80 Years and Out of Ideas

God willing, in less than a month on March 2nd, my father will be turning 80 years old. Given his history of health problems, from clogged arteries that supposedly were going to finish him off without surgery 12 years ago to the shoulder infection that had him on antibiotics in a nursing home at this time last year, this is an especially momentous occasion. He’s a tough little guy, who always bounces back, no matter how many times he casually announces that he’ll probably be dead soon. I’ve seen him do heavy lifting, even when he shouldn’t, and watched in horror as he used a blowtorch under a car near a gas tank, or bashed his thumb bloody with a hammer and kept working. I wish I inherited his threshold for pain, but I do realize part of it is the generation in which he grew up. As the middle child with four sisters, he had to be especially tough, while as an only child, I definitely grew up spoiled and over protected.

With each year that goes by, my parents become harder and harder to shop for. My dad has every tool imaginable, every drill and vise and wrench set you could think of. Our lawnmower is still in good shape, and the two or three in the garage over at our vacant lot are decent backups. I’ve made sure he hasn’t had to mow the lawn in over a decade though, so such a large purchase wouldn’t benefit him. The same could be said for a snowblower. Where heavy machinery is concerned, such a purchase would be a gift for myself. Maybe an air conditioner, even though that would be a gift for the family, would be a good present. It would at least benefit him as well as the rest of us.

My mom was thinking of getting him a recliner, since most of our chairs are ancient and/or hand-me-downs. The big problem is that I did want to rent out a restaurant and throw him a party, as one of my cousins did for my aunt for her 80th last year. The thing is, my dad quite sincerely and emphatically has told my mom and I under no circumstances should we throw a party, promising that he will make a scene. Even though the relatives are going to be expecting something, and that I’ll look like a cheap b@stard, I do have to consider what the stress of his sisters might do for his heart condition. My mom told me about the husband of one of her friends in her choir group. The guy’s dog had passed away, and at his surprise party one of his sons thought a puppy was a good idea. After the initial shock of walking in to the restaurant and being surprised had a moment to sink in, the man was faced with his son approaching with something small and alive wrapped in a blanket. “I. Don’t. Want. It.” he said icily, repeating this a few times before walking home.

I think we reach a point in our lives when we can’t handle anything more, not material things nor additional relationships. Even at 35, I myself don’t want any more material objects because I simply don’t have room. When my folks ask what I want for my birthday or other holidays, I usually request food or gift cards. I’ve stopped buying DVDs; the format is nearly obsolete, I’m surrounded by stacks of them, and there’s nothing I can’t rent or watch online. I don’t need more stuff; I need my own house. Even then, I think I’d be careful about expanding to fill my new space. So I can understand my mom’s friend’s husband. Not only was he probably still grieving for his canine friend, but he didn’t have room or time to care for a new one. The dog would likely outlive him, and the son really didn’t think that purchase through.

Now I definitely wouldn’t get my dad a puppy for his birthday. He’s a cat person by marriage, but simply enjoys a peaceful coexistence with the creatures my mom embraces. These days, he spends most of his time doing crossword puzzles, watching the occasional sporting event, and looking out the window. He doesn’t have a lot of hobbies outside playing in our various bands, and never had any interest in travel. He’ll casually watch a movie if it comes on television, and will take my mom to a movie once in a while, but he himself can’t see too well in the dark, has poor hearing, and his restroom needs make it impossible to remain in the same room for two hours. So it’s safe to say any shows or media gifts wouldn’t appeal to him.

I’m stumped. On a normal birthday, a few puzzle books, maybe a DVD of an old Western, some articles of clothing like hats, socks, gloves, sweaters, jackets, etc. would be fine, along with some low sodium snacks like crackers, breadsticks or unsalted pretzels. A bland diet and lifestyle seem to be the price for his longevity. He wants to treat 80 like any other day, and already my godfather is calling him to find out what he has planned. As we get older, we don’t like to be reminded of the fact, especially when we have more years behind us than in front of us. Celebrations seem to be more for the sake of our family, who want to express how glad they are that we’re still here. I guess I’m looking at a quiet dinner with just the three of us at a nice restaurant, some of the standard gifts like the snacks and the puzzles, and something special. I just need to figure out what “something special” is. So far, the air conditioner seems to be my best idea, but I’m open to other suggestions....


Blogger Lorna said...

that can be so hard. the most innovative thing we ever thought of for my mother was to buy her a pair of goats for a Rwandan family. We didn't have to worry about where we'd keep them

2/09/2010 10:10 AM  
Blogger b13 said...

How about a nice weekend away from home? Shelter Island when it gets a little warmer? I hear the Ram's Head Inn is rather nice.

2/09/2010 2:32 PM  
Blogger 直到遠遠 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2/09/2010 11:51 PM  

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