Never Enough Time: Remembering a Dad and Son
Age is simply a case of mind over matter.
If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.
It’s been almost 17 years since my father drew his last breath. He had been fading slowly for months, he was 102 years old, and yet his death was still a blow.
When I was a kid, people used to ask me what it was like growing up with a father in his 60s and 70s. I don’t remember ever being aware that Dad was that old. He worked full-time, taught me to ride a two-speed bike, helped me with my homework, showed up at my school performances, took Mom and me on vacation. Other than his bald head rimmed with gray hair, he seemed just like my friends’ fathers.
In some ways, Dad was realistic about his age. On their wedding day in 1958, he told my mother, 22 years his junior, that he could only promise her ten years.
But in most ways, Dad refused to act his age. When I started running during my junior year in high school, Dad took up jogging. He was 77.
At my wedding at age 87, one of my husband’s grandmothers introduced herself to him by saying how happy she was to meet one of the other “senior citizens” at the wedding. Dad drew himself upright and said, “Madam, I am not a senior citizen.”
Dad was in his 80s before he moved his real estate development business into the house. He was 96 before he declared himself retired on his tax return, and only did it then because his accountant said there was a tax benefit.
When Dad turned 90, my nephew asked him how it felt to be so old. Dad told him that 90 and 70 felt the same. Then he quoted that well-known philosopher Satchel Paige, saying “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?”
It wasn’t until I graduated from college that I understood the magnitude of his decision to have a third child so late in life. Why he’d had the desire and energy to pay so much attention to me, to take such an interest in what I did, to listen so intently to whatever I had to say.
Dad was 91 when my son Jimmy was born and 96 when my daughter Molly joined the family. He adored both of them, sitting patiently as they chattered away about whatever interested them at the time – dinosaurs, the Teletubbies, the intricacies of Pokémon, Harry Potter – asking questions, wanting to learn more.
When Dad turned 100, Jimmy made him a card, writing “I love Poppa because Poppa cares about Stanford (football) games. I love him because he is who he is. I love Poppa because he listens to what I say.”
The three of us were there during the final week of Dad’s life, the kids playing in the pool with me when he quietly slipped away. Although I will forever be grateful that he lived long enough to know Jimmy and Molly, our 42 years together will never be enough time. Little did I know, we would say goodbye to Jimmy just 10 short years later.
It took years before I could stop reliving their deaths, the last harrowing days, their final breaths. Before the flashes of our sweet days together began to return, fragment by fragment.
Jimmy and Dad are made of memories now, living in the stories I tell, the history we shared. My remembering is fierce and intentional, as I conjure them back to life with my words. This is what remains, what comforts, what heals now that they are gone.
Dad used to tell me that I kept him young. He taught me that old age is something to be embraced and cherished, instead of feared — that it’s worth striving for, that it’s never too late to start over or begin again, that what I will remember if I am lucky enough to live as long as he did will not be the money I made or what I achieved, but the weight of my son asleep on my shoulder or the warmth of my daughter’s hand as we crossed the street.
Margo Fowkes is the founder and president of OnTarget Consulting, a firm specializing in helping organizations and individuals act strategically, improve their performance and achieve their business goals. After the death of her son Jimmy in 2014, Margo created Salt Water, an online community providing a safe harbor for those who are grieving the death of someone dear to them.