I was sipping a latte in my neighborhood coffeehouse the other day when a man my age shouted out birthday greetings to a younger man. The younger one grumbled.
This got me thinking.
I’m 64, but I don’t go around humming, Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four, from the 1967 Beatles song.
I turned to the older man.
“You know, I think it’s easier to accept aging if your parents did it well.”
Mine did, I told him.
My mother was an optimist. She never failed to point out the bright side of things. She hushed up the four of us kids when we complained about, well, anything.
She’d grown up without a father, after all. She was married to my gay dad for, yes, 64 years, his sexual orientation known to her by year 15 of their marriage. If anyone had something to complain about, she did. But she didn’t.
She sang at home and in the church choir where she held the title of the longest serving member. She traveled extensively, toured local open houses with my brother, and took solo drives over the hill to Half Moon Bay. She loved Christmas lights and angel food cakes on her birthday.
In the evening, she enjoyed a cup of coffee in the living room, with a McCall’s in one hand and the other hand petting our terrier who’d be wedged in next to her.
Mom worked full-time until she was 76 and never spoke about her age. When at 82 cancer struck her, she put her affairs in order, made us kids promise to take care of “your father,” and died quickly, seemingly without bitterness or regret.
My father didn’t talk about age, either. And despite his morbid talk at times, he lived to be ninety.
As a bullied gay teen and an adult twice arrested for being gay, he’d struggled with lifelong shame and self-doubt. He considered suicide more than once in his life but never acted on it.
For years, he waxed poetic to us kids about the elderly snow monkeys in Japan who walk away from their tribes when they are no longer useful. I’ve already written about this.
Three hours before his body shut down completely, Dad told his doctor that, yes, he sure would like to have that complicated surgery to extend his life by a few weeks. It may have been an attempt to impress his handsome young doctor. But it was obvious to me that my father was not going to walk away from his tribe no matter how sick he was.
I described my dad’s romanticized tale of the snow monkeys to my fellow coffee drinker. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the drama of it all. But my coffee partner didn’t bite.
“A good story is a good story,” he said.
Well, that’s true, I thought. And I think my dad would have agreed.
Read more in Laura Hall’s My Dad’s Closet: A daughter’s memoir, coming eventually to a bookstore near you. Laura and her husband live in San Francisco.