Last week I wrote, "I don't want the old model of retirement," a post that generated a healthy number of comments. All of the feedback gave me a fresh perspective on something that has been bothering me for the last few years: my dad's apparently boring and inactive approach to his life after mom's death, two years ago this Sunday.
In that post I expressed frustration that he seemed content to spend the last phase of his life sitting in a chair and reading rather than meeting new people and becoming involved in the activities of his retirement community. I just couldn't accept that he was happy and content, that this was an acceptable satisfying retirement.
Up stepped the BRITW (best readers in the world) to set me straight. In summary, the errors of my ways were gently, but clearly, pointed out. His choices were his choices. My judgment of those choices was not really the issue. Due to his basic personality type, severe hearing loss, the death of his life-long partner, and back pains, he has determined what works best for him. My attempts to change him failed. So, I needed to stop.
I will continue to see him for lunch every week, take him to doctor's appointments and shopping trips, bring him to our house for holiday meals, and handle all his taxes, finances and investments. But, if he is happy reading and napping, then I must be happy, too.
All that being said, the various responses got me to thinking back to when my two brothers and I were growing up. Was there much of a difference between then and now? What can I remember of how he used to be? Several strong memories have helped me to remember some sides of him that I have given short shift in recent years.
"Beat Dad" was one of the most common expressions in our home. No, we weren't involved in any type of physical activity; we were playing games. Dad loved playing any game with the three boys and mom. But, he would always win. Whether it was Monopoly, Risk, Parcheesi, Crazy Eights, Hearts, or even Ping Pong he never lost. So, our battle cry was to "Beat Dad." I do remember sometime around 13 years of age I did win a card game. I celebrated the big moment by dancing around the table, while everyone else started chanting, "Beat Bob."
Dad was not an outdoors man. Except for a little golf later in life, sports or doing things outside wasn't his thing. But, when I was 12 and living in Cambridge, Ohio, he did decide that all fathers are supposed to take their son fishing. There was a small urban lake not far from our home that may or may not have contained any fish. But, Dad bought me a fishing rod and reel, a few sinker weights, a bobber, and a bag of rubber worms.
For two hours we sat on the bank of this little lake, sharing our one fishing rod, casting a large rubber worm in the murky water over and over. No surprise, we caught nothing. I never went fishing again. But, he had done what he felt was one of his important tasks as a dad. It was nothing he cared about, but because he cared so much for me he wanted to be sure I had that experience.
Map reading and manhood
Very early in life I became a map reader. For whatever reason I loved geography and finding places on a globe and in the World Almanac. When I was old enough I was given a road atlas of all the states and spent many a happy hour studying major highways and important routes that bisected each state.
The mark of my advance to manhood might have been when I was promoted to map reader and navigator on a family vacation. I got to sit in the front seat and tell dad where we were every time we passed an exit. As I remember on that particular trip we were driving from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, a drive we had taken dozens of times before. Most of the trip was spent on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, so there was little actual navigation I had to perform. But, he knew of my love of maps and travel and allowed me to take the seat of honor in the front and help insure my family's safe arrival.
Dad had problems with his job choices. He seemed to always join a company right before it was sold or went out of business. At one point he was set to take a job in San Diego. We had already sold our home in suburban Boston when the offer fell through. In very short order we had to buy a place to live while he scrambled to land another position with another company.
What I remember most about his career was how many times our dining room table would be covered by resumes and envelopes… and never once did the frustration or worry affect our home. I was too young to really understand what was really going on but I am sure he was deeply concerned about those times when we lived on mom's salary as a teacher.
I am sure he worried about the family's future. But, to his eternal credit, his three sons never knew about any of these struggles. Since we were a frugal family in good times and bad there was never a noticeable change in our routine. Only later in life did I understand what a gift he had give us: the gift of no worries.
Blogging has added many positives to my life. But, one that was unexpected is the insight I have gained by allowing others to give me fresh perspectives on my life's journey. To have "strangers" become part of my life and people I can depend on to be honest and helpful has been a tremendous blessing.
Thank you for reading, commenting, and caring. Thank you for opening my eyes.