The Sound Of Time A-Passing

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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.

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24 thoughts on “The Sound Of Time A-Passing

  1. We do tend to keep putting things off until tomorrow, next week, next year. There is no time like the present because the present is all we can be assured of. I do hope your dad manages to find something that will bring him fulfillment and enjoyment and not just a means to while away the days. Thanks for the timely reminder that every minute we still have with our parents is precious. Mine are of the same vintage and I feel the ticking of that clock quite often.

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  2. GYPSY – I know. It’s so hard. I just want them both to be happy. I hope my Dad settles a bit and finds some clarity. It would be brilliant if he did!

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  3. “This isn’t my Go Get ‘Em Dad. “…. “So I’m going to give my Dad a pep talk.”

    Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
    Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
    Because their words had forked no lightning they
    Do not go gentle into that good night.
    Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
    Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
    Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
    And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
    Do not go gentle into that good night.
    Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
    Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
    And you, my father, there on the sad height,
    Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
    Do not go gentle into that good night.
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
    Dylan Thomas
    Poems about Aging
    http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5877

    DavidM,
    I enjoyed reading your post Selma.

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  4. This is an excellent post, its sad how many people live for their retirement when they’ll do all these undefined wonderful things and then when they do retire, either their health won’t let them or they just can’t.

    My parents are 75 and 71 and are having a pretty good retirement, Mum has loads of friends and plays piano duets with one friend, belongs to a reading group etc. My Dad plays bowls and has a good number of friends. Together they belong to loads of social groups which go on interesting day trips and short holidays. Neither of them though have starting writing, though both have said they always would….

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  5. My in-laws and my Mom are all 69. Only my MIL is in good health. Perhaps that’s why Mm and I workout and watch our weight etc. and so on. We are confident in our relationships with God, so we don’t fear death – but oh how we want those last days/months/years before death to be healthy and productive!

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  6. >>He wants to write, he wants to paint, he wants to join a history society <<

    As they say in the Nike commercials … just do it!

    Why not get him to start a blog? Or drawing … a sketch book and a couple of 4H pencils cost pennies.

    I’m *supposed to be* retired … and I find I’m wondering, with all the writing, travelling, photography, gardening, birdwatching, visiting friends and all the other things I’m doing … when did I ever find time to go to work?

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  7. Retirement like everything else in life has to be worked at. Being at this stage isn’t made easier by the fact that you know that nothing will get better. A lot of people do a good job in pretending they are having fun.
    It probably is difficult to give your Dad any incentive to do things if work was his hobby.
    he needs some kind of small job to make him feel useful again,and lets face it some people have a problem being together with their spouses all day and every day even though they love each other. Does he have a dog?

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  8. I feel exactly the same as you do, Selma. It’s good that you can at least have a little pep talk with your dad. Hopefully, he’ll listen. I wish I could do the same with my dad. He never listened to anyone but himself before. Why would he listen now? I hate this thing called ego. It enslaves you and your life.

    Thank you for sharing.

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  9. “the fact that aging means accepting that some hopes and dreams may never be realised… ”

    and in some cases it means realizing that we have already realized all of our hopes and dreams…

    the feeling your father has is a very natural one.. he has realized himself in his own productivity,, and to leave it behind,, even in the pursuit of something creative will never give him the dose of himself he has found in his own dream for himself….

    this was a particularly beautiful post selma…

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  10. 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.’

    and thats why I havent written a DAMN word for MY BOOK that I keep talking about and WANT /NEED to write…but I have to do so many OTHER things first.

    Cant I just BUY more time somewhere? Or add extra hours to every day so that I CAN get tp all the things I NEED / HAVE to do?

    exhausting….isnt it?

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  11. I worked very hard in order to retire early and then did. “Retirement” has its joys, but I discovered (over time) that I sorely missed social interactions. Even though I’m an introvert by nature, I discovered how important group involvement is to my psyche. We really are social animals, we primates. I’m still pondering how to best live my life, but I’ve realized that it must involve working with others for some greater good…not just socializing, but creating, implementing…doing. It’s been an interesting journey of self-discovery.

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  12. I am always so surprised not only by the signs of aging, but the evidence that my parents and grandparents had entire lives before and after me – with big chunks of it having NOTHING to do with me.

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  13. This is an incredible post – well crafted and thought out but also poignant and unsettling.

    Perhaps he just needs to be kicked off the dock? You know -to swim?

    He sounds like a fascinating man.

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  14. You wrote this really well. The portrait of your father is well done. But the thing I like best about this post is the articulation of the relationship and concern between the two of you.

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  15. That is the tragedy of our modern society where we are often defined by our work. (It became a painful reality to me when I was medically retired.) For many people, the end of work is anticipated, but once it occurs, they have difficulty trying to find meaning. Depression is a common problem.

    My father was much like your dad – he retired and felt at loose ends. It wasn’t that he lacked in interests, but he couldn’t seem to settle down. Then he took an art class and that seemed to kindle his spirit again – I think he learned to play. And then he began to garden in earnest … and he and my mum at 83 and 80 seem to be about 60.

    Spending time with your dad and talking to him about how you feel might really help him. You captured that subtle change that happens from the way we view our parents as we age is brilliant.

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  16. My dad should have taken up writing, he’d probably be happier right now if he had. He’s always been able to tell good stories. Instead, he’s just decided to waste away in his chair, watching TV and doing a little reading. I’ll be making the seven-hour drive to their place next month to see if I can do anything to get him to move closer to me. My mother is still very active, and would like to do more but she refuses because my dad won’t go anywhere.

    I hope and pray I don’t become like that when I’m their age.

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  17. DAVID – a very relevant poem and quite inspirational. Thanks for including it.

    CRAFTY – your parents sound like they are really enjoying their retirement. My Mum is like that – she’s always out and about but my Dad is a different story. I just think he needs a gentle push!

    GROOVY – I agree with you completely. It would be miserable to spend your final years in really poor health. Your exercise program is a great idea!

    TRAVELRAT – you are sooo busy. It’s inspiring. I agree, the best thing to do is ‘just do it!’

    DIAMONDS – lovely to hear from you. Getting a dog is a really good idea. I looked after my friend’s dog for about a month last year and it is amazing how it gets you out of the house. Apart from the exercise involved, it is also really therapeutic having a doggy companion. Good advice.

    CHRIS – I hope my Dad will listen. He has been known to misinterpret my good intentions. Your Dad may surprise you – he might be touched by the fact that you want to help.

    PAISLEY – you are so right. It hadn’t occurred to me but he was living his dream through work, that’s why he’s having such a difficult time with the change. What a valuable insight. Thank you so much!

    MELEAH – I know exactly what you mean. All this shuffling of the hours is exhausting. I wish I could buy some extra time too but no doubt if I did it’d be spent doing something like cleaning the house or standing in the queue at the post office. It’s crazy.

    JONAS – we really do need social interaction. A sense of belonging is very important to our well-being. Perhaps you should join a Writers’ Centre or group. I’m a member of one and it is wonderful. You get a lot out of it.

    BRITT – that reminds me of when I was little and my Grandma used to tell me stories of her youth with me constantly interrupting saying: “Where was I?’, ‘Was I alive then?’ I couldn’t imagine my grandparents possibly having a life without me. Hahaha!

    NANNA – thanks so much for visiting. Nice to meet you. He definitely needs to dive into that pool because I’m sure he’ll find the swim is an enjoyable one!

    CAROLINE – awww thank you. I’m so glad I communicated that properly.

    KATE – I love how you describe your Dad as learning to play. What a lovely way to put it. I’m going to have a chat with my Dad on the weekend and suggest that’s what ne needs to do. Thank you!

    MS KAREN – welcome back! I hope you can convince your Dad to move closer to you. That would be great for all of you, especially for your Mum. My dream is to own a house big enough for my parents to move in with us in a few years. Could be one of those pipe dreams that often plague me but I am going to try to realise it.

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  18. I have found that as I have gotten older, stuck in my job and become a father that all my little (and big) hopes and dreams have paid the price for the life I have today. There are so many things I wanted to do and be when I was younger…

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  19. MICHAEL – I think most people feel that way. I know I do but I also know we are only human and can’t do everything. Your dreams may have not turned out exactly as you had hoped but I know you are a wonderful Dad and a brilliant writer. I still have hopes your blog may lead to bigger things. It’s only a matter of time.

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  20. This speaks so much to me Selma. I have been away for awhile and noticed your name on Crafty and came to check out your space, this post really touched me…time can act in so many different ways…but it always circles, doesnt it?

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