The first, and most difficult, is that I had to say goodbye to my 84-year old father as he set his sails for the seas of heaven. Dad was gregarious, joyful, smart and loving, and he has left a legacy of enthusiasm and energy in his wake. He was the kind of man who made an impression on everyone he met. I am just one of many who really didn’t want to let him go, but we must.
The other milestone, which seems much less significant now in comparison, is that I will turn 50 on Monday. There. I said it. No turning back now, I have admitted it in a public format. It’s not the fact of a birthday that I’ve been dreading. I happen to like birthdays. Birthdays are a time of celebration, of fun, of being given another year to be awesome. Nope, what I’ve been dreading is that number. That 5 and 0 matched together have been taunting me like some kind of scary omen.
Yes, yes, I know the platitudes, it is only a number; you are as young as you feel, ya da ya da….but I have built up in my mind that 50 is the final good-bye to my youth. At 50, I have officially crossed over the half-way point of my expected life span. I had a few personal goals in my mind that I wanted to achieve by the time I hit 50. I have not achieved them. (Although on my optimistic days, I reassure myself that those goals are at least in progress. ) At 50, I will no longer be able to slow the progress of wrinkles and grey hair and aching body parts. I launched an initiative with my girlfriends to “Stomp the Frump” for fear of becoming frumpy. Clearly I have let a simple number intimidate me.
And then, my wake up call. Having experienced my Dad’s passing, and sharing the Story of Dad with so many, I have started to not only accept the fate of the big 5-0, but to almost welcome it. My Dad turned 50 when I was 15. That means for the majority of my life, that energetic, full-of-life man was in his beyond-mid-century years. Ironically, my son will turn 15 this year. Do I want him to live with an old, depressed, pessimistic woman, or a happy, healthy optimist?
As for goals and ambitions….we are not remembered so much for what we achieve, but who we are. My Dad fought on the front lines of the Korean War; he had a long successful career, and was involved in several organizations. Yes, all of that is impressive and should be honored. But the memories people have shared with me have more to do with his passions in life, his personality, his zest, his humor, and his smile. So perhaps I shouldn’t be quite as worried about those goals I have set in my head – I believe I’ll still meet most of them, with time… instead, I think as I hit that big looming number, I should focus more on the lessons I have learned from Dad:
Be Fascinated by Life. Don’t take anything for granted; continue to see things with eyes wide open, and learn new things at any age. Encourage curiosity to figure out what makes things tick, and be eager to meet new people. Absorb, and be absorbed, by life.
Be Enthusiastic. Have a passion for the people and environment that surrounds us. Show excitement, even for small things, which could be big things to someone else. As kids, we always knew that at any performance in which we were involved, dad was the first and loudest to start clapping and cheering, every time. Don’t be shy, be that person.
Be Gracious. Don’t be a complainer. Complaining is a useless energy waster and solves nothing. Deal with difficulties and challenges, then move on. Say Thank You and mean it. Be thrilled when someone visits or wants to spend time with you. Make others feel special – because they are.
And finally: Smile. A lot. But make it genuine, not fake. My Dad had a mega-watt smile that was infectious and put people at ease. Who cares if your teeth aren’t snow white or perfectly straight? Who cares if you don’t have on lipstick, or have a lopsided grin? Smile anyway and witness the results.
Maybe, just maybe, if I keep Dad in my mind, I’ll start to look forward to the coming years as some of the very best in my life. I can’t promise that I won’t have moments where I lament about my wrinkles, muffin top, sore knees and forgetfulness. But perhaps I can convince myself that the 50 milestone is not for looking back and yearning for youth, but for jumping off and saying “wheee!”.
Hunter S. Thompson is credited for this quote: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” I know, without a shred of a doubt, that Dad is relaxing in heaven, a rum in hand, saying exactly that.
When I grow up, I want to be like him.