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Editor's column: Old age isn’t always a walk in the park

My family, like so many others, has learned that Father Time isn’t always Mr. Nice Guy.

August 24, 2013
By Per Peterson , Marshall Independent

I spent the days following my bedroom flooring project last weekend fighting off the pain brought upon by spending a good portion of an entire day either on my knees or getting up and down. I woke up the next day feeling humbled. And old. Putting my socks on was a chore.

I'm not old - I don't know, is 41.9 old? - but I'm holding a grudge against old age.

I know, I know, there are plenty of senior citizens out there who don't mind being old and are enjoying life to its fullest. They're the lucky ones whose body hasn't quit on them yet. They still walk, do chores around the house, drive. Some even jog. God bless 'em.

But my personal experience with old age isn't as rosy.

My dad isn't one of those active seniors anymore, and that bothers me. He became a prisoner in his own body a few years ago when he went from walking with a cane to not walking at all. Why? Because he was hard worker, that's why.

He owned a construction company in Tracy for many, many years, and like today's generation of carpenters - and like me last weekend - found himself spending just as much time on his knees than on his feet. Unlike today's carpenters, however, he didn't wear knee pads. Even if given the choice, I know he wouldn't have. The only thing that separated his knees and the concrete or the wood floor was whatever work pants he had on. That's old school. But 20 years later, my dad could do a PSA on the importance of wearing pads.

Decades of construction work left his knees a bone-on-bone mess. His way of life slowly changed as he got older, and he had to make sacrifices. He was forced to give up golf, forced to leave the duck blind and forced to turn in the keys to his truck. Now he can barely bend his legs and surely can't put any weight on them. That's where the chair comes in. He eventually graduated to a scooter to get around, which at least allows him to hold on to some sort of independence.

I'm not scared of death, I'm just scared to death of getting old. I'm scared of losing the use of my legs. I'm scared of losing my independence. I'm scared of losing my mind. But I'm also angry - angry because my dad doesn't deserve this. Life sometimes isn't fair.

I wore a pair of knee pads when I installed my floor last weekend, and every time I went down to my knees and felt a little stab I thought of my dad and his chair, and the cortisone shots he takes between the joints of both his knees every three months. And how he gets depressed because he can't do the things he used to.

I miss the old dad. I'm sure he does, too.

I credit my dad for having kept his chin up after his knees let him down. After an active life on his feet, he continues to make the most of each day while dreaming of being able to stand up again. I wouldn't blame him at all for being bitter and grumpy every day. I wouldn't blame him for asking God why he put him in a wheelchair with so many years ahead of him, or for wondering why some people age like a fine wine and others like cheap scotch.

I tried not to complain too much around my daughter this past week about how my knees ached from my Bob Vila impersonation, because my dad's generation of laborers - from what I saw growing up and working with my dad on site - never complained. I mean, never. They climbed ladders they called "widow makers." They could slice off a fingertip on a table saw and still complete the cut - without getting a drip of blood on the wood. And splinters were more of an annoyance than a reason to temporarily stop working and start complaining.

Without even realizing it, my dad taught me that hard work builds character and without character, we're really nothing. I sometimes regret not taking over my dad's business; today, I have a cushy job. I sit at a desk, do interviews, delegate, write stories. Thanks to my dad, like him, I am a hard worker. And like my dad, I sit in a chair with wheels. But, see, I'm not stuck in it.

I don't know if there's a moral to this story, but you can take from it what you wish. My advice? If you feel old when you're 40, it's time to start taking care of your body. Because as much as we would like to think we're all going to age gracefully, it doesn't always happen that way.



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