Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

Old man

Posted by boakley59 on December 7, 2008

We buried my father two years ago today. As I’ve written before, he was really gone long before then, and I have little fondness for the memories of those last years as my mother struggled to care for him and the rest of us struggled to make each word or visit, which could have been our last together, a kind and loving one.

Those grim memories seem to fade a little each year, and I focus on the good man he was and the constant support he gave us in earlier days. As the years sap my strength and resources, I find myself wondering how he did it. Perhaps it’s the old tale of Icarus, and Dad just stayed closer to the ground.

I wish I could better match his gentle spirit and hopeful happiness. I try, but I think too much, and “easygoing” for me is not so much a way of life as a way to avoid argument.

I’m thinking fondly of the old man today, even as I’m thinking a bit about just what it means to be old. I took a hit last night when Suzy and I went out to eat and the manager rang us up for the senior citizen discount. I guess it’s the baldness and the gray on the sides, but truth is I haven’t even hit 50 yet. I have always looked old for my years — I’ve had my “reflective” hairline since I was 16, after all — but even with my illness, I’m not quite ready to think of myself as the senior type.

Athletic activity for my dad was bowling, maybe horseshoes or softball at a rare picnic. I was playing basketball with athletic twentysomethings as late as 2006 — and they thought I was the fit one. I was always a runner, training for a marathon as late as 2003, so there was no surrender to age.

I do like to say, though, that I know the exact day I became old. I caught a cold in November 1998 when Suzy and I traveled to Dallas for a newspaper awards dinner. A little more than five weeks later I was in intensive care with a ruined gut, at the beginning of my sojourn with Crohn’s disease. Until that sneezy day in November 1998, I was a teenager at heart and my body went along with the notion. I’ve been fighting to keep up appearances since then, but I know it’s at best a slow retreat.

I’m not ready to be inactive; I’m still thinking maybe I’ll get back to basketball or running when the current Crohn’s episode passes. I know that it’s getting late and that may be just delusion, though.

It’s disconcerting to consider the differences in our illnesses: I thought it cruel that Dad had a generally strong body as his mind deteriorated in the last years. I worried that he was too strong for Mom, and that if he lost control and didn’t know what he was doing, he could injure her and she wouldn’t be able to get help in time. I was afraid he would linger for years in an increasing fog. Now, I am largely his opposite. My mind is clear, but my body doesn’t cooperate. I seem unable to finish anything I start, wearing down or tiring before I get very far. I am just well enough to feel helpless and underachieving. I sometimes envy Dad’s separation from reality.

But I had better not get too separated from reality so soon myself. I was 10 when Dad was my age, and he was busy setting a fine example of an indomitable spirit. I am a long way from my dotage, the impressions of restaurant managers notwithstanding.

So, today of all days, Dad, I remember happy times. I’ll keep smiling, laughing, telling stories. Young at heart, like the old man I love always.


One Response to “Old man”

  1. Kelly said

    I know how you feel Bruce. I’m 47 and close to two years ago now, the checker at Harvest Foods asked me if I wanted my discount. I was so clueless…I asked her what discount? When she told me the senior citizen discount, I told her that I was several years away from that particular discount! Several of my friends said they would have just smiled and taken the discount. Not me….let’s just say…it did not make my day!

    Bruce sez: Yes, the whole “looking old before your time” thing was less disconcerting when I could join friends at nightspots when I was 17. In our case, we wouldn’t have taken this discount, either, but the manager muttered his explanation so fast we didn’t figure out what he said until we were already gone. We’ll be more alert next time we go there.

    And I think your situation may say more about Harvest Foods checkers than about your appearance.

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