Life Takes Away?

"We seem to have reached the age when life stops giving us things and starts taking them away”-Dean Charles Stanforth (Jim Broadbent), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

That quote reminds me of this guy I know. The son of hardworking Italian immigrants, he and his four sisters learned by example. His father was one of the pioneers of the lunch wagon in this country. His mother once carried a burning cast iron stove out of the house in the middle of the night, hurling it outside and saving her family. His parents also ran a small convenience store, though sometimes he and one sister were less than helpful when they got into the ice cream supply.

After high school, he took some classes and became a pretty good mechanic, finding various mentors in the field. His diagnostic skills were unparalleled, and he could simply tell what was wrong with a car by listening to it. In his free time he was an athlete, coaching his own baseball team. Later in life, he'd tell his son that everything was downhill after age 40.

He settled down and got married at 40, around the time his vision started to go bad. Glasses corrected the problem, but as arthritis set in, he had to give up ball playing. He'd still manage to play catch with his little boy, though he'd rub his shoulder and rotate his arm after each throw. By the time he was 60, many of his teeth were false, a minor annoyance compared to a new problem. When he'd walk fast, he'd describe a tightness in his chest, a feeling like he was breathing cold air. He hardly visited doctors, but decided it was worrisome enough to investigate professionally.

One failed stress test and various imaging tests later, he was diagnosed with several clogged arteries around his heart. Without bypass surgery, doctors estimated a year or two at best before he'd succumb to a fatal heart attack. He tried two balloon angioplasties and one with a laser. All procedures were unsuccessful in clearing the blockage, and doctors actually burned him on the last one, a very unpleasant experience. Meanwhile, he made radical changes to his diet and lifestyle. No longer would he eat “lunch baloney” every day. No more would he make daily trips to Carvel after work but before dinner. His wife would eliminate beef from the family diet, substituting turkey meat for meatballs, meatloaf, and sausage. He'd begin a homeopathic treatment of Chelation therapy several times a month to flush out his arteries. He'd exceed the two year life estimate by well over a decade and keep going.

With an outstanding work ethic passed down from his parents, he'd retire early and earn a full salary for some time thanks to decades of saved unused vacation days. He'd continue marching in various bands, retaining one pleasure from his youth. After high school he’d quit, but his wife got him a Baritone Horn on their first wedding anniversary after seeing some old year book photos, and his love of music would not only be rekindled, but he'd pass it on to his son. One cannot deny the social and cardiovascular benefits of various parades and feasts.

That's my dad. For all that he's considered “downhill” from middle to old age, he's kept going. His hearing's been getting progressively worse, and we occasionally have humorous misunderstandings when he responds as though my mom or I have said something else entirely. He has a bump on his left shoulder, non-cancerous, that doctors can't remove. All they can do is occasionally drain the fluid that causes it, but it seems to come back bigger each time. What was once the size of a golfball is now closer to a softball. At this rate he'll soon have a second head. His latest ailment is cataracts. There were warning signs that he probably missed, like specks he'd attribute to bits of paint spatter on his glasses, or the fact that the last time I let him drive me somewhere he couldn't see the lines in the road and made several involuntary and (for me) terrifying lane changes. It's getting progressively worse, and now he can't even see traffic lights.

For all his accomplishments, my dad has somehow never been able to memorize songs. On Saturday morning, at the first of four jobs we're playing this weekend, he consistently had to ask me what key various songs were in as he couldn't read the music. “It's all...cloudy.” Maybe he'll finally start memorizing, and on a few tunes he should know by now he didn't do too bad considering he could only see part of the page. He's having one of the eyes worked on in a few weeks, with the other scheduled for whenever he recovers from the first one.

My dad is 78 years old. His hearing and vision are failing, he's missing most of his teeth, at least one major artery is 98% clogged and he has a tennis ball-sized lump on his shoulder. He visits at least 3 or 4 different doctors a week and, not unlike my mother, takes a plethora of medications. Some treat his ailments while others compensate for side effects of those first medications. It's a delicate balance. In some ways, his cynical assessment that his life's been downhill for the past four decades is accurate, just as that professor in Crystal Skull was partially right in his assessment of life. But none of these things have really stopped my dad. Simple things are more challenging, but he still gets them done. Another musician in the band, a 75-year-old youngster chuckled about seeing young musicians lean against a car or sit down on a curb. I certainly get tired sometimes when we're just standing around waiting for a parade or a procession to begin, but watching the older generation makes me realize I have no excuse. If they can be on their feet for five hours, so can I.

Sometimes I look at the things my dad has to deal with, and depressingly realize that will probably be me someday. Sometimes I look at the things my dad accomplishes in spite of his problems, and hope that will be me someday.


Blogger Lyndon said...

That was a really nice post MCF!

I know what you mean, I really hope that I can be the kind of man my father is too :)

5/25/2008 12:53 AM  
Blogger b13 said...

Wonderful post. Your dad is a fighter and is lucky to have a son as caring as you.

5/25/2008 1:33 AM  
Blogger Lorna said...

That was a wonderful post. I'd guessed the fighter was your dad, but it still lifted the hairs on the back of my neck....

5/25/2008 10:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the quote. I couldn't remember the source, but I needed to share it with a friend of mine who just lost a dear friend.

3/18/2009 10:35 AM  

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