In his 70th year, my father, Al Finkelstein, lost his wife, moved to Florida, remarried, gave up pastrami and began lifting weights seven days a week. In the next 15 years, he nurtured friendships for the first time in my memory. At 85, he was midway through his second go-round as president of his condominium.
But my sister and I worried that the details of last month’s minutes, this week’s elevator malfunction and today’s estimates for a new roof were becoming overwhelming for him. As sensitively as we could, we started encouraging him to resign.
Finally, my sister and I decided to sweeten the deal by promising to fly down to Florida to hear his resignation. We figured he was uneasy about how he would fill his time once he was no longer president, so we researched suggestions for volunteer jobs, gathered brochures of places he might want to visit and compiled lists of movies he’d definitely enjoy. Armed with hugs and smiles to cushion the transfer of power, we arrived to rescue our dad from the stressful overload of his board position.
There must have been 100 people at the condo’s monthly board meeting. Whether the result of luck or genes or financial security, the boundaries of old age were much broader and more diverse than we pictured. I was surprised to witness a lot less stress and anxiety on display that night than at the professional meetings my sister and I regularly attend. While it is still true that old age is not for sissies, could it be that if you were fortunate enough to get there, you could actually be happier than you were decades earlier?
Then it was time. My father stood. My sister and I held hands. This was going to be hard for him. “I’m so pleased with the makeup of our new board,” our dad said in a strong voice. Then he grinned. “And I look forward to accomplishing great things together in the coming years.”
He had to be kidding. He wasn’t resigning. And he didn’t look the least bit sorry.
“Don’t be mad,” my sister whispered. “I’m relieved.”
I sat in silence.
“If he messes up or finds it’s too much for him, he’ll resign then,” she continued. “What makes us think we know better than he does what’s best for him? We’ve never been old.”
She was right. My bossy advice concerning growing older was a projection of my own fears. If my dad was slower at remembering facts and acting on them, he was wiser at reflecting and arriving at confident decisions. Added to teaching me the importance of telling the truth, the hidden rewards in hard work and how to understand a basketball game, he taught me one more valuable lesson. A happy, healthy old age lies not in the stars or in our children’s advice, but in ourselves.