Today, my Dad would have turned 80 years old. What a milestone that would have been, save for the robbery of Alzheimer's. Oddly enough, thanks to that dreaded disease, I'll never remember him as "old" -- just afflicted. He never had a chance to get old, since it was clear something was sapping his brain from about age 68. Far, far too young.
Julian's school counselor told me that he'd asked Julian how he thought he was similar to each parent. That's a very interesting question. How am I similar to each of my parents? I've always identified far more closely with my mother, partly of course because we're both women, but also much because we're both more literal, scientific, mathematically inclined, driven, compulsive. I never came close to my mother's success, but the inclination was there. Some real differences are there though -- my mother is even-tempered and consistent and controlled, whereas I'm more temperamental, impulsive and volatile. She's wonderful at music, and I'm middling at best. I'm compelled to write, and she is free of that burden.
But as age 50 looms, I realize how much more and more I am like my father. My own children will likely remember me halting all conversation at the sight of a beautiful meadow, or talking ethereally about the power of the mountains. This stuff drove us nuts as kids when my Dad did it, but whaddya know, I do it now too. Heck, they might even find me serenading a squirrel with a pennywhistle one of these days.
My Dad was very social, but deeply valued his privacy and alone-time too. He always built his offices "just so" -- out of plywood, but with all the surfaces, shelves, and cubbies he needed. My nesting instinct is exactly the same, I tend to surround myself with just the right little accoutrements and conveniences and greatly value my little carved-out sanctuaries. Whereas my mother, who has exquisite taste, I believe is much lower-maintenance. We all have our favorite spots of course, but my "way" about mine takes very much after my Dad.
I drove him crazy. He couldn't understand my rapid speech. My energy exhausted him. My readiness to resist and literally argue his carefully thought-through ideas irritated him. My trains of thought took too many twists and turns. He hadn't a prayer in any word game against me. He loved me dearly for these things, as intensely as they annoyed him. No one found more depth in off-the-cuff observations or ideas I had, no one laughed harder at things I'd say.
Though my Dad was raised in a different age in which expectations were different for daughters, and I was born at the tail end of that in 1963, my Dad never doubted me, never treated me like I'd have anything other than a bright, open, complete future. I never experienced sexism growing up, starting with my own father, and that greatly shaped my life and career. (Indeed, in my house growing up, it was always understood that the girls were stronger, smarter, more capable....my poor poor brother...! Yet now he's the adored family glue.)
Especially at this time in my life, I miss my Dad more than ever. I really could use his wisdom and philosophical chats, removed from the cares of the day-to-day -- never his forte -- to wrest me out of my emotional mire, to lift me up to see the bigger picture. Just like he did when I was little: he'd prop me up on his shoulders for a better view over the crowd. I so wish he could do that for me now, while on a long hike through the woods in Stephentown.
Today I heard a quote from Winston Churchill: "The secret to success is moving from failure to failure with enthusiasm" -- Dad and I would have mused about that for an hour or two. He'd have pondered the truth to it, roaring with laughter at my biting cynical doubtful remarks.
One of my favorite pictures of us together happened to have been taken in Breckenridge, Colorado -- mountains. I know if anyone would understand my new identification with altitude, it would be my Dad.
Eighty would still have been far too young to take him....and though Alzheimer's slowly stole his mind for 10 years before it took his body in 2011, I'm no less lost without him.