My dad just recently started to age. Truly. A year ago, he was still playing golf twice a week—even though he was 93 at the time. He only started using a cane six months ago (and it’s one he personally created out of a dowel stick, with a golf-ball-handle on top), and it’s just been a little over two months since he stopped driving altogether.
So it’s entirely new for me to watch my dad . . . finally age and require some modifications in his life.
But rather than focus on what he no longer can do, I decided to see what kinds of lessons I might learn as he enters this new stage of life. It turns out this was much easier to do than I thought. Here’s some of what I’ve gleaned.
Experience 1: My dad’s vision has diminished somewhat, so I recently bought him a phone with extra large buttons and offered to copy his personal phone directory in large, bold font. But while the time-worn book was filled with lots of names, he only wanted me to copy the numbers of these few people: his daughters, sisters, and grandkids. That was it.
The Lesson: Most people in our lives come and go, yet a small inner circle will remain with us for life. So the next time a coworker or neighbor or teacher upsets us, we can ask ourselves: When I’m 94, is this person going to make the cut in my new phone book? Could be a helpful guideline for deciding who’s worth getting distressed over right now.
Experience 2: I’ve never known my dad to drink wine, and he has probably had a total of a dozen or so beers in his entire life. But recently, he started drinking wine with his “girlfriend.” (My mother died after they had been married for 50 years, and he’s been with his girlfriend for the last ten years.)
The other night we were all out to dinner, and they were both having a glass of wine. While she has always enjoyed wine, I confess it was such an odd picture for me to see my dad drinking out of a goblet.
So I nonchalantly asked why (after all these years) he had now decided to drink wine. Without missing beat, he raised his glass and toasted it against his girlfriend’s glass and said, “So that I can do that.” And then with a twinkle in his eye, he added, “I couldn’t do that if she was drinking alone.”
The Lesson: With my dad’s new changes, he can no longer help his girlfriend in some of the ways that he previously did. So, he has found a new way to make her smile. Bottom line: If we’re willing to explore possibilities, there’s always a new option.
Experience 3: Since I started taking my dad to his doctor appointments, I noticed a disturbing theme. The doctors turn their back on my dad and talk to me—as though he isn’t even present. After the third time this happened, I brought it up to my dad. I was getting pretty huffy about it, but he merely shrugged his shoulders and said, “They just don’t have experience treating a 94-year-old patient.”
The Lesson: Insight over indignation is always a much better way to go.
Experience 4: My dad does not talk about what he can no longer do or what he now does more slowly than before. Instead, he proudly shows off what he can do—and that’s a lot.
For example, while he’s no longer driving to the grocery store, he does all his own shopping once someone takes him there. While he has some difficulty seeing the line to sign on his credit card, he whips it out of his wallet right on cue. If you shake his hand, be prepared for a grip that rivals young twenty-year-olds. The list goes on.
The Lesson: There are always going to be negatives and positives in our lives. That’s a given. However, we can choose which of those two we decide to focus on.
Experience 5: For as long as I’ve known my dad, he has eaten the same breakfast, for which he preps each night. He’s still doing this; however, he recently asked me, “How would you define optimism for a 94-year-old man?” His answer was: A guy who prepares his breakfast . . . the night before.
The Lesson: It’s important to have a sense of humor at any age.
Now, it’s not as though my dad has lived a charmed life. Not at all. He’s a WWII veteran with some pretty horrific war experiences. In his forties, he was robbed at gunpoint. He has had cancer not once, not twice—but five times.
Yet, he never complains about anything. There is something to learn from that, too.
So as I spend time with my dad in this new phase of his life, I’m going to keep focusing on the positive and see what other life lessons I can extrapolate from our time together. That’s because I want to feel joy, not sadness, as he continues to age.
And that . . . seems the best way to honor how he’s lived for over nine decades.