Today would have been dad’s 87th birthday. He wanted to live until he was 90. He also wanted to live out his days in his house, which he did. He was a walking miracle over the last few decades of his life. He was sustained by a strong will to live and a deep faith.
Over the years and various health crises he kept adjusting his ideas of what good quality of life meant for him until he reached the point where he could not see beyond sitting and sleeping in his chair and making his way into and through the kitchen to the back door or the bathroom. He knew he could no longer find his way downstairs to the “magnet” in the basement that was the Bluefin model he was working on.
Dad was partly defined by the patterns of his generation. He craved relationship with family and friends, with my children and their partners. Although everyone valued their relationship with him, he wished it could be more. The pattern of his generation is that it was the younger ones who minded the older ones. My mother always used to say, “Age before beauty.” It was another way of voicing respect for your elders.
My father taught me the importance of nurturing relationship. Our relationship grew over the last decade of his life. I learned a good pattern of checking in with him by phone or by visit. I used to leave him a list of my travel plans so he knew where I was when. If I called too often, he would get irritable. If I didn’t call often enough, he got irritable. I know he was lonely and he missed my mother and he wished my brother and I would visit more often and for longer.
His desire for relationship stays present with me as I reflect on what is the relationship I want with my children and grandchildren? How do I make sure I nurture and sustain them, individually and collectively? This applies to my partner, my siblings and other close relationships too. It is easy to lose track of people, even people who have been close and for far too much time to go by without reaching out.
My brother and I are now charged with the dismantling of dad’s house, which is akin to the dismantling of the physical aspects of his life. Some things are easy. There are books that are decades old that nobody has read in forever, papers that were important to dad but of no value to anyone else, things that have accumulated over the years that were part of dad’s day to day existence but, again, of no value to anyone else.
There are other things that have value and that are harder to deal with. My father was careful with his money. He often worried about whether he would have enough money to live out his days. He did. Robert and I were reflecting on how dad never threw out any furniture and some of it is from when mom and dad got married 62 years ago.
Very little expense was spared for the Bluefin, for his machining workshop where he repaired engines or his woodworking workshop where he built rowboats, repaired a canoe and worked on the model of the Bluefin. But there was not a penny spent without careful consideration and a lot of thought about whether it was the right choice. He has boxes and boxes of screws, nails, washers, fittings and so much more, because he could see potential in them. He often said he should probably get rid of some things but as soon as he did he would need it. Now Robert and I need to figure out what to do with it all.
My father’s parents had been millionaires in their lifetimes. My mother’s parents hadn’t been millionaires to my knowledge, but they lived well enough. My grandmothers each outlived my grandfathers by 2 or 3 decades. In the end, when they all left this world, there was no inheritance left for my parents for a variety of valid reasons.
My father was a self made man. I’m sure he is satisfied that he managed his affairs well and well enough that there is a legacy left for me and my brother. It certainly isn’t millions. It is a modest amount that reflects the modest lifestyle of a modest man.
Happy birthday dad. Know you are remembered well and will always be loved by so many of us still walking on this side of the veil.