Tinkering Fathers…Growing Old Gracefully

11 Jan

Last evening my husband and I were working late and had to make a quick trip over to a neighboring town to the body shop.  My parents live near Grey Eagle so I called them and asked them to join us for a quick supper at the local bar.  It was Taco Night. 

While we were eating my dad asked if we had time to stop at his office on Main Street just two doors down from the bar he wanted to show us what he had worked on there.  My husband said he wouldn’t be able to but I could since we drove separate vehicles.  I could tell Dad was excited about his latest project so immediately after we finished eating, we paid for our dinners and walked over to the office, Dean headed back to work to meet a customer at our shop.

When we arrived I followed Dad back to one of the offices near the back of the building.  He has a desk with a laptop computer in the room.  As I looked around the room I noticed a piano keyboard, a tripod for a camera on the counter and a piece of paper with the words Happy Birthday Elise printed on it.  I thought who is Elise?  Then Dad explained that Elise is one of the girls in his confirmation class that he teaches at church. 

Dad started tinkering with his laptop to show me what he has worked on.  He pulled up a file on his laptop and opened it.  It was a Claymation animation file.  Dad has taught himself how to do animation on his computer at age 74, almost 75.  His reason for learning is to make his confirmation class more interesting for the students.  The Happy Birthday Elise paper is his present project and first attempt at animation. 

He has learned how to write the words a quarter-inch at a time, take a photo of each step and convert it into animation so it looks like Happy Birthday Elise is being written all by itself on his computer screen.  He told me that the finished project at this point in time is 172 frames for the animation to write Happy Birthday Elise.  Elise has a birthday coming up and the week of her birthday he would like to start class with the animation on the screen wishing her a Happy Birthday.

There have been times in my life when I looked back at my Dad and thought that he was never around when I was growing up and that he was always working, too busy.  I suppose feeling sorry for myself for one reason or another.  It wasn’t about him it was more about me.  I don’t know what I thought he should have done and hadn’t, but it wasn’t a fair evaluation of the situation.  Dad’s project last night brought back many memories of growing up and special things that Dad did that I had forgotten about.

My brother was in Boy Scouts growing up and each year they had the annual Pine Wood Derby.  No one else had a chance of winning if my Dad and brother were in the race.  Dad and my brother worked for months on the pine car.  They were constantly working on the weight distribution and the contours of the car for the least amount of friction through the air as it traveled down the track.  It was a big event at our home for each of my three brothers.

Science fairs were also a big deal at our home.  Mom and Dad would both get into the project with which ever one of us six kids had a science project to work on that year.  One project that they helped my brother build was an apparatus that would test the effects of alcohol on a task.  The task was to move a handle with an eye hook on the end around a wire that looked like a roller coaster path.  If you touched the eye hook to the wire as you went through the course it would light up a bulb.  They had measurements along the course to keep track of how far you made it through the course.  It was a hard course but not impossible. 

Next they started consuming glasses of wine, one each hour, Mom and Dad, not my brother.  It was his job to record the results of their paths through the course.  They did several runs of the course without alcohol and then tested once each hour after their consumption began.  They did this for several hours one evening while we were watching a movie on TV.   My brother received a blue ribbon for the project but it was truly a family affair. 

One of the observations that I have made in the past few years as I was approaching the age 50 and beyond is that there are two ways to grow old.  One is to sit and think of all that might have been and feel sorry for yourself about all the things that you perceive to have been failures in your life.  It is easy to sit home and not be involved in the lives of others.  Waiting at home for them to come to you. 

 The second way to grow old is to do it gracefully.  Don’t resign from life as you retire but embrace it.  Don’t be afraid to learn new things and interact with other people.  My Dad at age 74 isn’t afraid of junior high and high school students.  He wants to take part in life. If that means learning something new to interact with young people he delves head on into it. 

I’m a long way off from retiring and maybe financially I may never be able to but I know from my Dad’s example that I will never retire from life, maybe my current job, but not my life.


Posted by on January 11, 2011 in Family, Inspiration, Life Happens


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26 responses to “Tinkering Fathers…Growing Old Gracefully

  1. Linda Anderson

    January 11, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Great message, Jeanne. I appreciate your thoughts on retiring – especially since I am only 2 years from that date (hopefully). But I will not, as you say, retire from life. There are too many things to do, too many people to see, too many clouds to fly around! But one thing about retirement, I’ll be able to simply stay home when the roads are bad, like they are today! I’m thankful to have the opportunity to work from home!

  2. flyinggma

    January 11, 2011 at 9:42 am

    Glad you can view your work day from a different and safer perspective today. My mind spins at the thought have having more time available to try new things. What to try first?

  3. Joe Clark

    January 11, 2011 at 9:42 am

    Have to agree with Linda, Jeanne. You hit this one right on the mark! I have often said I will never retire; I watched my original flight instructor die within six months after he quite flying and teaching (at age 77). My father-in-law is 85 and still puts in a 40-hour week on a four day schedule. I have often thought he should retire, but then I think of Charlie (my CFI). Tell Christy “Happy Birthday!” for us. — Joe & Ardis

    • flyinggma

      January 11, 2011 at 9:48 am

      Thanks Joe. I love to think about the time to try new things. Last evening I was looking into scuba classes and what is involved time and cost for the classes. I thought it would be fun to try scuba diving in the lake here. I’ll tell Christy Happy Birthday. I just don’t know how early I should call a college student especially on her birthday.

  4. writerwoman61

    January 11, 2011 at 9:43 am

    I’m never going to retire!

    It’s great that your dad is teaching himself on computers at his age…my dad is going to be 74, and is convinced that if he does certain things on his computer, it might blow up!

    Love the anecdote about the science experiment…I will offer to help if any project my kids do require drinking red wine (or eating large quantities of potato chips!).


    • flyinggma

      January 11, 2011 at 9:53 am

      I will never retire and try to follow in Dad’s footsteps, always learning something new. I’ve been in on a few science experiments myself with four kids. If only they had done an experiment that involved large quantities of chocolate.

      My Dad has managed to do a few things to his computer over time that required some repairs but he has a very reliable repairman that he trusts not to make fun of him when he does something in a way he probably should not have. It’s great to have a friend like that when you need one.

  5. sunshineinlondon

    January 11, 2011 at 9:49 am

    This is such a lovely post, Jeanne. You write with such respect and fondness for your family, your Dad especially, and I think it’s wonderful that he keeps himself interested and learning all the time – that’s so admirable. I want to be like that at that age, too.
    Sunshine xx

  6. flyinggma

    January 11, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Thanks Sunshine. When I read your posts regarding your family I am drawn in by your love and affection for your family. I hope that I can follow in my parents footsteps in retirement and embrace life and relationships as they have daily.

  7. pearlsandprose

    January 11, 2011 at 11:13 am

    Your dad sounds a lot like mine! He was always learning something new and his curiosity was boundless. I wish he could have been around for the Internet, because he would have loved being able to research so much, so easily.

    • flyinggma

      January 11, 2011 at 2:08 pm

      Dad is always doing something new. When they needed a water softner, he made his own. You cannot squelch the curious electrical engineer in him. He and Mom are never home, always busy doing something, somewhere.

  8. planejaner

    January 11, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Oh, tears. What a joy-filled, hopeful post. I love all the memories you’ve shared, and the call to be present and make a choice–not only about what has passed, but how we will stand to face the future.

    • flyinggma

      January 11, 2011 at 2:14 pm

      Thanks Jane. You always have such a nice way of putting things. I really think that choosing how you are going to live makes a difference. It’s easy to let life happen to you but much harder to take charge especially if it is into unknown territory or out of your comfort zone.

  9. Thomas Stazyk

    January 11, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Good for your father! And this is a great philosophy of life–the only way to approach growing old.

    • Jeanne

      January 11, 2011 at 4:20 pm

      I’m so proud of him but you probably know that by what I wrote of him. He is not put off by learning new things, challenged yes, but not discouraged. I plan on trying to live my life by his example and Mom’s too.

  10. nrhatch

    January 11, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    Your dad rocks! And so do you for sharing him with us!

    Now . . . how can I become a “guinea pig” for a science project which requires “consuming glasses of wine, one each hour . . . for several hours”?

    Your brother deserved that blue ribbon! It’s a family affair. 🙂

    • Jeanne

      January 11, 2011 at 4:23 pm

      I’ve been a “guinea pig” helping my kids with different science projects but nothing like the wine drinking science experiment my parents were a part of. They actually came up with the idea for the wire maze to see who was better at the game, Mom or Dad then added the alcohol component as another dimension to the project.

  11. Todd Pack

    January 11, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    I think it’s so cool that your dad taught himself animation. Heck, I think it’s great that he’s almost 75 and still has an office! I hate it when people reach a certain age and then just settle in and let the world pass them by. He sounds like a neat guy.

  12. flyinggma

    January 11, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    Thanks Todd! He actually bought the office in the small town where they retired after he retired. They live on a lake and he was the Lake Association President and wanted a place for his lake work. He still does a lot for the lake preservation but he’s not president now.

    Mom and Dad make banners for their church at Dad’s office and he ran his political campaign for Congress this past year out of there. He didn’t win but his comment in this year’s Christmas letter to everyone was “At least I don’t have to lay awake in bed at night and wonder What If?…”

  13. Carol Ann Hoel

    January 11, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    Your dad sounds like a real trooper. He’s a great example not only to you, but also the confirmation class he teaches. When they think of elderly people, they won’t think of someone chained to a rocking chair or snoozing on the couch. Blessings to you, Jeanne…

  14. flyinggma

    January 11, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    Dad is a real trooper. He has made a point of trying to make things interesting for his confirmation class. He always tries to include some kind of technology in his lessons realizing that it is such a part of their lives.

    He has been taking piano lessons each week for the past couple of years and made his own hammer dolcimer which he taught himself to play.

  15. Linda

    January 12, 2011 at 12:22 am

    Love love love what your dad did! That is living. Still doing and still learning with modern technology.

    • flyinggma

      January 12, 2011 at 7:15 am

      I’m so proud of him and Mom too. She is his greatest cheerleader, companion and friend.

  16. shadybrooks

    January 12, 2011 at 1:07 am

    What a great lesson for all of us – not to “withdraw” from life, but rather to stay engaged in it. Thank you – I needed that! What a great example your Dad sets for us all!

    • flyinggma

      January 12, 2011 at 7:16 am

      Thanks Shady…that is a great compliment coming from you after all you have been through this past year! Blessings, Jeanne

  17. flyinggma

    February 4, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    Thanks, Jeanne – pretty heady stuff to read coming from your daughter, especially a flying grandma! Anyway, I wondered why you didn’t include your biology project with the rest – remember the bug-mobile? The other really neat thing about getting up in years, is hearing compliments from your kids. Too often, we parents tend to remember only our shortcomings as parents. Love, Dad

    • flyinggma

      February 5, 2011 at 10:48 am

      Thanks, Dad! It looks like I forgot to log out of my WordPress account on your computer the last time I was over. Life has always been an adventure with you and Mom.


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