Father’s Day is Sunday, June 21, and as always I say, it must not be one day of remembering in a year of, well, sort of forgetting. Indeed political wannabees should be stressing the father need in general, and fathers’ needs. A most profound regret of my life is not “being there” enough for my widowed, much older dad, whom I loved very much. Ah, but not in ways that made a difference to our everyday lives. And nobody intervened to say what Daddy would, unfortunately never say, that he really needed more involvement with his only child and his grandchildren who lived a thousand miles away.
Ah, intervention is so tragically underused, even in substance abuse cases where this so-needed involvement originated and was so thankfully mainstreamed by former First Lady Betty Ford.
I had so hoped former First Lady Hillary Clinton, now presidential candidate, would say in her campaign kick-off address in our own Roosevelt Island, how she made sure both her father and mother remained an integral part of her married family life. And I hoped the importance of grandparents and other kindred to the health of the nuclear family would have been stressed – for the health of all generations not only the youngest – not to mention society.
Siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins are also important, and don’t forget in-laws. My widowed dad and his seven-year-old motherless child were warmly welcomed into the large extended family of his brother’s wife. It made all the difference to our lives - and to my life to this day.
Although strengthening the extended family is no doubt a concern, Clinton’s focus is on how her mother overcame an extremely disadvantaged, neglected and untypical childhood, one which reportedly inspired her only child to become a political activist. And especially it seems for the welfare of children. But this somehow overlooks the big picture and getting back to longtime dads, ignoring the myriad problems of elder people and especially the fastest growing 85-plus age group, thankfully, now explored in the N.Y.Times Metropolitan Section piece, “‘The Oldest Old’: A Group Portrait.’”
Even though the photo of an elder man kissing the hand of an elder woman in a nursing home setting is rather atypical of elder needs and experiences, this first of a series’ rightly realizes that “this group is almost invisible.” And related to one invisibility cause were 90-year-old Ping Wang’s rueful remarks that people don’t want to hear about your aches and pains so you don’t tell them, and you must heal yourself, because nobody else will.
“Not fit to print” was my letter that these stories must be told so that elders and the myriad problems that often inexorably come with age will be better understood (so important) and of course, acted upon, and above all, so that the old/old group are as visible as other age groups.
And to those who say they don’t want to hear these sad stories, but rather stories of those who are “making it,” I say both are needed, but especially those who are not “making it,” and that all elder lives are diminished by western society’s aversion to getting older and old and by its generational aparthied system.
I hope you too will phone the Metropolitan Section (212-556-1234) to thank them for the ground-breaking piece and share your concerns, including mine that ageism and age apartheid, especially, but not only in family networks, must be challenged and overcome.
While there are many more 85-plus aged women, men are even more reluctant to share their problems, especially personal ones like needing more time with their offspring or, being too much alone. Ah, men in general are reluctant to share personal problems. And this too must change – big time.
Remembering your father and mine with very much love.