Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What is Old?

My dear old Dad turned 70 this weekend.  Seventy.  I hesitate to call him old because doing so might infer that he is old enough to have kids that qualify as "old."  And we don't want to got there.  So let's just call him "experienced." 

When I think of 70 as a generic age, it seems old to me. Most people I know in their 70's are well into their retired stage of life and are juggling busy schedules of outings with the grandkids, vacations and doctor's appointments. 

But when I think of my dad, I don't think of him as old.  The first birthday I really remember celebrating with my dad was when he turned 40.  My mom organized a surprise party for him and there was lots of buzz about "The Big 4-0."  As a 10-year old kid, I remember thinking this was going to be the end of my dad as I knew him.  All the talk about being old and over the hill when you turn 40 somehow percolated into my young brain and I was convinced that life after 40 was going to be way different. 

These fears were reinforced at the birthday party when my dad received a cane as a gag gift.  I remember thinking his hair would instantly turn grey.  I assumed we were done with camping and hiking.  I figured he would probably be quitting his job to retire shortly after his birthday, and I certainly didn't expect him to be doing any kind of heavy lifting or hard labor around the house.  I think it was probably around this time that I was taught how to cut the grass, presumably in preparation for his inability to physically manage that task.

In my young mind I somehow got the idea that 40 was officially "old" and life somehow changed dramatically when you hit that milestone. 

Looking back (particularly now that I have hit the ripe old age of 40), these childish, preconceived notions about age are comical.  How could I have possibly believed that 40 was the end of it all?! 

I am happy to report that life in fact did not change dramatically when my dad hit 40.  We kept right on camping and hiking and doing all the stuff we did when he was 39.  His hair did turn grey, but over a period of many years and not overnight.  I did have to take on the grass cutting chore, but only because he was determined to raise a girl capable of taking care of herself  (Thanks for that.  Sort of.), not because he was old and crippled.  And luckily the cane (even at 70) is merely a gag.

Now that my dad has hit the 70 milestone, I hesitate to make any assumptions about age and what really qualifies as "old."  Truly, as my mom wisely scolded me when I bemoaned my 30th and then my 40th birthdays, age IS just a number. And really, even if 70 is "old", what's so bad about that?  If old means (as it does for my dad) hanging out with the grandkids, spending countless hours engaged in your hobbies of choice, traveling the country in your mini RV, volunteering your skills for organizations that need you, and eating cookies for breakfast....why do we all dread being old?? 

Certainly it's better than the alternative.  Who wants to be young forever?  Not many would voluntarily go back to being a toddler (Diapers and communicating your needs with grunts and tantrums? No thanks.)  Or repeat Jr. High (Acne and pre-teen drama?  No way.) Or even be eternally 21 (My liver hurts just thinking about it.)  Been there, done that.  It was great while it lasted, but life is about moving forward, enjoying each stage, learning the lessons and doing more or better or smarter in the next chapter.  Life is about experience.  Don't get caught up on the numbers.

Just keep your eye out for the joy. 

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