Monday, January 25, 2010

Happy 100...

My father would have been 100 years old today.  He died in April of 1996.  If my parents gave me nothing else, I seem to have the genetics for longevity.  But, they gave me a lot.

My father was an amazing man and had an amazing (though seemingly ordinary) life.  With only a third grade education, he finished his working life in his 60s as a respected and successful businessman (refrigeration and air conditioning installation and repair - working all over northeastern Colorado).  He and my mother (his 3rd wife) were married for 45 years when he died.  He instilled in me a strong work ethic, gave a belief that "I can do anything" that made me all that I am today (positive and not) and, gave me opportunities he could never have dreamed of in his hard young life.  I still owe him so much.

And, some of the lessons I learned from his life and example were not the positive ones.

As long as I knew him, my father always avoided conflict.  You could see in him when something came up with mom, a customer, politics, someone that worked for him, his church - anywhere in his life - he would have an almost visceral reaction and many times act irrationally.  Sometimes toward his own detriment.  Most of his life, he was just accepted as "quiet" or "shy" but it is obvious, on reflection, that he never wanted to have to take a position and then possibly defend it if someone opposed his view.

I sort of have a sense that this might have come, in part, from some historical experiences I never heard of first hand.  There are stories, for example, of him chasing a then wife through the house with a gun.  Other stories where it was obvious that he man we knew had a darker past than he wanted revealed.  He had secrets up until a life-changing, year-long rehabilitation in a military hospital during World War II.  As a part of that rehabilitation, he was sent to a civilian hospital on the Colorado plains where he met my mother, they married, joined a church and created the life I knew (including me).

As he got older, something changed in his head.  He reached a point in his late 60s where he could no longer enjoy intense drama in movies or on TV.  Light comedy was fine.  In his early to mid 70s, this "phobia" ("neurosis" ? I really wouldn't know the right diagnosis or term) expanded to where any dramatic tension at all was too much for him so he would only watch sporting events.  In his late 70s, the risk of injury in sport or the tension in a close game was too much for him so he only watched the weather channel (I'm not making this up).  About the time he was 80, the weather channel started showing dramatic clips from extreme weather (school buses hanging off cliffs, tornadoes blowing up houses, etc.) so it was no longer possible for him to watch anything on TV.  Whatever happened in his head, he would suffer from bad dreams or insomnia for weeks if he was even around a TV with normal programming.

On reflection, I could see that, whatever was going on around conflict in his head caused his world to become smaller and smaller until he really could hardly participate in life.

Up until that time, I had always wanted to be like many of the older people in our community.  Unlike my father, we have examples here where we see people active, outgoing, engaged and happy well into their 90s.  A lot of them.

I figured that, when I got old, I would develop an appropriate social life and become that who I wanted me to be.  I realized , with my father's example, that would never happen for me.

What I realized was that who I am at 85 has precious little to do with what I decide I want to be at 85 and has everything to do with who I am at 45.

One of the many gifts of AA is the knowledge that I can change.  Today.

As a consequence, I can't tell you how many times I've forced my decrepit little introverted and intolerant self to an AA meeting, service obligation or social event.  Many times, it's the last place my heart would really lead me.

But, I know the consequences of those choices:  A tiny world where there can be no conflict or suffering.

God willing, I'm preparing myself for a different elderhood than my father experienced. 

God willing.


Gabriella Moonlight said...

What a powerful post, you know we all have our shadows to work through and it seems your fathers showed up in his elder life.

Thank you for the glimpse in your life and growing up.

Thank you for the share of your father too!

peace today

Garnet said...

Sometimes I want my world to be 'just so', with all the socks in the right place and no shouting in the house. Then I realize I'd have to kick everyone out of my life for that to happen. Your post reminds me of that tension between my desire for peace and my desire for a big world. Thanks.

Syd said...

I am a little like your father in that I prefer to not be in conflict or to watch it. It is a gut wrenching thing for me to see movies like Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf or even "comedies" like the Honeymooners. I wonder if this is a form of PTSD. I also like the Weather Channel but don't watch the Storm Stories episodes.

I realize that a life without conflict isn't possible. Yet, I can see the appeal of just being on my boat, far away from everything, drifting on and on.

Mary Christine said...

Thank you so much for sharing all of this. I have been thinking so much of my father in the last 24º. And I have had high drama that could have been featured on the weather channel... and if it had, I would have changed the channel.

Carol said...

Ed, Thanks for that very interesting perspective on your father. It comes to me that to have lived nearly a full century one has likely lived a couple different lives, maybe not as dramatically different as the chapters in your father's life. I'm sympathetic to his aversion to visceral drama in 'entertainment', give me comedy or a game show anyday. If I was forced to live w/someone who watched other stuff, I might be pretty opposed, I'd try to get out of the room. And then I'd be judged!

Scott W said...

Seems God is always willing, it's my will that I have to contend with.