PATERFAMILIAS

MY DAD IS 94. He is still our paterfamilias—the male head of a family.

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A few weeks ago we thought he was slipping away. A hospice nurse used the word "imminent". We took turns being with my mom at his bedside. He had reached that unofficial, indeterminate point where quality of life seems to be evaporating. Then he "rallied", another hospice word.

Now, for a few weeks, we've had the opportunity to have more talks, share more memories, tell more stories, hear more stories. We're thankful, grateful and tired. I know mom and dad are tired too.

I'm not going to lie. There was a time, a Sunday morning, when he seemed almost vacant and even anguished. I prayed this: "God you have asked him to fight the good fight. If anyone has ever done, he has. What more do you want from him?"

I confessed to my oldest son that I had prayed for the grace of passing for dad. He said, "You might have a problem there. Your Grand-Girls are praying he'll get better."

They clearly have more sway than I do. Heck, I would put their prayers up there with those of Joel Osteen praying for a bigger house or Creflo Dollar praying for a faster jet.

For many years my dad has worn a ring that says, "DAD". A few days ago, it was just him and me in his room, I thought he was in a deep sleep, a pain drug induced state of little responsiveness, only an occasional grimace. He pulled that ring from his finger and handed it to me. His eyes were open for only a few seconds, no words were spoken. I squeezed that old ring in my fist and felt a weight I didn't want to feel. Being paterfamilias.

I haven't always done well with responsibility; not that I'm a deadbeat dad or anything. I put in an honest day's work and get an honest day's pay. I have the oil changed regularly and the tires rotated on schedule. I knew what it looks like to step up, to do and to be, sometimes I would prefer for the buck to stop elsewhere. In these last days, the decisions have sometimes come too fast; they are too heavy.

Don't worry. I'm not going to run away, or screech at God, or buy me a red golf hat and be pissed at the world. I have help. Don't we all, if we really admit it?

On June 16, 1972, I had another ring handed to me. My Amazing-Missus placed it on the third finger of my left hand, held it there and said a vow. I did the same. This ring seems so much lighter because all these years later she stands with me, still, as she always has. I don't make decisions all alone, in isolation. She is wise and she's been down this path before, too often.

We have a friend. He is our mentor and minister. He literally wrote the book on this end-of-life stuff. His wisdom and encouragement are like scaffolding for me, and not just now; he has been our marriage counselor, therapist, travel consultant and spiritual paterfamilias for many, many years.

And, at the risk of sounding like I'm giving an acceptance speech at the Academy Awards, we have so many other friends, and family in this deal. It's like they read that verse that says, "Bear one another's burdens," and they believed it.

A few days ago we visited a nature park with our three Shawnee Grand-Girls. At the head of the trail is a big wooden sign with a map of all the trails. There is a star on the sign and the words, "YOU ARE HERE". The middle of the three, who is seven, asked, "How did they know we were here?"

Right now, we know: WE ARE HERE, at a place many others have been before and will be again. And we are grateful for all those who know this trail because they've been down it and have basically said, "We know where you are. Here's an encouraging word and a prayer."

That's enough.

In The Third Place

I just finished reading a story titled, Logging and Pimping and “Your Pal, Jim” by Norman Maclean, the man that wrote, A River Runs Through It. The story tells of a contentious relationship between two guys who work together as lumberjacks. The older one is pretty much a career lumberjack, the other, the narrator of the story, is a student who works in the logging camp during the summer. The older seems intent on breaking the younger one by wearing him down, but the younger is determined to stick it out until his set quitting date. Day after day they each worked the end of a saw without speaking. At the end of a particularly long hard day:

After Jim disappeared for camp. I sat down on a log and waited for the sweat to dry. It still took me a while before I felt steady enough to reach for my Woolrich shirt and pick up my lunch pail and head for camp, but now I knew I could last until I had said I would quit, which sometimes can be a wonderful thing.

One day toward the end of August he spoke out of the silence and said, “When are you going to quit?” It sounded as if someone had broken the silence before it was broken by Genesis.

I answered and fortunately I had an already-made answer; I said, “As I told you, the Labor Day weekend.”

This blog, About POPS is written by a guy, “Pops”, who is now 65. It’s theme is about living the life of a “man of a certain age,” or what I like to call my Second-Coming of Age. Now that I’ve reached that chronological point when, in American culture we think retirement, I’m asked that question from time to time: “When are you going to quit?”

I assume that those who ask are talking about vocation, cutting down trees so to speak. The answer is, I don’t know; yet. I have the privilege of working in a role, for an organization, and with people that I enjoy a great deal. And while there are likely some in that company who will feel some jubilation when I do retire, for the most part, at least to my face, people seem to enjoy having me around or at least tolerate me; something I struggle with myself from time to time.

The truth is though, as the end of the workaday world draws near, I find myself more easily frustrated and sometimes discouraged. Sometime my thoughts run like this:

I could fix that if I still had time.
What does it matter now?
Let the youngsters worry about that.
I won’t have to put up with that crap much longer.
Is there still time to leave this in good hands.

I love this line from Maclean’s short story: “It still took me a while before I felt steady enough to reach for my Woolrich shirt and pick up my lunch pail and head for camp, but now I knew I could last until I had said I would quit, which sometimes can be a wonderful thing.

Mostly now I try to imagine what my place in life will look like after the job is done.

Several years ago, a friend introduced me to the concept of “The Third Place”. She explained that while we have home and work, we need a third place. I first thought of the neighborhood bar on the long-running TV show Cheers, a place where “everybody knows your name”. For some people their third place might be church or Lion’s Club. I’ve been observing the behaviors of old geezers some. Apparently, McDonalds or any place that has cheap coffee can be a third place. Somewhere to hang out, piss and moan about politics, tell stories, and remember the past better than it was.

Pops' Amazing-Missus at our Third Place

Pops' Amazing-Missus at our Third Place

Starbucks, unofficially proclaimed themselves the third place several years ago. And really it is for a lot of people. In a recent article in Wired magazine about Starbucks opening a place in Italy, the home of the latte, the reference came up. The writer, in trying to explain why Starbucks might actually succeed in the birthplace of espresso struck a resonant chord with me.

It’s because Starbucks performs such a service for its customers, because it essentially provides a vessel into which they can pour themselves and then buy themselves back, that Starbucks has been so successful. While its coffee may actually be better than most Italians are prepared to give it credit for, it’s nonetheless likely that this coffee is incidental to the paying for the privilege of going somewhere in public where we’re able to relax and be who we think we are. Thanks to its reputation for furnishing its patrons with “atmosphere,” Starbucks has become a global “third place” away from work and home. — From Wired Magazine.

When will I “quit” the 9 to 5? Maybe not until I find a place “to relax and be who I think I am.” In other words, how can I quit my second place (work), until I have a legitimate third place?

For while my Amazing-Missus is truly amazing, if I don’t find a third place after leaving my second place, she might become so weary having me around the first place that she’ll find me a fourth place.

And they lived happily ever after.

Pops & Popeye

Happy Birthday Elvis. I can’t believe you would have been 80; it seems like only yesterday.

Normally I don’t dish out birthday wishes to celebrities here at About Pops. But I do normally talk about myself and getting older.

“Then,” you might say, “you must be a big fan of Elvis and his music.”

No, not really. I looked at my iTunes library. I have one Elvis recording, Here Comes Santa Claus. That was a song on a Christmas album I bought.

You see, the deal is, Elvis and I share a birthday; today, January 8.

[cue up The Beatles, "When I'm 64"]

I talked to my Mom and Dad last night. (We senior adults call and check on one another when it’s bitter cold outside.) They were recalling the night of my birth. Apparently, I just barely made it on the 8th. A few more hours and I would be saying, “Happy Birthday” to Kate Middleton, Richard Nixon, Jimmie Page and Dave Matthews. Now there’s a couple of guys whose music I have lots of.

No complaints though. The King and I share the 8th with some pretty cool people and at least one nut-job. I’ll let you guess which one (or more): Stephen Hawking, R. Kelly, Noah Cyrus, Kim Jong-un, and Soupy Sales, just to name a few.

Birthdays are one of those contemplative days for me. You know—looking back and thinking about the days ahead. As happens, well-meaning people, and people selling books, tend to offer insight on days like this. This is from the WWW:

Capricorns born on January 8 seek to balance worldly concerns with an expression of their soul-needs. Although they strive for a pragmatic approach to life, they have a superstitious nature. They are gifted yet may be riddled with self-doubts. These problems are exacerbated by the fact that they have difficulty expressing their feelings through words.

Friends and Lovers
Because of their basic distrust of others' motives, it is hard for January 8 people to make friends. If trust is breached, the friendship is likely to end. They have a powerful love nature. They are romantics who demand total devotion. Even if they are not especially attractive they can cast a spell, drawing lovers to them with ease.

Children and Family
Even when they do not feel bound to family members, people born on January 8 are generous to them. They may have had a strict upbringing from which they lapsed in adulthood, creating guilt and dishonor. They make doting parents, anxious to give their children material as well as spiritual riches.

It’s like someone’s been reading my journals. I’m tempted to click the link and spend “$19.95 for the full report”.

On second thought: for what?! At 64, when it comes to stuff intended to make me more self-enlightened, I’m with Popeye, “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam.”

Flippin’ The F

REMEMBER YOUR FIRST COMING OF AGE? That time that’s pretty much filled with excitement and terror and rites of passage. Remember puberty, your voice finally changing, and all those Firsts?

In a feeble attempt to establish credibility, let me point out that I have a degree in sociology with a focus on adolescence, and 30 or so years of working with teenagers. I also have 44 years of experience trying to realize that I’m not a teenager anymore.

One of my old textbooks, Arnold van Gennep’s book, The Rites of Passage, he explains, “I propose to call the rites of separation from a previous world, preliminal rites; those executed during the transitional stage liminal (or threshold rites); and the ceremonies of incorporation into the new world postliminal rites.”

For example, around 14 or so, we begin to long ardently for independence—our own transportation—to come and go as we please. Call this “the rite of separation from a previous world.”

None to soon we get a driver’s manual, probably the most diligently studied textbook in school history and we take Driver’s Ed: “transitional stage liminal (or threshold rites).”

Finally the day comes that we get our license and Dad hands us the keys: “the ceremonies of incorporation into the new world postliminal rites.”

If you’re a faithful reader of About Pops, you know that one of my favorite story genres is bildungsroman (coming-of-age stories). You also know that I like to talk about the age of nearing retirement as my second-coming-age. If you’re bored and want to read more about that, here are links to a couple of posts I’ve made on the subject.

LIFE AS STORY
AGE IS A NUMBER

While I am not yet retired, and in fact, I can’t even see retirement from where I am, still I can see I’m in the that preliminal rites stage of separation from a previous world.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a great job and I get to work with some amazingly creative and energetic young adults, but I do look forward to the weekends and Monday morning often comes to soon. Maybe it’s Nature’s way of preparing me for the time when I will not get up and go to work M-F. Maybe I’m entering the threshold rites stage.

Last Friday morning I was going through the morning ritual: make my toast for peanut butter and strawberry fruit-only spread, start the coffee, take my daily tablespoon of olive oil, and so on.

I commented to My Amazing-Missus, “I LOVE flippin’ the F.”

“I beg your pardon?” she lovingly replied.

All of my peers these days take a cocktail of pills: baby aspirin, fish oil capsule, multi-vitamin, vitamin D, and assorted other pills for heart health, arthritis, etc. We all put them in a little box divided by the days of the week. On the lid of each section is the letter of the appropriate day. When I get to flip the lid on the F I know I get to wear jeans to work and that the weekend looms.

The second-coming-of-age isn’t as exciting as the first, but it is something. Someday instead of getting a driver’s license I’ll get a metaphorical Gold Watch. I wonder if after the “ceremony” it will be as fun to flip the S, the M, the T, the W, the other T, and the other S has it has been to flip the F?