My Dad turns Eighty this Friday. That is such a big deal. No man in his family made it past 55! His father and older brother had short lives and my Dad has had heart issues and diabetes for years. It’s truly a milestone and one that makes me pensive.
I try to put myself in my father’s shoes. He’s a first generation American! He was the first in his family to go to college, he did ROTC and he served in the army for the Korean war although he was not deployed.
How different his life was from mine. I lived in the comfortable suburbs; he grew up in the city surrounded by immigrants. My family dropped me off at college and it was not news that I was going to get a higher education. My Dad got on a train to Indiana to attend Purdue University alone at sixteen and a half at a time when Mid-Westerners asked to see his horns. (He is a Jew). I never had an experience like that while in the United States. I have no army buddies. He does. I lived through a youth where no one was drafted and not many were needed.
Cell phones and computers? Even I can remember when those were not around. He went longer without them and will read this on my mom’s screen because he has decided not to partake in this modern distraction called ‘online”.
Only recently assimilating the realities of being middle aged myself and probably closer to death than birth, I wonder what it’s like to be eighty. Is there a sense of urgency? Is there a giving up? Is there appreciation for all that one has lived? Is there bitterness at what has not happened? I guess, I’ll be asking him these questions when we celebrate this weekend but in the meanwhile, I’m going to share a letter I wrote (and gave him) during the holiday season of 2003 as a tribute on the occasion of his eightieth birthday.
We are not the most intimate family when it comes to communication, so I wanted to write down some things that I haven’t been able to say. My purpose is to express gratitude for the life you have given me that has led to the life I have now. I feel lucky and blessed and you have done so much for me. I just wanted to say…..
Thanks for working so hard and for all you sacrificed all those years to give us a good life
Thank you for taking us to live in Venezuela where I learned another language and to be sensitive to other cultures—both, which have served me so well.
Thank you for giving me your spirit of adventure and zest for travel—I love going to new places as you can see from where I travel these days
Thank you for exposing me to the theatre—a love that has been a HUGE part of my life
Thank you for buying a horrible, outdated house just to keep us from moving again
Thanks for sending me to Boston University—it was a great place to go to school and I was exposed to so many great things—theatre, a city, studying Chinese, going to one of the best communication schools in the country
Thanks for coming to see all those shows over the years…..
Thanks for driving me to and from school every year
Thanks for paying off my college loans
Thank you for taking my Mark into your heart—he is the best thing that ever happened to me (without him, there wouldn’t be the next best things—my kids)
Thanks for all your generous gifts throughout the years with every milestone in my life, marriage, buying a house, babies
Thank you for the most awesome wedding ever…. people STILL talk about it
Thank you for saving us in a pinch and for babysitting so we can have a semblance of a life outside the house
Thank you for being a Grandpa to my kids. They really love you.
Thanks for always caring and staying involved even if you do show up unannounced (I know that following the rules was never one of your strong points—that’s probably where I got that trait from)
And thanks for being the maverick that you have always been—your courage to step out as a first generation American Jew—the first to be educated in your family—to travel and live abroad and buck many a system in your work days—all those things have not been wasted on me. I inherited them in some ways and most of the time, serve me well.
Thanks for being an example of helping others in the years that you’ve had more time on your hands after retirement.
So Dad, stay healthy and let’s enjoy many more years to come.
With Love from your eldest daughter
And to all my readers, who could use your thanks today?