When I’m 64 by the Beatles
I could be handy mending a fuse
When your lights are gone.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday morning go for a ride.
Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four.
That old Beatles tune has been running through my head for the last several days as I approached birthday number 64, which arrived without fanfare yesterday. We don’t go overboard on such things around here. My daughter, The Boss Mare, dropped a hastily wrapped gift in my lap Saturday night — a lovely altered book she bought from one of her artist pals who volunteers with her at the lefty bookshop she’s adopted. A nice surprise. Later that evening, she let me buy her a wastebasket at Target. That, too, could be seen as a gift from her. The older I get, it seems, the more I want to feel like I’m useful.
This, I suspect, is a pretty common refrain in Geezerville. And there’s been loads of research indicating that finding a sustainable purpose in your life as you age is key to boosting your health and longevity. For instance, a recent study out of Carleton University in Canada and published in the journal Psychological Science, found that a sense of purpose can help you live longer, no matter how old you may be.
“Our findings point to the fact that finding a direction for life, and setting overarching goals for what you want to achieve can help you actually live longer, regardless of when you find your purpose,” said lead researcher Patrick Hill. “So the earlier someone comes to a direction for life, the earlier these protective effects may be able to occur.”
I’m not really worried much about the purpose thing, since I don’t plan on retiring anytime soon, if ever. I figure I’ll have a reason to get out of bed every day into the foreseeable future. What’s been a little harder to figure out as I get older is how to deal with the gradual drifting toward irrelevance in the lives of our offspring.
Every parent wants their kids to grow more and more independent as they go through their adolescence and into adulthood, and I’m no exception. At some point, you really don’t want to be the one who gets the call at 2 a.m. on a winter morning to climb out of bed and drive to some wind-swept parking lot in the suburbs to change a tire. (Been there, done that.) But, at the same time, when those calls no longer arrive, you can start to feel like you’ve been forced out of a job that gave you some quiet satisfaction. It’s kind of a forced career change. I didn’t know how to prepare for it.
TBM has been on her own now since college, some four years. I helped her move a few weeks ago, which gave me some (painful) satisfaction, but she’s settled now into an apartment she can afford and probably won’t be asking us to bail her out on the rent anymore — a development I would greet with some joy. Our son, formerly known as The Man of Few Words, is now The Young Jarhead, grinding his way through Marine boot camp as I write this. He can take care of himself.
So where does that leave me as I stumbled into my 65th year? I brought this up to My Lovely Wife last night as we lounged at our favorite local bistro, and she pointed out what wasn’t particularly obvious to me: Twenty-seven years of fatherhood have imprinted fundamental values upon our children that are pretty hard to erase. I’ve done my job as a parent, in other words, and I ought not to obsess over how much — or how little — they need me now.
She’s right, of course. Every parent should celebrate their children’s independence. And I’m ready to accept my lesser role in their lives. So long as there’s stuff I can do around the house.