My dad died young; (and I was a lot younger, obviously).  He died in 1968 at 56. (I was 21 when he left.) It seems people whose parents die young expect to do the same. We don’t expect to live much longer than they did. I think this is especially true of men whose fathers died young.

So, we sort of inherit this expectation, and when we’re in our 30s and 40s, we’re sort of counting down, looking at a scorecard (or bucket list, I suppose), thinking “Whoa, 42!! I gotta get cracking.”

Then the magic age passes, and we’re still keepin’ on. Trucking as we’ve always been. Hm… Then it’s five years – FIVE YEARS? I outlived the old man by five years? Well… good for me. I think.

Then it’s ten, then fifteen, so I can say to my kids “Why, when my dad was my age, he’d been DEAD for fifteen years!” And it’s kind of a joke, and they smile, which tells me perhaps it’s the ultimate “Dad Joke.” I guess it is for me.

I ruminate on this every October; my birthday is the day after his. I ponder all the above and wonder “what’s it all about, dipshit?” Occasionally I think the Hokey Pokey is what it’s all about, but I don’t really think so. But this being so much older than he ever got to be is weird.

It’s like being on a train whose destination you’re sure of, but you feel like you should have arrived quite a few miles ago, and the scenery bumping past now – however familiar it should be, same places, same streets, etc. – isn’t at all what you expected to see.

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  1. My grandfather and my father’s best friend both died within months of each other, when I was three years old. That was a year of hell for my father. My entire life I’ve heard stories of both, though I have no direct memories of either. I could tell over the years that it bothered my father as he grew older and approached that magic number, 63 years old — my grandfather’s age when he died — that he feared it was a line he couldn’t cross. I mentioned this to my sister once, and her flustered reaction was — “Why do men always think that?” I was kind of taken aback by this. Is it a male thing?

    My father did, against all logic, have lurking in the back of his mind somewhere the idea that all (male) Jankowskis were pre-programmed to self-destruct at 63. The problem is that our family were farmers and heavy industry workers, so natural death wasn’t a common problem. The record with longevity in our family is a bit spotty, with a couple 90+ year olds sprinkled in the mix but with lots of untimely demises (e.g., One was run over by his own horse cart, a few died in wars, one died in a railroad accident, etc.)

    My father is alive today and has passed the 80 years old mark, so apparently the 63 years-and-bust thing didn’t apply. (Hopefully this isn’t one of those “skips-a-generation” things.) Moreover, despite a hard life of working in factories and on heavy equipment — having, for instance, to tunnel beneath some massive earth mover in a Buffalo winter and spend hours fixing it — and working in conditions that would give an OSHA employee apoplexy (surrounded by toxins and chemicals), my father is actually in pretty good shape for an 80+ year old. He is fully mobile, able to get around, and still lives an independent life. He can still out-shoot me at 200 yards, though he needs Coke-bottle glasses to read nowadays. I think it was a (pleasant) surprise to him to discover that he was not doomed to walk the path of our ancestors, that he still had a life of his own to live with all the potential and all the decisions at 64 years old, and thereafter. It remains his life, shaped by, but not defined by his father.

    Happy birthday, Dean.

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About Dean Quarrell

Mr. Quarrell was born in 1946, in Springfield, Massachusetts. He has so far survived various public schools, community college, university (his baccalaureate degree is in English but written in Latin), the US Air Force, and various employment, including 30 years in the software industry. He lives and writes in New Hampshire.


Writing, (noun & verb)