One of the curses of getting older for me is that I can now see my parents as real people. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad thing, it’s a necessary thing. When I was a child I viewed them as the answer to everything, steadfast, full of flair, as safe a haven as our house with its garden leading to the woodland full of little, beaming primroses. I could accomplish anything with my parents watching my back.
The years passed, entwined with happiness and grief, in a melange of colour that at times appeared blurred, and one day we woke up and we were all older. It can be disconcerting, this getting older. Not for the wrinkles, the sagging, the aching joints and the occasional forgetfulness but for the way in which our world view changes.
That’s what I mean about the curse of seeing my parents as real people. I realise now that they are human, imperfect under their skin, there is less of a lustre surrounding them, they are frail like the rest of us. As they face the challenge of aging I find my attitude towards them is more understanding, filled with a greater sense of empathy. I can see the roles we used to play being redefined, perhaps reversed as the nurtured becomes the nurturer; the protected the protector.
Sometimes in the early hours of morning I know the taste of panic as I think of how quickly time passes and of how much of that precious time is spent getting somewhere, working towards something, honing one’s skills. I want every day to count, not in a hedonistic sense but in the sense that I don’t look backwards from month to month thinking that all my time was spent on a journey still in progress. And that I’m still no closer to getting there.
My parents feel this too. So much of life is taken up with just living that hopes and dreams are often left by the wayside. They have discussed at length the fact that aging means accepting that some hopes and dreams may never be realised. There is some sadness in the realisation.
So many of us do it, living for tomorrow. I’ll slow down when I pay X amount off the mortgage. I’ll go part-time when the kids finish High School. I’ll start painting, writing, singing, gardening when I’ve paid off all my debts, earned my degree, expanded my client base. Our sense of purpose is all-consuming. The rhythm of our years sounds out : ‘One Day….’ never ‘Now.’ I had hoped when my father reached retiring age that the hopes and dreams he had for that one shining day would finally have come.
My father will be 71 this year. He is fit. Hale and hearty, they used to say. When he was younger one of his favourite phrases was : ‘One day when I retire…..’ He has tried to retire three times but each time has sunk into a depression feeling his days are filled with nothing to do. ‘What can I do with seven whole days?’ he has asked on numerous occasions. ‘At least if I go to work I have something to do.’
He is not the only one. Many of my friend’s father’s who are of retiring age feel the same way, fearing that in retirement they will lose their identity. ‘ I don’t know who I am when I’m at home all day,’ says my father. ‘ If I’m not going to work I dread having to get up in the morning. All I can hear is that clock on the mantel ticking down the hours.’
I am upset by his lack of faith in himself. This isn’t my Go Get ‘Em Dad. He wants to write, he wants to paint, he wants to join a history society but he is afraid all those things will leave him undefined until one day he will just walk down the hallway and disappear.
My idea of Shangri-Las would be a society that provided, encouraged, fostered creative pursuits so its corporate workers could achieve things not just for the good of the company, but most importantly, for themselves. It is a painful truth that the person on his or her death bed does not wish they had spent more time at the office.
So I’m going to give my Dad a pep talk, make him see that there is worth in creative pursuits, that he has a lot to give, that he should be impatient for daylight, rather than hiding under the covers in fear of it, and that he can walk – always – with his true face raised to the sky. For life really is too short to leave your hopes and dreams discarded on the side of the road, gathering dust.