This week, a break from politics to talk about someone other than Donald Trump, and that’s my dad.
He has this habit that I noticed again a few days ago when I visited him in snowy Minnesota that is equal parts annoying and fascinating. Whenever he’s about to run an errand, he stops by the kitchen sink and takes a sip of water.
This happens not now and then. But every … single … time.
Dad turned 90 this week, which was the reason for my visit, so of course he can do whatever he wants. But this milestone makes me now, more than ever, aware of the fact that I’m watching him closely.
Part of it is his age, of course. A widower, he lives alone at the dawn of yet another dark winter in my 130-year-old family home. Like never before, I’m on point, as many of us are with aging parents.
Part of it, too, is a desire to take notes for a time of my life that’s rapidly approaching. I’m in my 50s, and while retirement is still years off, I’ve noticed that it’s coming up in conversations with friends. Whatcha gonna do with all that time? Have you saved enough? How much longer are you going to work?
That’s where Dad comes in. He’s done more than live a long life. He’s remained fully engaged and has done retirement in a way that could be a model for many of us.
He taught himself to play piano. His is a halting style not quite ready for the studio, but he goes at it with a quiet determination. He paints. He draws. He works in the yard. He exercises. For years, he worked with wood, building cabinets and coffee tables, partly out of love for the smell of freshly cut cherry and, yes, partly to save money.
Why buy it when you can build it yourself?
These days, he’s fine-tuning what he hopes will be his 20th published book, a World War II tale for teens. He struggles with the new ways of the book business, which calls for authors to submit works not to publishers, but to agents who then try to place the book. He works at this every single day.
He does something else. He reads, marching steadily through big, meaty books on Monet, Hitler, Ellington. All the employees at the nearby public library know him. He regards our own best-selling author Candice Millard as one of this generation’s best. He devoured her latest, “Hero of the Empire,” on a young Winston Churchill.
Despite a deepening stoop, he’s full throttle. He’s very lucky.
He goes at all this with the same regularity that has him taking those sips at the sink. To attempt to disrupt the daily order of events is just plain silliness. It won’t happen unless you can begin making suggestions a day or two ahead of time that, hey, maybe we should head downtown tomorrow night. Think about it, Dad.
With time, he might come around.
Restaurants fall into the category of needless spending. So he cooks. Other examples of money that need not be spent: new sweaters to replace the hole-ridden model that fits just fine, new furniture, new bedding, new towels, new silverware. Yes, he’s even hung on to the spoons that slipped into the disposal a time or two, jagged edges and all.
That’s a Depression-era kid for you.
As I flew back to Kansas City a few days ago, it was Dad who lingered in my thoughts, not Mr. Trump (who, by the way, is disrupting my father’s sense of order in the world). It’s Dad’s example that sticks with me: stay engaged, stay consistent and remain resolutely frugal.
I think I can go with two of the three.