March 5, 2013

ROSEN: Coming of Age

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My father was born in 1935, making him a few months shy of 78 — the average life expectancy in the United States. While he is almost entirely unchanged mentally, it is hard not to see the signs of his age. He works significantly less than he used to, leaves the house less frequently, sleeps more and is now essentially unable to drive despite, as a former mechanic of 20 years, being one of the best drivers I know. I have essentially resigned myself to the fact that he may not meet my wife and that my children, unlike my older brother’s kids, will not have a grandfather. My brothers and I have come to terms with the fact that at some point, most likely within the next 10 years, one of us will have to call the others to inform them about our father’s death. In fact, every time I get a text or a phone call from my mother, there is always a voice in the back of my head thinking that this might be it. My brother recently had to tell my mom that the phrase “EMERGENCY! Please call!!!” should not be used in a text for things like email problems when we have a 78-year-old father with diabetes and low blood sugar.

I rarely speak with my father about his getting older, apart from once or twice, asking if he has enjoyed his life or had any regrets. In retrospect, these questions seem utterly pointless and serve only to placate my own fears of death rather than actually connect me to my father. I am honestly not sure how my father is handling his old age. He was never been the type of person who would open up about anything, let alone something as personal as his death.

I don’t have a particularly close relationship with my father — I remember distinctly every movie I’ve seen in theaters with him because of how important and rare an occasion it was. When I was younger, I held it against him, envious of my friend’s fathers who took them out to dinner, played sports with them and went on trips together. I was at times openly resentful. When I was in high school, I said things to him I now regret saying, despite the fact that I still feel the same way. What has changed, perhaps, is that I now accept that my father was from a different generation, several behind my friend’s fathers; and I have greater understanding of how he viewed his role as a father.

As an immigrant who left Iran on his own at age 13, my father had views on parenthood and fatherly responsibility that werec ompletely different than what I thought they ought to have been or what I wanted them to be. He provided for me, working hard for years at a job I was never sure he enjoyed and could not get away from after early financial mishaps. In his mind, I understand only now, that was his responsibility and it is hard for me to fault him for sacrificing the enjoyment and fulfillment in his life for the sake of me and my brothers.

However, this complicates my relationship to his old age and impending death. My fear comes less from “missing” him as somebody I relate to and more from a sense of wanting him to see that his hard work in life has paid off. I want my father to be proud and feel like his life, which did not turn out how he wanted, at least engendered opportunities for me that I took the most from. I want him to see me succeed in whatever field I choose to pursue — something which adds a particular gravity and urgency to my graduation and the next few years of my life. But perhaps this is all in my head. Perhaps the fact that he works so hard for me to have all of the opportunities he did not, never complaining about his lot in life, means that he is proud of me already. He doesn’t have to see me turn out okay; he simply knows it will happen.

Dan Rosen is a senior in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning. He may be reached at drosen@cornellsun.com. Smell the Rosen ap­pears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

Original Author: Dan Rosen