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Even at 98, dads help us keep perspective

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By Doug Gardner
Columnist

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Dad is dating again.

In this case, Dad is my 98-year-old widowed father. The object of his attention is a 91-year-old widow residing down the hall at their independent living facility. (The cruise ship that never sails, as my brother-in-law calls it.)

This created some awkward moments during a visit last month. As Diana and I drove away on a Saturday night, leaving them alone at our house, I caught him peeking out the front door to make sure we were gone.

“I hope they behave,” we both said at the same moment.

Dad and I have reached a detente on this and other social issues over the last 50 years.

When I went off to college, he was convinced that the end of Western Civilization was at hand. This was never clearer than on one of those rainy October afternoons when almost any place in New Jersey looked forlorn. Rutgers was to play football against West Point that day. As the corps of cadets marched into the stadium with closely-cropped hair, crisp uniforms and synchronized steps, your correspondent and his classmates stood by looking like a bunch of hirsute, post-war, East European refugees.

Our relationship was especially tense since I had spent several weekends that fall scoping out federal penitentiaries which housed Vietnam War resisters. This seemed prudent since I intended to be one of them if my draft number were called. I naively assured dad that future employers would be delighted to hire a college graduate who had sufficient courage of his convictions to spend time in jail for his beliefs.

“Nobody wants to hire an ex-con,” he said, summing up a workplace verity that I was yet to learn.

Later, at my dormitory, a drunken classmate puked on dad's wing-tipped shoes.

Upstairs he couldn't help but notice the brassiere and mini-skirt hanging in my roommate's closet, left there by his girlfriend over the course of a semester. Knowing that he would be mortified by the truth, I lied and told dad that my roommate was a cross-dresser.

None of us could know then that the vomiting freshman would grow up to be a respected federal judge in the Garden State, that my roommate would chair the Kentucky Association of Psychologists and that the band of refugees would become a bunch of workaholics laboring into their late 60s who would turn his grandchildren into “helicopter” parents.

Dad has become more optimistic with age. Technology, instead of a daily torment in the workplace, is a series of marvels that allow him to take his lady friend into Raleigh, a la Uber, summoned on his iPhone. He listens to Big Band music on his Roku. ("I feel like I'm stealing," he says). Old friends become new on his Facebook page.

He brushes off my concerns about public education. “Somebody must be learning math and physics for all this stuff to work,” says he.

I don’t have the heart to remind him that his Mitsubishi smart TV is made by the grandchildren of the Japanese kamikaze pilots who tried to kill him in World War II or that his German sedan is assembled by descendants of the people who shot his college roommate in the European Theater.

When Dad came back from that war, he went to work as an engineer, selling seawater distillation machinery to Admiral Hyman Rickover’s nuclear navy. There were a couple of patents along the way. These were turned over to his employer, the same employer who sends him a small pension check each month and pays for his Medicare supplement 35 years after he last sat at one of their drafting tables.

Dad finds it hard to comprehend how the workplace has changed since the days when a deal was a deal and a man stood by his word.

I’m glad to have him around on this Father’s Day to keep things in perspective.

Doug Gardner is a resident of Pasquotank County.

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