Sitting in his favorite chair, with fuzzy slippers and graying hair, I cannot comprehend the world through my father’s eyes. Healer, warrior, provider, nurturer, scientist, scholar….These roles have defined my father throughout his life. His stories and advice reflect those roles and years of experience. Few men or women still living today can come as close to Truth (yes, capital “T”) as my father, who has lived, and had and lost home, country, friends, family, and health. Archeologists dig and anthropologists emmerse to learn about lost, indigenous, and acculturated people. Not one of them has ever considered talking to the elderly.
I have just used a “dirty” word. “Elderly.” In Western civilization, the word “elderly” has taken on a negative conotation. An elderly individual is considered frail, damaged, obsolete, yet in many other cultures such as Native American and the Orient, elders are revered as wise and experienced, wordly scholars. In the United States of America, there are many laws that use age to measure maturity and wisdom to confer civil rights such as voting, drinking and driving. Yet, introduce a 20-something to a gray-haired individual with a few wrinkles and their demeaner changes.
My father, 82nd Airborne & Medic in the US Army during the Vietnam War, father, husband, Ph.D., true American in every sense of the word, is now relegated to the role of “generic old person.” It is not something people do consciously. It has become a habit that our society is not even aware. I see it happen each time I introduce my father to someone. If you don’t believe me, pay attention to yourself next time you meet someone 70 or over. You smile brightly like you’ve just opened a christmas gift you didn’t really want. You’re voice goes up slightly in pitch as you say hello and over-enunciate your words. You stand slightly taller and lean forward denoting dominance. You nod your head and say things like “A-huh” or “Wow” or “Yeah” or other repetetive phrases throughout the conversation, but you aren’t really paying attention. Afterward, ask yourself what you remember of the conversation. Did you think to yourself or tell anyone, including the older person, that you thought he or she was “cute?” Cute? After having a conversation with someone, even if you were joking around, would you want to be called cute by a stranger? Puppies and babies are cute. Were you annoyed that the conversation took so long or thinking that there were other things you needed to get done? Were you releaved that the conversation was finally over?
I am not pointing fingers. I am just as guilty of these thoughts and behaviors as anyone. I have been fortunate, or unfortunate-if you will, to be close enough to imagine myself on the receiving end. I cannot claim I am being altruistic. The truth is, I am terrified by what I see. Someday, people will treat me that way. Someday, it will be you. Who wouldn’t be aprehensive? We don’t just stop feeling, thinking, relating the minute we get one, or 20 or 100 gray hairs on our heads. How can we treat our seniors this way when we know that will be us in 20-50 years? Have we still not learned to connect actions and consequences?
I cannot comprehend the world through my father’s eyes because he is so much stronger than me. I could not have coped with his past, nor could I cope with his present. Someday I will have to, because his present is my future. The night before last my father got very sick and I was terrified. Luckily, my father is a warrior in every sense of the word. He does not know the meaning of the word “defeat.” After a visit to the doctor, he is doing much better and still spitting in old-age‘s eye. I am thankful; I still have a lot to learn from him.
- ‘Grandparents are a treasure,’ says Pope Francis (catholicherald.co.uk)
- Critic’s Notebook: TV’s Problematic Portrayal of Aging (nytimes.com)
- Lynne Segal on why we should overcome ageing fear (scotsman.com)
- Wise counsel (thatsmyjam90.com)
- What Do You See a Crabby Old Lady or Me? (frommyheart2u.wordpress.com)
- Betty White Spoofs Miley Cyrus’ ‘Wrecking Ball’ Video – Watch Now! (justjared.com)
- Why Betty White Will Never Retire (huffingtonpost.com)
- Breaching Age Norms on Television (everydaysociologyblog.com)