Tomorrow is my father’s 70th birthday. It seems like just yesterday he was turning 60. Granted, I don’t remember a whole lot about his 60th, as I was residing in Connecticut at the time and probably didn’t think it was enough reason to visit. Even his 65th probably didn’t get me home, despite being in a miserable phase of my rapidly crumbling marriage. I think part of the reason is that my father has, for as long as I remember, placed his family first in almost everything he’s ever done. Nothing he has ever done has been about him. I wrote about this last Father’s Day, so feel free to go and check that out.
Anyway, with a cancer diagnosis earlier this year, though mild it may seem, the realization returns that my parents are aging. That may sound ridiculous — of course they’re aging — but when compared to the timeline of my life, it’s pretty staggering. It started with picking out burial plots when I returned to Utah in January, and continues with completions of wills earlier this week. It’s weird, and I don’t like it.
I was thinking the other day what my father was up to when he was my age. On his birthday in 1973(!!), I believe he was still in the Army. Since I have been slacking on the whole “book about my parents” thing, I’m a little fuzzy on the timeline. Not for a lack of effort, but my parents were a one child household back then, with only my older brother Mike ruling the roost and dominating my parents’ attention. My sister Kathy wouldn’t be arriving until almost 5 years later, so it must have been an interesting time for him.
At that point, did he think that he would only have one child? As the youngest of three boys, he was being lapped numerous times in the kid department by his brothers. My Uncle Gary, the middle brother, would eventually have seven or eight children by the time that Kathy was born, and my Uncle Chuck would check in with about five during the same period. I’m sure my brother would have been fine being an only child; I feel like he often resented us growing up for taking away the magical 11 years he had with our parents before the five of us showed up over 10 years. But would that have been what my father wanted?
I think the answer is no. For a person that found his religion late in life, a religion that preaches “be fruitful and multiply” and once grew its ranks primarily through polygamy, he must have been torn up inside. And since he and my mother didn’t believe in birth control, there was plenty of attempting going on, even after my younger brother was born… when my father was 45! But I digress. I’m sure he would have been content to be the father of one; how content is another matter.
While we were shopping for the massive feast we will be throwing in his honor, my sister pointed out that my dad is the way that he is because of his parents. I had never really considered it that way before. After all, our family visits as a kid were more often with my mother’s side of the family because they were always closer. We only visited my dad’s side of the family when we went with him on his souvenir delivery trips or when something was happening in the family. It was an eight hour drive to see them, and with five kids and cars that weren’t always the most reliable, I can see why we didn’t visit more frequently. But visits to the Eberhards was always different than the visits to the Bowens. While I felt that Grandma and Grandpa Bowen doted on us grandkids, there just wasn’t the same level of affection for us from the Eberhards. I don’t blame them, and as a kid, I don’t think I really noticed. By the time I was old enough to care, they had died a few years before.
In a way, it is sad that I didn’t really get to know my grandparents. It is one of the reasons that I will eventually get around to writing that book about my parents. I have memories about my grandparents to be sure, but just as with everything else in life, the further you get removed from events, the more likely it is to leave your memory. I think my dad might have some stuff written by his dad somewhere, so hopefully that will help. Nevertheless, regardless if my parents only end up with three natural grandchildren, the story needs to be told so they won’t be forgotten years from now.
When it all comes down to it, age is just a number. Dad is still in relatively good health, aside from the cancer, and his parents both lived into their 80s. Hopefully, in ten years, when we are gathering to celebrate his 80th birthday, I’ll be able to relate more to my father as a 41-year old father. Before than, however, we will celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary and my mother’s 70th birthday, both in two years. And in the meantime they will continue to age and I’ll continue to feel older myself.
Until next time…