My dad turns 72 this week.
He retired more than 13 years ago. The place he worked for 38 years, Ladish, is essentially gone, the victim of a merger. The only thing that still bears its name is the giant brick smoke stack that the DNR won’t let the new company demolish.
The credit union where he served as a board member has been consolidated away as well. The day of the old “mom and pop” credit union has given way to the multi-national corporation, making these once-local institutions seem more like banks than unions.
He still can’t sit still, even at this age. Mom bought him a Fit-Bit for Christmas. He has already walked almost half-a-million steps. In most cases, it’s laps around the mall and twitchy runs to the basement for some baseball cards he just remembered he wanted to look at.
He still has his own hair and own teeth. He’s ambulatory and able to do everything he wants to do, activities that usually confines themselves to dart ball with the guys and golf whenever the ground isn’t covered in snow.
He’s not perfect, nor is everything in life, however, from my perspective, he’s got the life that people his age were always told they should have. He got the scripted life: Work hard, play by the rules, retire and enjoy your golden years.
This was the American Dream that so few people got.
It’s hard to think about my dad without thinking about his dad. Grandpa died early, relatively speaking, the victim of weight, smoking and a poor approach to healthcare. When I did the math, I realized that Dad had Grandpa in his life for only 34 years. I’ve gotten eight more years and counting in that regard.
Grandpa died before he could retire, having spent 42 years at Ladish. I remember when dad was talking about retirement around year 37. I joked with him he couldn’t retire yet because at 40 years, he would get a watch and I considered that to be inheritable property. His response was typical Dad:
“I’ll buy you a fucking watch.”
I think about my mother-in-law, who is confined to a wheelchair after a stroke took away her left-side movement. She worked with autistic and special-needs kids in various grade schools, but never lasted long enough in one spot to get a pension.
She turned 64 last month and, in spite of living with us, she still has huge financial worries pertaining to healthcare. It’s often a case of “Does this make me feel healthier enough to make it worth the money I have to spend on it?”
Her daily excursion is from her room into the kitchen, where she helps the Midget with her homework or reads her Kindle with her one good eye.
We were joking the other day about “expiration dates” on stuff when one of us made a crack about her expiration date.
“I hope it’s not too far out,” she said.
These were the people whose branches grew from the solid trunk of The Greatest Generation. They were expected to boldly build, fearlessly explore and create great big things.
The world was supposed to be their oyster, given the opportunities afforded them, the advances in medicine and the ability to reach out to the stars (or at least VCR-based porn).
Or as Billy Joel famously noted in “Allentown,” “Each of us had a pretty good shot to get at least as far as our old man got.”
How many of that generation would feel this to be the case as they get to the end? Dad frequently tells me that he “doesn’t owe anybody anything,” meaning he lacks the debt that many of his contemporaries have racked up over time. My mother-in-law says she’s so blessed to have us and that she loves us all. As much as I believe them and I know these things to be true, I wonder how they saw themselves at my age. Did they figure this is how they would end up? Did they want for something else but didn’t get it? Have things really turned out for the best for them?
All I know is that I value every day they are here, every phone call about some random crap they bought at an estate sale and every general session of teasing I can get.
I hope that everyone of that age gets to have those kinds of experiences of everyday love that helps them understand that no matter how they got here, someone is glad they did.
That’s the gift that goes beyond the bottles of booze you get for people when you don’t know what else to give them or gift certificates for Olive Garden. It’s the thing that makes people want to push that “expiration date” back a few more days, weeks, months or years.
It’s the gift of knowing a life was lived well.
It’s the one gift I really want to give my dad again next year when he turns 73.