Age against the machine

My parents were in their early twenties when I was born, even if I didn’t know it then, and to be honest, I didn’t much think about it even as I grew up to understand it. In fact, when my best friend asked the seven-year-old me how old my parents were, I said I didn’t know.

“My mother’s 35,” he announced.

“Huh. I think mine’s 35, too,” I said, and then we continued our football match.

My mother was 28 at the time.

Higher, and higher.

Dad was born a year earlier than Mom, but with a four-month age difference between them, they’re practically the same age, which means that Dad’s always been young, too. Of course, he was my father, so he was the big man, but he was young enough to goof around with my buddies, and me.

The summer I graduated from high school, just a week before I moved out of the house and into a college dorm, Dad and I walked to the schoolyard between our house and the house that he lives in now, and played basketball, shot some hoops. I remember thinking how cool it was that I could do that with my father. After all, I was 18, and he was an old man.

He was forty.

Two weeks ago, he caught me by surprise when we talked on the phone about our upcoming trip, and he mentioned that he was renovating his bathroom. Now, that didn’t surprise me. He’s always been working on something, if not a boat, then a car. If not a car, then something in the house. What surprised me was what he said next.

“It’s not going well,” he said.

“I guess I just have to admit that I don’t have the energy. You know I’ll be 67 next week,” he added.

Dad’s always been, well, youthful. He’s the handyman, he’s the sports guy, the one with all the gags. He’s the guy who can’t not try to bounce a soccer ball on his head whenever one is available, and the man who pulls out all the stops for a laugh.

He’s never talked about his age before and I’ve never talked about his age before, either. We just go on about our lives like we’ve always done, going to hockey, talking about this and that, watching James Bond movies, and playing with gadgets.

Last week, when Son, Daughter and I made our trip to Dad’s, I went to that same schoolyard with Daughter. The school’s there, the yard looks almost the same – at least the hoops do – but they have added a couple of new playground items there. One of them is a rope pyramid that “offers a terrific physical challenge for children”.

Daughter accepted the challenge. When she got almost to the top, she yelled down to me that I should try it, too.

I told her I didn’t want to do it, and I said so only partly because it was so cold outside – the first snow had fallen that night. Another part of me said no because I didn’t want to find myself standing way up there when the bell rang and the kids ran out again so they could ridicule me like that one time in high school when I took a shortcut through the schoolyard early one fall morning, hit a frozen puddle with the front wheel of my bike and fell on the ground.

But then I figured that I should accept the challenge and show Daughter how it’s done. So I climbed up, not quite as high as Daughter (to boost her self-confidence), and then down, just in time to be casually standing by the gate when the bell rang, and the kids came running out.

Daughter ran to me, and we high-fived each other.

“That was cool, Dad,” she said.

Of course, all I heard was “cool Dad”.

After two hockey games, a movie night with Dad and Laurel and Hardy (because I couldn’t get tickets to the new Bond movie and couldn’t find the previous one on DVD), and an update of Dad’s iPhone and the maps on his navigator, it was time for us to go home.

Just before we hit the road again to catch our ferry to Sweden, I ran back inside to go to the bathroom. When I got out, Dad was waiting for me at the front door.

“Did you see I had painted everything in there? Notice the new tiles? I finished it before you came. Looks good, right?” he said.

“Yes. Everything here looks cool, Dad,” I said.

How does that make you feel?