Last Sunday, the world’s oldest man died. He was Alexander Imich, a Polish-born psychic researcher, and he lived at a senior residence in Manhattan, according to The New York Times. Somewhere there’s a new world’s oldest man, as if that guy didn’t already have enough to worry about.
What was amazing to me was the age of the late world’s oldest man — just 111. He was a pup really in geriatric terms, a junior Methuselah. (Women live much longer, perhaps determined to get in the last word with the men they know.)
A further shock rumbling from this news item was the realization that my old dad would now be 112 if he were still alive. Now, you may ask, what is the relevance of this?
This Sunday is Father’s Day. Let us talk about the happy part of it.
My dad died in 1998 at age 96, pretty much alert until the last and with few regrets about not breaking a longevity record. He warned me that it wasn’t much fun to live into old age.
“These younger women have very little to talk about,” he said of the ladies in his nursing home. “They know nothing about football.” He was talking about women then in their 80s.
Dad might have lived longer if he had some restful occupation such as psychic researcher. Instead, he was a journalist, a profession in which you can have an afro in the morning and be bald by the afternoon because of the stress. And that’s just the women!
I would have followed Dad into grave digging, such was his influence upon me. It would have been nice resting on a shovel on a nice summer’s day instead of forever shoveling words into sentences, column after column. The worst is when the readers throw back the dirt.
But Dad was a journalist, and of course I always aspired to be one. Dad didn’t hold an executive position at the local newspaper, but on the strength of his reputation I got hired there, too, in due course.
While nepotism is not a good hiring practice, and is to be deplored loudly and often, I must admit it worked well for me, although success seemed doubtful at first. It took a good deal of perspiration before my simple aspiration turned into a viable career. In fact, I think I lost my hair before lunch on the first day.
That’s another thing. The former world’s oldest man had no children — he could grow old without worrying about a feckless son like my father had to do. (For the record, my older brother, Jim, was adequately supplied with fecks and did well from the beginning in various fields such as film and graphic arts.)
Being a dad is not for the faint-hearted. A real dad is not made by a fleeting act of procreation; he must embrace a lifelong contract of responsibility and concern for the well-being of his children. Dad fulfilled his responsibility over and over, until he was 96.
I was a feeble athlete, but he encouraged me. I was a poor student, but he urged me on. I wasn’t a patch on a journalist’s pants, but he told me to take my hands out of my pockets and look businesslike. He made the difference. My mother also played a big part in my revival, but that is another column for another day.
Between the two of them, their legacy to me was not paid in money — we didn’t have much of that. My gift was happiness, with a sense of humor thrown in to make it happier.
Dad in particular loved life. He liked to tell stories and reveled in the company of family and friends. He wasn’t the oldest man in the world, but he told the oldest jokes. The sense of humor he bequeathed me has proved helpful, especially when the readers throw back the dirt from my journalistic excavations.
One day people will say that say 111 is the new 96, but I hope if I reach that milestone, I will have the same loving feelings for my kids and their kids as my father always had for my brother and me and our kids.
What my father taught me is that the greatest occupation in life, if you are so blessed, is to be a dad, and the greatest title to seek is world’s kindest dad. Because it is not how long you live but how well you live it.
Reg Henry: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1668.