It was a most unexpected meeting. Yet so comfortable and natural that I couldn’t help but admire, and smile, at the interaction between the two men. The son, making a routine stop at the bank on a lazy Saturday morning. The father, taking a leisurely walk to the store several blocks away. Both looking up to see each other; both with a pleasant and surprised look on their face.
After a laugh or two regarding the unlikely meeting, the two settled into a casual, relaxed conversation. The elderly father updated his son on the latest goings on at the new senior living center he had recently moved to. The son asking about his Dad’s health — “Darn hip is finally getting better but still acts up from time to time.” The conversation went on for another 20 to 30 minutes on the unoccupied sidewalk.
I had been with my friend Steve at his father’s apartment sometime earlier, maybe 3-4 months. His Dad was using a walker at that time and like many elderly, he explained what was barely working, what was partially working and what was starting to fail. However, unlike many elderly, he almost had a laugh or chuckle in his voice. There was no hint of bitterness or anger. Maybe some minor frustration but also optimism that it would all work out eventually. He soon asked about the grand kids and the rest of the family.
In both instances, I was “there”, but not really. My friend and his father were in their own comfortable world having what can only be described as a nice, comfortable visit. It wasn’t that they were being rude or ignoring me. I pitched in on the conversation on occasion. But in reality, I was content to be an observer.
Steve and I have been friends for going on 12 years now. But, until these two meetings, I didn’t really know his father David beyond a previous introduction and handshake . I always find it interesting to observe the similarities in family members. It is more than most of us will admit to. Father and son both have a great sense of humor so it is hard not to find yourself laughing. Something that struck me as unique was the ease and comfort Steve had with his father and vice versa; something of a rarity between a senior citizen and his middle aged child. Over the last couple of years David’s health began to fail. As the required level of care increased Steve’s brother Dan started to show up at our Saturday morning breakfast on a regular basis. While I would like to think it was the specialness of our company that led him to make the hour long drive down from Portland, it was obvious that it was the opportunity to visit his Dad afterward that motivated him.
Over time several things have became clearer for me. That these brothers not only loved their Dad but that all three were comfortable and at peace with each other. That both sons took to heart what their father taught them; that through up and down, and thick and thin, family should stick together. And that if you make a commitment, that you need to keep that commitment. Both qualities that are too often lacking these days.
I was raised with the teaching that we should respect our elders, a concept that is often out of favor these days. It has been a reaffirming example to me as I watched my friends work together to make sure that one of them, but often both, were available for their Dad.
David passed away recently at age 92. It was one of those slow goodbyes that you hate to think about; the kind we hope we don’t have to face someday but realize we might. Steve and Dan have both provided me with a good example of how to handle that process. It seems that love really can overcome all the physical and mental challenges these situations bring with them. And that is good to know.
At the funeral I learned more about David’s history of serving in the Merchant Marines and of the efforts he made to provide for his family in their younger years. It soon became apparent why my friends both have such a strong work ethic; it is yet another example of the principals passed on from father to son.
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