As a 47 year old man, it’s important that I write about aging now, mainly because I am so dangerously close to turning 48. It’s also important for me now because this summer has been filled with so much loss. And let’s face it, nothing forces one to think about making changes in life than the loss of people and things for which one was unprepared to lose.
Last month, my dad died. He had been in poor health for quite some time and he and I did not spend a lot of time together in his later years. He never wanted to “burden” his seven kids with some obligation like that. I understand why he wanted it that way, but that is not the approach I will take for a couple of reasons. First, I only have two kids. And the reason I have two kids is because I didn’t want three. That may have been a wrong choice in retrospect. Because secondly, one thing I have found that makes a person feel young is spending as much time as possible with friends and family who are younger than yourself.
In two weeks, I am dropping my younger son off so he can begin his freshman year in college. He’s excited to go and I am excited for him. But I am already starting to miss him and I dread facing the longer periods of time between our trips to the movies and to Buffalo Wild Wings. With all sob stories aside however, he is my connection to his generation and I don’t think it’s healthy to let that go. Unlike my dad, I actually do care if my kids think I am cool or not. And since it is still too soon to just blatantly ask my 18 year old what actually is cool, I can only find out by being around him and his friends and paying attention.
Last week, and without warning or explanation, our beloved eight year old Golden Retriever, Lucy, passed away. In comparison, this would seem a small thing. Also by comparison though, that dog was a big part of our daily life. Lucy was taken on a walk every day by either my wife, who was Lucy’s purpose for living, or by me, Lucy’s personal assistant. As a result, many people in the Old North Side neighborhood in Indianapolis knew her. I am known in my neighborhood as “one of Lucy’s owners.” So not only has our routine been rocked and our daily dose of affection plummeted, but I have also become a stranger in my neighborhood again.
So it seems I am on a bit of a losing streak.
That’s not really true. I think it is just the beginning of the next chapter in life. I vividly remember my dad more in the way he was when I was my son’s age than any other time. I look back on that summer thirty years ago when I was in between high school and college and recall the strangest things. My dad and I loved the movie “Arthur” and thanks to HBO, we must have watched it together twenty times that year. Of all the terrible music I listened to back then, he only inquired one time about any of it when he asked me if I actually enjoyed listening to Ozzy Osborne. The answer is still yes, but only in reference to things recorded before 1990. I am a purist after all.
I wonder if my son will remember me as a part of this year in his life at all. I bet he doesn’t. I actually hope he doesn’t. You see, when I went off to college, I never really came home again. That’s why I remember my dad and that last year living with him so clearly. I didn’t spend much time with him after that and that was the way he thought things were supposed to be. I disagree with him on this one.
It has certainly been a rough stretch around here. But I really think it’s easier to cope with these monumental changes that life deals you if you look at them as beginnings instead of endings. I loved my dad and no one will ever exist like him. I feel like he taught me well, even though some of those lessons were on accident.
When my boyhood dog, Skipper, died in 1986, my parents never got another one. That was a big mistake. And that is how this lesson I have been dealt this summer all fits together. I will get another dog. I will not just let my son run off as if I don’t need him any more. And if I do this right, my boy will remember me how I was this year just a little and only because it is just one of a lot of years that we spent together.
The beginning of being old really happens when you let it. The truth is my 47 is way younger than my dad’s 47 was. And this little exercise in evaluating it through the losses of this year makes me feel pretty good about how old I truly am.