My mom called on Saturday to tell me she’d found a digital picture frame I gave her 10 years ago. You know, the kind that displays a slide show of pictures, dissolving from one to the next. She told me she both laughed and cried.
She laughed at the pictures of my girls as toddlers – they were quite expressive back then. She cried because some of the pictures were of my dad with the girls. He was so tickled by them, even though his memory was already starting to fade. I know he’d enjoy them immensely today if he were alive and coherent.
Today would have been my dad’s 83rd birthday. I thought about that while looking at my favorite picture of him, the one I keep in my office at home. He’s 57 years old in the picture, and the traits that most defined his personality – the intelligence and the wit – are obvious in the eyes.
I’ll give you just one example of his sense of humor: many years ago, during a conversation about burial vs. cremation, Dad said, “When I die, dump my ashes in the water hazard on the 17th hole at Lincoln Greens. I’d like to spend eternity with my golf balls.”
Dang, what I wouldn’t give for one more conversation with the man.
When his birthday comes around each year, I take it as a reminder of This Is Why We Do What We Do. When I was born, Dad was only 24. He began fading noticeably around age 70, when I was 46. It was painful to witness, but I was approaching middle age or already in middle age, depending on how you define it.
By contrast, I turned 45 the week after my daughter Sara was born. I was 46 when Alana came along 18 months later. If I fade at age 70, they’ll only be in their twenties. I like to think they’re going to want my fatherly advice for many more years beyond that. And even if they don’t, it’s like I said in Fat Head: I want to dance at their weddings. I want to play with my grandkids.
Chareva’s dad turned 75 on Saturday – in a hospital. He was hobbled by a stroke more than a year ago, and a few weeks ago, he fell and broke his hip while attempting to limp to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Fixing the hip required surgery. He ended up with blood clots in his legs, so he needed another surgery to implant a mesh designed to keep the clots from reaching his brain. Not exactly a happy birthday for him.
My dad smoked until he was 58, he drank too much, he didn’t exercise, and he paid little attention to his diet. Chareva’s dad did exercise and was a lean-mean-dancin-machine well into his sixties, but he kept eating his bagels and chocolate candies even after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I think it’s a fair bet the ever-worsening diabetes led to the stroke.
I’m not criticizing them; I’m just pointing out that the lifestyle decisions we make have consequences.
We’ve both seen our dads lose their quality of life by age 74. I’ll be that age in 15 years, and when I think about what our dads went through, I say to myself, No way in hell. In my nineties, maybe, but not in my seventies.
This Is Why We Do What We Do. It’s nice when people express genuine surprise that I’m pushing 60 (as happened at the office last week), it’s great to be able to do physical farm work on Sunday morning and still hit the gym for a workout on Sunday afternoon (as happened yesterday), and it’s satisfying to wear smaller pants now than I did 20 years ago.
But that’s not really what this is all about. It’s about feeling confident that if I avoid stepping in front of the proverbial bus, I’ll be dancing at my daughters’ weddings … and perhaps watching their daughters graduate from high school.