Dad was more Clark Griswald than Mike Brady. He tried hard. His heart was in the right place but sometimes it just didn’t work out the way he planned.
He also is to blame for my feminist nature. He was the only Dad that went to the Girl Guide camp to volunteer. He didn’t think it right that he not be involved with his daughter’s activities. He repeatedly told my grandmother that I didn’t need to be a nurse, that I could also decide to be a doctor. My brother ended up the nurse. I’m not sure which one of my siblings will end up the doctor but I am almost positive one of us will eventually. We are a competitive bunch.
He always reinforced that my gender shouldn’t limit me. So despite growing up in a traditional household, I was encouraged to have a voice and be heard. I’m not sure that they entirely appreciated those traits of mine in my teenage years.
What I like about my Dad getting older is that he is more reflective. He has softened. I think he has spent a great deal of time looking back. He brings stuff up at the strangest times. We were waiting to watch a movie together when he decided to tell me how sad it made him that I chose to walk down the aisle by myself instead of having him walk me. My rationale was that I had already been down the aisle once. I felt like I have always done what is expected of me. I desperately wanted to be my own person. I wanted the day to be about me. Looking back now as a parent, it was selfish. I took something from him that day. I now regret that. I started to tell him how I felt and then the movie started and the moment was gone.
He also is more reflective on his own failings. He talks at times about how he could have done better. We didn’t get along very well when I was a teenager. We at times weren’t very nice to each other. As a parent I understand more now the sacrifices he made to raise us and the toll that those sacrifices can take on a person.
We are closer now. My Dad now just wants to spend time with us, and his grandkids. Yesterday my Dad insisted, despite my active resistance, to have my 6-year-old join him during his Senior Men’s breakfast. They were discussing woodcarving, this is something of which my son is taking an interest. It was quite the sight to see my little man sitting between his grandfathers and 50 other seniors listening to a lecture on knives and sharpening tools. As ill fated as this hobby seems, my Dad’s pride in introducing his grandson to his friends was worth the extra driving and frantic addition to my schedule.
Like most people his age, he has had health scares along the way. Honestly it freaks me out. I don’t want to think about losing him. He however has handled it well. Just like my grandfather did, as he ages he seems less panicked about the possibility of death. He is too busy volunteering, working on odd projects and trying to get permits to build his new deck. He is too busy trying to make amends, say his peace and build up his relationships with those close to him. He is involved in life in a way that I think he hasn’t been before. It is a joy to watch.
So to my Dad, Happy Father’s day. I like you and love you.