In response to The Economist’s invitation to respond to their cover editorial on Medium.
My dad died just over two years ago, at the age of 69-going-on-50. His heart stopped beating as he was doing his morning exercise routine at home.
My dad, who thrived on routine and health. So much so, that the most common grief-ridden sentiment I heard from friends and family was, “but he was so healthy, he took such good care of himself.”
My dad, who maintained activity levels a 50-year-old would envy (even some 35-year-olds I know). I cannot think back to my childhood without seeing him arriving home at 5:15 in his sport coat and tie, kissing my mom three times on the lips, and being ready to go for a run by 5:30 to be back in time for dinner. He had a crew of like-minded “old men,” who called themselves The Band of 10,000 Aches, and made an annual pilgrimage to Duluth, MN to run 100 miles between the group of them. I still have the cotton t-shirt with their logo, made to look like a Minnesota state license plate, and once had a St. Olaf graduate match my stride as we were running along the East River in New York City to bond over our shared roots. He would head out onto six-mile hikes in the Tucson mountains solo, and he and my mom would hike ten miles or more some days—not flat walks, but hilly, rocky hikes fueled by peanut butter sandwiches and apple slices.
My dad who, despite his weakness for ice cream and the weekly McDonald’s we’d eat as a family over a rented movie on Friday nights, ate pretty well for a kid who grew up as essentially as an only child (his sisters were 18 years his senior) in a small Minnesotan farming town heavy on meat and potatoes.
My dad, who every day would cut a huge slice from a Braeburn apple as a snack, keeping the rest in the fridge as it dwindled down. I don’t think I ever saw him eat an entire apple or just bite into one. Or a banana, for that matter—those were cut up onto Rice Krispies every morning but only a third at a time, the peel usually left behind on the counter.
My dad, who apart from slightly elevated cholesterol and a bad habit of putting salt on everything, maintained the picture of health. As he aged and weight and energy became harder to maintain, he silently gave up his periodic glass of wine and switched out his ice cream for yogurt. Even as he was undergoing and recovering from surgery on his spine in his mid-60s, he followed his physical therapy routine assiduously. His dad died of a heart attack when my dad was 16, and having that ghost must have motivated his diligence with his health.
My dad, who by having to wear a neck brace and have my mom help him with simple tasks, was driven fairly nuts by feeling disabled and not perfectly capable of taking care of himself. It was the first time I saw my dad as old and in need of care. I didn’t see him as weaker because of this, but I started to realize—here was a man who was trying so hard not to decline mentally or physically fighting against the inevitable.
My dad, who left a wife just as they were beginning a new chapter in their lives after his retirement, traveling and enjoying life and each other and reaping the benefits of so many years of hard work and sacrifice. Who left a wife he had silently taken care of for 42 years, something we all realized in the same way you realize the roof over your head and the floor under your feet: unwavering, strong, almost unnoticeable unless you think about it. My mom thought about it but I’m not sure I realized it until after he was gone. The love I felt, no doubt, but the way he took care of things in the background was easier to take for granted.
My dad, who perhaps left us too soon, but maybe would have left us sooner had he not been the careful man he was.
My dad, who perhaps left us too soon, but he would have preferred that than leaving us too late.
My dad, who perhaps left us too soon, but he was living the life he chose and doing what he loved.
May we all be so lucky.