The Back Road: The greatest gift of all

The Back Road: The greatest gift of all

Andrew Malekoff

As my wife Dale and I approached and entered into senior citizen territory, our grown sons have become more and more sensitive and giving.

The two of us retired from full-time work at the same time, one year ago. By today’s standards, our longevity in one workplace each, 38 and 45 years respectively, is an anomaly.

We were pleasantly surprised when our sons made reservations at one of our favorite Italian restaurants, to celebrate our dual retirements.

Throughout their childhood and teen years, special occasions seemed to belong exclusively to them. Although I didn’t think it was unusual, I did wonder if and when that might change.

It did. It snuck up on us.

As younger children, the boys helped us to blow out the candles on our birthday cakes. They paid little attention to our wedding anniversaries.

In their teenage years, they couldn’t be bothered with our celebratory milestones. Spending time with their friends was the priority, understandably.

Along with young adulthood came a more welcome attitude to going out to dinner with us. I don’t think it was so much to honor our special occasions as it was for the food, as their palates were becoming more refined. In fact, my older son became a cook by trade and both of them have become quite proficient in the kitchen.

The shift still to come happened imperceptibly.

As we aged they seemed to realize that we were actually people for whom they could bring some comfort and joy; not by simply being our children, but by taking the initiative to celebrate us.

More frequent phone calls, visits and birthday gifts were forthcoming. Delicious meals were prepared, including cleanup. Celebrating special occasions together was conflict-free and with no urgency to exit early.

It felt to me as if we had arrived.

In more recent years, a still more subtle shift occurred. Perhaps it was their awakening to our mortality and physical vulnerability in the face of more serious health issues.

For my 71st birthday in May, my younger son and his fiancé bought me a pair of slippers and comfortable “street shoes.”

Although I thought this was an “old man gift” I appreciated it very much, especially since I had been experiencing neuropathy in my feet for years – one of the consequences of chemotherapy. The new footwear makes me feel like I am walking on air.

He softened the aging implication by telling me that he bought a pair of the same slippers for himself.

My older son favors gifting me books, as he knows how much I love to read. Like the slippers, I wondered if there was any hidden meaning behind the book he gave me for my birthday this year – The Price of Immortality: The Race to Live Forever.

He told me that he chose the book after listening to a podcast in which the author Peter Ward was the invited guest. Knowing my taste, he said that he thought I’d like the book which includes an odd cast of characters that were “pioneers” in the field of cryonics.

Just so that we are on the same page, reader, Ward described cryonics as “the practice of freezing people after they die with the hope of bringing them back to life at a later date.”

The book is, indeed, inhabited by some very eccentric people. One is Bob Nelson, a TV repairman with “no medical training, no scientific knowledge, no degree or even high school diploma;” yet, he became president of the Cryonics Society of California.

But, I digress.

“It’s the thought that counts” is too trite an expression to describe my feelings about gifts like these and other expressions that demonstrate our boys’ regard for us. I know it was always there; however, years ago it was too easily obscured by the rigors of early parenthood and juggling work and family life.

What I am most grateful for, though, is not the slippers and books per se; it is knowing that they have become thoughtful and empathetic men – the greatest gift of all, which we need more of in today’s world.

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