December 7, 2012

A Fresh Persepctive

Last week I wrote, I don't want the old model of retirement, a post that generated a healthy number of comments. All of the feedback gave me a fresh perspective on something that has been bothering me for the last few years: my dad's apparently boring and inactive approach to his life after mom's death, two years ago this Sunday.

In that post I expressed frustration that he seemed content to spend the last phase of his life sitting in a chair and reading rather than meeting new people and becoming involved in the activities of his retirement community. I just couldn't accept that he was happy and content, that this was an acceptable satisfying retirement.

Up stepped the BRITW (best readers in the world) to set me straight. In summary, the errors of my ways were gently, but clearly, pointed out. His choices were his choices. My judgment of those choices was not really the issue. Due to his basic personality type, severe hearing loss, the death of his life-long partner, and back pains, he has determined what works best for him. My attempts to change him failed. So, I needed to stop.

I will continue to see him for lunch every week, take him to doctor's appointments and shopping trips, bring him to our house for holiday meals, and handle all his taxes, finances and investments. But, if he is happy reading and napping, then I must be happy, too.

All that being said, the various responses got me to thinking back to when my two brothers and I were growing up. Was there much of a difference between then and now? What can I remember of how he used to be? Several strong memories have helped me to remember some sides of him that I have given short shift in recent years.

Game Playing


"Beat Dad" was one of the most common expressions in our home. No, we weren't involved in any type of physical activity; we were playing games. Dad loved playing any game with the three boys and mom. But, he would always win. Whether it was Monopoly, Risk, Parcheesi, Crazy Eights, Hearts, or even Ping Pong he never lost. So, our battle cry was to "Beat Dad." I do remember sometime around 13 years of age I did win a card game. I celebrated the big moment by dancing around the table, while everyone else started chanting, "Beat Bob."

Dad was not an outdoors man. Except for a little golf later in life, sports or doing things outside wasn't his thing. But, when I was 12 and living in Cambridge, Ohio, he did decide that all fathers are supposed to take their son fishing. There was a small urban lake not far from our home that may or may not have contained any fish. But, Dad bought me a fishing rod and reel, a few sinker weights, a bobber, and a bag of rubber worms.

For two hours we sat on the bank of this little lake, sharing our one fishing rod, casting a large rubber worm in the murky water over and over. No surprise, we caught nothing. I never went fishing again. But, he had done what he felt was one of his important tasks as a dad. It was nothing he cared about, but because he cared so much for me he wanted to be sure I had that experience.

Map reading and manhood


Very early in life I became a map reader. For whatever reason I loved geography and finding places on a globe and in the World Almanac. When I was old enough I was given a road atlas of all the states and spent many a happy hour studying major highways and important routes that bisected each state.

The mark of my advance to manhood might have been when I was promoted to map reader and navigator on a family vacation. I got to sit in the front seat and tell dad where we were every time we passed an exit. As I remember on that particular trip we were driving from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, a drive we had taken dozens of times before. Most of the trip was spent on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, so there was little actual navigation I had to perform. But, he knew of my love of maps and travel and allowed me to take the seat of honor in the front and help insure my family's safe arrival. 

No Worries


Dad had problems with his job choices. He seemed to always join a company right before it was sold or went out of business. At one point he was set to take a job in San Diego. We had already sold our home in suburban Boston when the offer fell through. In very short order we had to buy a place to live while he scrambled to land another position with another company.

What I remember most about his career was how many times our dining room table would be covered by resumes and envelopes.....and never once did the frustration or worry affect our home. I was too young to really understand what was really going on but I am sure he was deeply concerned about those times when we lived on mom's salary as a teacher.

I am sure he worried about the family's future. But, to his eternal credit, his three sons never knew about any of these struggles. Since we were a frugal family in good times and bad there was never a noticeable change in our routine. Only later in life did I understand what a gift he had give us: the gift of no worries.


Blogging has added many positives to my life. But, one that was unexpected is the insight I have gained by allowing others to give me fresh perspectives on my life's journey. To have "strangers" become part of my life and people I can depend on to be honest and helpful has been a tremendous blessing.  

Thank you for reading, commenting, and caring. Thank you for opening my eyes.

28 comments:

  1. No worries. What an amazing gift! That alone helps me to see things more from your perspective. You seem to take things head on and then, when the choice is made, work through it with little worry. I never thought of this as a trait that we pass on to our children. My father did not worry, my mother did. I worry all the time. It is a complete waste of energy :>)

    OTOH- have you thought about getting your dad an ipad and playing words with friends with him? I love the slight connection that game gives me to the outside world on a daily basis. I know you said he doesn't like computers---but this may turn him on to it.

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    1. Worry is generally a waste of time and effort...but a basic human condition. As long as I don't pass on my worries to my family I am doing my job.

      Thanks for the ipad suggestion. That's not his thing but maybe there are some simple games he'd enjoy playing again..."Beat Dad."

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  2. 2 excellent posts. A lot to think about. Gives me more understanding of my parents in retirement as well as myself.

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  3. Bob, your memories of growing up with your Dad, with some tweaks here or there, are probably much like many of your readers. My father was lucky enough to land a job with a growing company called IBM in Endicott, NY, and never was laid off. But he still had to worry constantly about finances since he had five kids and a wife to support. We went on the obligatory vacations, and as a father he did those things that were required of many - a baseball trip each year to see the Yankees in NY, going to our games (all three brothers were pretty good athletes so he had plenty to do there), all while paying the bills, working on the cars and around the house, and so on.

    I have a lot of respect for what he and so many of his contemporaries were able to accomplish. When I hear people say how "hard" they have it today, in an era of entitlement and support systems unimaginable to our parent's generation, I have to laugh (or cry) when I realize how much we have slipped over the years as a country.

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    1. I don't think my mom or dad ever used the word "entitlement" or had a concept of being entitled to anything. They just did what they thought they should do to the best of their abilities.

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  4. We just want what we feel is "best" for those we love, so of course, you wish your Dad enjoyed more activities. As you've mentioned, as long as he is content,though, you can be,too. Many of us boomers have those "worn out" parents who seem to find retirement in a rocking chair just peachy.I guess they worked REALLLLY hard, and just want a little peace and quiet!! LOL!

    We Boomers are benefitting from a big cultural shift in what "age' and 'retirement" means..so, ours will look very different!




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    1. For the 2 years before mom's death dad had no life of his own. 24/7 he was transporting her places, caring for her, feeding her, shopping, and putting up with her increasing level of complaints with never a harsh word.

      Yes, maybe he just wants a total break.

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  5. I love the stories about your dad. Sounds like a good man.

    My mom has Alzheimer's and lives on the other side of the country. I just got done talking to her and she started telling me stories about "borrowing" money from her dad and how she used to go and start up his car without him knowing about it.

    Well, I used to "borrow" her car when I wasn't quite old enough to drive. I would sneak in my parents room around 2AM, get the keys, push the car down the street and then go driving around for an hour or so. I finally got caught when one time I passed my sister as she was coming home with her boyfriend.

    My dad retired and took up golf. He raised my nephew and taught him how to golf. My dad never lost to my nephew and finally we were playing and with one hole to play, my dad was down by two strokes. My nephew was some excited. Dad eagled the hole and my nephew bogied. Alas, another day before my nephew finally overtook dad.

    Nephew is now a Colonel in the Air Force and my dad has passed away. But times and stories like that will always be treasured.

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    1. "Borrow" the car at 2 AM? You were a rascal.I trust you grew up in a more rural part of the country.

      Stories about dads too often get lost. In many families mom is the real glue that holds everyone together so dad stories are a little less prevalent. I'm glad this post brought back the one about your dad and nephew and golf.

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  6. I second what you say about the comments. It's nice that your commenters are a reflection of your thought provoking posts.

    I've made a few videos for Youtube and the comments can be pretty insensitive and mean spirited.

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    1. A little over a year ago my wife and I were profiled in Money magazine about our lifestyle and ability to retire early. You'd have thought we invented cancer. Many of the comments were mean-spirited and nasty. Anytime something appears on a national stage be prepared for small people to try and feel big by making others even smaller than they are. It is a shame.

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  7. Okay THIS post actually brought tears to my eyes. It brought back so many memories of my father. I think you should let your father read this post (if he hasn't already).
    It's official Bob...you've grown up.

    P.S. I have to say again, I love this blog.

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    1. I'm glad this struck a chord with you, Gail. I have been known to move folks to tears, but not always in a good way!

      Thank you. Your comment means a lot to me.

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  8. Perhaps it should have been "Let Dad Win" around our place, but we didn't have a saying. My Dad was a skillful card player who also was good at board games. He taught me to play several games, and lost every time we played. As I grew older I realized his loses were faked to make me feel good. Lots of things about my Dad made me feel good as I matured enough to appreciate him. Sounds like yours had the same effects, although his strategies were different.

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    1. Dad never lost on purpose and I'm glad. Beating him legitimately felt much better! For very young kids the "rules" are a bit different. I let my 5 year old grandson beat me in chess a few months ago. I wanted him to feel good about the game and keep playing.

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  9. Well Bob this is why we love the blog and your writing style so much.It has something for everyone! My Dad just weathered 2 years of my Mom being ill-lung cancer(she died in Aug 2012)unfortunately his time now is in fast forward because of a blend of bipolar/personality and grieving at least that is my 2 cents.His doctors all agree so us kids have not had a minute to grieve.We have been on a rollercoaster of emotions from his behaviors.I can tell you maybe we all are similiar because all we want is for our parents to be happy and enjoy the last part of the journey.Any way excellent post, thank you so much

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    1. Dad's behaviors are very predictable so at least I know what to expect. These posts have helped me tremendously to understand and accept him for who and what he is and value the fact that he loves to see Betty and me every week.

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  10. Bob, I just noticed that "Wise Bread" is one of your favorite blogs. Philip Brewer is a senior writer for Wise Bread. His father, Richard Brewer, a professor emeritus at Western Michigan University, participates in a discussion group I chair. Small world.

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    1. The 6 degrees of separation proven again/ Yes, I enjoy Wise Bread. You can tell Philip's dad I said so!

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  11. Nothing like a little insight, huh? Glad we could help--ha! I so enjoyed your memories of your dad. That was lovely. Many of your insightful (!) readers would feel blessed to have memories like that. I know I would.

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  12. Bob,

    This post and the previous post noted have both hit home for me, and hard. A few days ago marked the second year my father has not been here (on this earth) to celebrate his birth. Since my father's passing, I have been sitting in judgment of my mother's life practices and decisions. She has spent the remainder of their life savings, which wasn't a large amount of money to begin with, though enough to provide monthly supplement to her small pension and social security, on some very frivolous things. Her home - once beautifully organized and maintained by my father - has become a storage unit, of sorts, for piles upon piles of things, lots being new things. I hate to use the word "hoarder" but it's the best way to describe the behavior I am witnessing. I have nagged my mother about her lack of financial management over the past 18 months, her quest to make her unhappiness known around others, and her constant health complaints accompanied by no proactive lifestyle changes. (By the way, none of this is new behavior. It seems it was only curbed by my dad's presence and nagging.) I have spoken honestly with her about my observations, which unfortunately has left me sounding and feeling harsh. On my dad's birthday we met for dinner, and after yet another critique of her, which admittedly was ill-timed and insensitive, I told her I will always be here to help her, but that she needs to help herself first...where she sees fit, not me. I explained to her that the best gift a parent can give a child - this child in particular - is the gift of "no worries." I am trying to let her live her life as she desires, but it's very very difficult.

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    1. I can empathize and sympathize with your situation. We are taught by our parents to try to help others, to be honest, and to attempt to improve something that we see is wrong.

      Unfortunately, there are situations like your mom and my dad when that instinct is counterproductive. We are forced to act in a way that seems to go against what we have learned.

      I have needed the feedback on these posts to figure out where my actions were incorrect. I hope you have the same outcome.

      I deeply appreciate your openness and sharing.

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  13. Well, we are an honest group of bloggers! And you know, Bob, we're all in this together. My mother died in 2008, but we had the same issues with her.

    We get to make our own choices. And I'm grateful for that.

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    1. Hi Bob:
      I stumbled upon your blog tonite and I am enjoying perusing its content.
      I retired one year ago last week and I have found it challenging in both good and not so good ways. But it was my choice with no regrets; I am a lucky guy.
      My father passed away at age 56 of a heart attack in 1983. I was 32 at the time with a brand new baby girl, his first grandchild. He saw her only one time (at Christmas) since we lived 1200 miles away, but I can still picture his joy, his pride, and the way he cradled her in his arms. Boy, what memories.
      Thank you and enjoy the times with your father,
      Bill Nigh

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    2. Linda,

      You are certainly one of the important BRITW. Thanks for your support and comments. We are all in this together.


      Bill,

      Welcome to our family. I hope you find some information here that makes the transition easier. My first few years were like yours: a combination of good and bad. But, once I found my passions and figured out the priceless blessings of time I had been given, it has been a tremendous ride.

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  14. I have to say this is the most beautiful post I have read here on your blog. What a loving picture of a man you have painted here. What a blessing you have/had in the way he and your Mom lived their lives in good and bad times. I hope it will be okay for me to make a suggestion to you. . . Now that you have seen your Father more so,in this loving light when you are with him. Praise him. You can encourage and suggest many things to people but praise is the best encouragement a person can get and will usually respond to it more than anything else. My kids praise me all the time they tell me how much they love having me in the home and how much they appreciate my babysitting (it's almost embarrassing sometimes.) When my son's or DIL's travel they pick up newspapers because they know how much I love to read about other places I can't travel to. They buy me books they know I'd love to read. They praise me and every time it encourages me to spend more time babysitting and being with them. It is how they got me to come to their church and I joined and got involved, my husband too. I truly believe praise is more of an encourager than suggestion any day because it makes the person feel so good and want to live up to those lofty words all the time. Your dad sounds like a wonderful man, let him know all the time. And when he is gone too you'll be so thankful you did.

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    1. Thank you for the very nice compliment. More importantly, thank you for the excellent suggestion. I see him for lunch on Monday and will turn your idea into action.

      You are absolutely right about the power of praise and positive support. I spent a good portion of my life being negative toward others and that simply doesn't work.

      Bless you, Sue.

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