Today is a day that not many people get the opportunity to see. It is my father's 99th birthday, and statistically it is not a common event. In our family, however, there is precedent. We are blessed with good genes, with grandparents who lived into their 90's on both sides of the family.
My father's father got remarried at the age of 96. He passed away two years later at the age of 98. I've always said it was because he married a younger woman. She was only 89 for God's sake. My own father, while not doing something quite so unusual as getting married in his late 90's, has his own impressive statistics. Most people are surprised to learn that he still lives in the same home he and my mother had built over 20 years ago. They are even more surprised to learn that he still drives. But all of that amazement pales when I respond with, “Of course he drives. How else is he supposed to get to work?”
My father still has a small business, a ten-bay self-service car wash in the town where he lives. He still goes there and insists on doing most (if not all) of the maintenance chores. I am not telling you that the business is in great shape, or that he is a great driver, or that we don't have concerns about his lifestyle, but this independence gives him some purpose in the day to day.
I love and respect my father, but he can be a stubborn old codger. And I suppose at 99 he's earned that right.
My father is part of what we call the “greatest generation.” A World War II veteran, he is now one of the few remaining people alive who witnessed D-day, the launch of the final push to free the European continent. Raised and educated in Canada, he and my mother came to the US in 1953 for a job opportunity, and they never looked back. An Electrical Engineer by trade, he made one of the boldest decisions I think a man could make, when at the age of 51 he quit his successful career at RCA, cashed in everything he owned and moved west where he and my mother purchased a 250-seat restaurant, motel and lounge. They had never run a business in their lives. They had two kids in college and two more following behind. I was only 10 years old at the time and did not appreciate the magnitude of that move.
I realize now that my father was “Iron Balls McGinty”. It was a huge risk, and a gutsy move, but one that, after a lot of really hard work, paid off. It was a move that changed the course of our entire family; I think for the better.
My father aged a great deal during the years he cared for my mother, who was afflicted with Alzheimer's. I imagine he would be a bit more robust today had he not had to go through that very trying period in his life. Still, as I've written in the past, I have huge respect for the commitment he showed to my mother. I didn't always agree with everything he did (he believed caring for her was a personal responsibility where we had trouble convincing him that hiring professionals to assist still met that obligation), but I could not feel any more pride for his dedication to her in her final years.
Looking at my family's genetic history, I suspect my genes will serve me well. Despite my mother's condition, there is no other family history of Alzheimer's. DNA tests show I do not possess any of the genetic markers known to be related to late onset Alzheimer's. Still, I tell people I may live to 100, but I won't know anyone's name after I'm 70.
That's ok, I can barely remember anyone's name now. It won't be that different then.
At any rate, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the day, and the man that made me who I am. Happy birthday, Dad. Wish I could be there with you.
Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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