Monday, April 27, 2015

Old and Young

My sister came to pick me up yesterday.
I was waiting outside, with the cloth bags I'd made for SIL. Sister pulled up to the kerb, and a shaky old man got out of the car.

My father.

What happened?! He wasn't old before.

In fact, my father is 84, so technically he has been old for a while, but he's never showed much sign of it. But a long, bad cold over the winter put him in the hospital for dehydration and left him weak. 

He might still recover strength––he's back at his gym 3x/week–– but he's also distinctly less plugged in socially.

Marz offered him a sticker from her new Presidents sticker book. He could have any one but Jimmy Carter, her favorite.

Abraham Lincoln 1861/1865
I expected him to choose an Abraham Lincoln––his hero––and stick it on his sweater. 

That would have been his normal reaction.

Instead he said he didn't want one.

Old age makes you old, even if you aren't a president.

[It also messes with your neckwear.]

My father and I've never been close––for five years after I left home, we didn't speak, not even in greeting cards.
But there's a lot I admire in him, from a distance.

Yesterday, trying to engage him, I asked him about his trip to Venice with sister. Usually I don't ask because he loves to talk about "travel", by which he means "transportation": 
how late the plane was, how the buses and trains run, what happened to his baggage.

Instead, he told me about walking around Venice one evening while my sister was at the opera. He doesn't much like opera, something we share.

A group of teenage Boy and Girl Scouts approached him in the square outside the opera house. They were conducting a survey about family values. 
Could they ask him some questions?

Sure, if they could be in English.

They could.

"Do you support the traditional family?" they asked.

"What's a traditional family?" he said. "Probably not. 
I have a married daughter. She's married to another woman. That's a family. I support that.

"But what if I didn't? What do you think I should do? Cut her off? That's crazy! They're a family."

A young woman in the back piped up, "I agree!"

He was so pleased to report this. "As always, it's the young people," he said. 

He saw it as a story about young people. I saw it as a story about him.

Afterward Marz said, "Your father is is a true libertarian. Not like people who just think they're libertarian."

And it's true. He doesn't judge people for anything except hurting other people. He truly does respect everyone's right to self-determination, and I respect that in him. 

I respect that, but I respect it more as a political philosophy than as a parenting technique. 
His "Do what you want" didn't help me in my teenage years, when I really could have used some parental guidance, . . . or even discussion. Freedom is a burden, and it takes some experience to learn how to carry it.

Mostly I felt that he just didn't care.

Now, I think that he didn't know how to help me;
but I also think it was (and is) true that in general he doesn't want to be bothered with the problems of other people, even his own children.

He really means it, Do What You Want [but do no harm].
Which is great, but like Augustine's "Love, and do what you will," it's not that easy to carry off. We need to help one another learn and practice it, and that's where my father failed me.

He dumped it on us to figure out for ourselves. Again, I think because he didn't know better. He'd had to figure it out for himself, he was going to grant us that same freedom/burden.

If I hadn't eventually contacted him, five years after I moved out, I believe he never would have contacted me. He's a prideful Sicilian male, but, again, he really believes in a radical kind of freedom: 
if you don't want to talk to me, fine, that's your choice.

 As parental failures go, it's not the worst. It's a failure that I could even see as a backward kind of gift.

P.S. SIL did like the cloth bags, but it was Sister who really loved them. Her birthday's in a couple months, so I'll make more for her.


The Crow said...

Your father sounds like my Pop, my step-father, a first-generation Italian-American, especially the prideful part. He believed in dispensing wisdom, then leaving it to us to decide how to incorporate that wisdom into our lives. He was old-world, I was new-world clueless.

Glad SIL likes her cloth shopping bags!

bink said...

I think my father should become a Lincoln impersonator. I'm struck by how much he resembles the older Abe.

That's tough when you see your father age. Like you I don't see my father all that often, so when I do, changes are there...not gradually creeping in, unnoticed.

The idea that he didn't want an president sticker, while a small incident, does speak volumes about how he is changed as he ages. That reaction doesn't match the man I know. Or obviously, the one you expected to see.

Don't like it.

Glad S and your sis like the bag though. M completely loved mine too. Thank you!

gz said...


Zhoen said...


Fresca said...

CROW: That sounds about it.

BINK: Nope, don't like it.

Thanks for the stones, GZ & Zhoen. 'Prectiate them.

deanna said...

How I can relate, with my father, to seeing his age. Just suddenly it's there. And the dad has told me things lately that are not his usual persona, and yet they help me understand him in ways I hadn't expected to.

Fresca said...

DEANNA: We are not alone, eh?
I do see my father in a different light, for sure, and that helps illuminate the past too.