FOLLOWING MY DAD’S LEGACY
I turned fifty a few months ago. Unlike most 50-year-olds, I have children ages six and three, the ages of some of my friends’ grandchildren. My son’s friends’ parents have only heard stories about JFK’s assassination, the Beatles’ debut on the Ed Sullivan show, and men walking on the moon. I remember these things.
For the first time in my life, I’m being told that I’m old. I’m now in a different age bracket on surveys: 50-64. I apparently have nothing in common with 40-year-olds anymore. There’s a special 50+ section of classes at our local recreation complex. “Gee, I can’t stay after class tonight because I have to help my first grader with his spelling words,” I imagine telling my 70-year-old classmates. The AARP is after me and they’re relentless. I keep recycling their applications and they keep sending me more.
I feel better thinking about my dad and his side of the family, whose generations lasted longer than most. My great-grandfather fought in the Civil War. I have friends whose great-great-great grandfathers might have fought in the Civil War. My grandfather was 42 when my father was born. My father was 42 when I was born. I was 43 when my son was born.
Nobody would have guessed my parents weren’t the same age, although my mother was younger by 12 years. Dad refused to act his age. He took us swimming most summer days and played badminton and croquet in the front yard with us. He took us to the zoo, the Nelson Art Gallery, and Royals baseball games. He seemed to know much more about art, music, literature, history, and sports than my friends’ parents. Dad published a book of poetry when he was 66. He ran a mile or so most days into his seventies. At 77, he finally fully retired. He refused to use a walker, preferring a hiker’s walking stick when he was in his eighties. We found out he had colon cancer when he was 91. Even though his body failed him, his love of life did not wane until he died last fall at age 92. In the end, I wouldn’t have traded my dad for any father in the world.
My kids and I play in the backyard and go hiking and keep an organic garden together in the summer time. I’ve already had a full career, been to Europe three times, and made lots of mistakes and learned from them. And, wisely, I married a man seven years younger than me.
I do use bifocals to read, and my back isn’t as limber as it used to be, but I love my kids at least as much as any 20-year-old parent and as much as my father loved us. I’m sure some people wonder if I’m being fair to my kids, but I believe that love, not age, is most important in parenting. My father taught me that.
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