Born in 1953, I have always been a member of the Baby Boomer Club. Just recently, I have joined another very populous club, the Baby Boomer with Aging Parent Club. You don’t apply for membership to this club; you are chosen by fate. For that reason, new members like me are initially confused and somewhat noisy, clamoring about our trials and concerns like startled geese. We tend to talk too much about the club and the details of our initiations whenever anyone will listen. I have a friend who was inducted into a different club, the Baby Boomer with Young Child & Aging Parent Club. She’s always too tired to talk, though.
I have two good friends whose fathers are the same age as mine, and we were surprised and delighted to find that we had all been inducted into the club at the same time. Our fathers live in different parts of the country and don’t know each other, but they all facilitated our memberships. The password for this club is the phrase, “And how is your dad doing?” When someone asks you that, and you hear yourself asking them that back, you know you are in. Just a couple of years ago, our three answers to that question would have been very different. Now they are pretty much the same. At first I chalked this up to just our all being in the club and adopting some catchy members’ lingo, but the larger truth has finally dawned on me: our fathers have joined a club of their own.
Last summer was a big one for our fathers. They all broke one of their parts. C’s father fell and broke his hip. J’s father fell and broke something in his heart. My father fell and broke his mind. C and J’s father’s falls were actual, and were quite possibly caused by their parts breaking first, not the other way around. My father’s fall was figurative, but ironically was much further, there being no hard surface to stop his descent. C’s father’s hip was repaired and he went through rehab and is back home again. J’s father’s heart was repaired and he went through rehab and he is back home again. My father’s mind was not exactly repaired, but it was given a new coat of pharmaceutical paint and from the outside it is looking much better, although some cracks are still visible if you know where to look. Although he never physically left, he is home again, too.
It seems our fathers’ broken parts experiences, however diverse, was some sort of initiation into their secret club, because they all seem to be sporting the same badge, a virtual bandage, these days. Since last summer, our very different fathers have begun to resemble each other more and more. Like old couples, or people and their dogs. Comparing notes with my friends has revealed that our far apart fathers mirror each other without trying, or even being aware of it. We children watch this and simultaneously marvel and cringe.
Members of our fathers’ new club all adopt the same reserved body language. They are no longer very expressive. Our fathers seem to like the secrecy aspect of this club and don’t talk about it. In fact, they don’t talk much at all. Maybe they take a vow of near silence when they join up. They must communicate instead via telepathy, with each other perhaps, and surely with the club president, the Grand Poobah, whoever that is. This guy must be quite charismatic, because they spend more time listening to his covert communications than to any of us. They are so taken with this new club and it’s activities that they have all given up their previous interests, like reading, watching television, and any kind of puttering. To us, they look profoundly inactive, but if you watch their eyes, you see that they are actually quite engrossed in secret club business.
One thing I’ve figured out that my father is doing since joining the club is going through the storage boxes of his life, tossing out old files of memories. My father was always a pathological pack rat – he never threw anything away – so this activity, cleaning out and downsizing one’s archives, must be a club mandate. Every now and then he will come across something of interest and will mention it in passing, but then it gets tossed out, too, never to be heard of again. I suppose this is a good thing, that he is finally able to get rid of a lot of old stuff he’s never going to use again, but it distresses me. Although these memories are his to do with as he pleases, I worry, in my own pack rat way, that he, or I, might need some of them some day. He seems indifferent, however, obviously more interested in club opinions than mine.
I also think this club has a major Buddhist slant, because contemplative meditation seems very popular, if one were to judge by our three fathers. None of our fathers would have been so taken with this formerly pooh-poohed practice unless it was prominent in the club schedule. Prior to their joining this club, they never had time for this sort of new age silliness, much less interest. They would have snorted at the idea of just sitting quietly for hours, and only ever puttering in the basements and garages of their consciousness. Now they find time for little else. It also seems they are expected to practice restraint in their bodily pursuits, especially eating and drinking. The club clearly promotes an ascetic discipline.
We kids have a really hard time with this. Our father’s absorption in what we can’t understand is frustrating. We are all still hooked into an exterior life model, all running around and cramming our waking hours with what we hope is important stuff. We still credit conversation, reading, and even television with making valuable contributions to our awareness, and we don’t understand why these things no longer fascinate our fathers. Perhaps we are embarrassed that that’s the best we can do, while they have discovered the real deal. The world of external information obviously has nothing to offer them anymore. They seem to get all they need from the club newsletter which is streamed directly to them in telepathic code. We remain outside and clueless.
That we, as chatty club members ourselves, want our fathers to now share information about this secret club of theirs is hysterical. When did they ever do the “sharing” thing? Looking back, we now see that they obviously started the club’s strenuous and covert initiation process a long time ago. The major falls they all took last summer were precipitated by similar minor ones occurring over the course of preceding years. Some of those stumbles we knew about, but brushed off to the various vertigos of old age. Many more they never told us about, hiding the evidence and always pretending they were up to nothing in particular. This is required in the by-laws of the club, of course, it being a clandestine order and all.
This would seem like a severely austere club but for two things. One, members are encouraged to eat lots and lots of ice cream. Two, they are instructed to crack wry one-liners when you absolutely least expect them. We think they are trying to amuse us and we are charmed, but really this is their subtle way of making fun of us and our constant bugging them with feeble intervention attempts. Our three fathers are all very intelligent men, so we should trust their judgment about this club and leave them alone. At least we can take comfort that they all joined a club with a sweet tooth and a sense of humor.
So how are our fathers doing? Despite how we, the progeny, want them to be doing, we have to allow them to be how they think they are; just fine. They look quite content as they listen past us to catch some communiqué from the Grand Poobah, or look past us to peruse the most recent newsletter. Often, their hands are moving slightly and mysteriously, as if they are all but fingering invisible decoder rings. They are obviously only putting up with us and our fussing around anymore, but the club is big on good manners and so our fathers are gracious in their tolerance. We struggle painfully with all this; they don’t. Perhaps we are just resentful, feeling left out and dismissed, because despite having our own club, none of us has been invited to join theirs. Yet.