The Aging of my Father

My father is in a rehab facility undergoing physical therapy so that he can walk again. He doesn't like it. In a visit with me, my 19 year old son, and my 20 month old daughter this past weekend, we pointed out how he seems to be doing better as he walks with his walker and the help of an aid. People who prattle "getting old sucks" may have a point, but it doesn't have to be that way.  It's not just aging that sucks - it's the way things can happen when you're older and the impact that sucks just as much.

My son asked his grandfather if he "likes physical therapy."  My father responded flatly, "No. I don't like it." My son responded equally as flat, "Well, you better start liking it if you ever want to get out of here." I don't think he'll change his view of therapy or start liking it. He isn't working any more.

That conversation between grandfather and grandson is a sad, if not accurate, reflection on where my father's mental state is now.  At 78 years old, having spent the past 54 years of his life as a hard-charging, fast-paced, workaholic Chicago attorney who loved the world of finances, disputes, and resolutions, he is now confined for most of his day to a La-Z-Boy chair in his room at a rehab center.  It didn't happen overnight, but the aging of my father kind of crept up on me and maybe my father as well.

Three years ago, my father had quadruple bypass surgery, done by an unconventional robotic method rather than the more common chest-cracking method.  Thereafter, he went through therapy - albeit his version of therapy with a little bit of walking and a little bit of good eating - and came out on the other side somewhat slowed, but still strong of mind and of will. And he went back to the thing he loved the most: Work.

I like working because I like getting paid. My father likes working because he likes the commotion of it; he likes the consistency of it; he likes the camaraderie of the legal world and lawyers as much as he enjoys the adversarial nature of courtrooms and his opponents.  He likes working for the joy of winning a case or finding a suitable settlement for a client as much as he likes coming home and calling one of his opponents an "asshole" (particularly after he has given him a solid beating in one way or another). My father's days off were spent hustling clients on the golf course or at one kind of event or another.  My days off are spent rarely, but when possible, quietly at home - enjoying the silence.

Two things stand out to me right now about how my father didn't just go to work, but how he lived his job.  I recall being at a shiva for a distant relative with my father maybe 15 years ago.  As I sat in someone's living room, eating some kind of deli meat and trying to mind my own business, my father worked the room like a politician looking for contributions - shaking hands, smiling (not too wide though while respecting the deceased), and discreetly handing out his business card. I was in awe. I knew then, as I know now, that his ability to work that room, like many other rooms, is as much a God-given gift as Patrick Kane's ability to move a puck around much larger men as if it were on a string. I remember thinking that I could never do what he did then and had been doing for years.

The other thing that stands out to me were all of the phone calls.  From when I was a little kid until the last few years, with people seeking his advice on matters that often stood between the person on the other end of the phone and financial ruin. From the calls at night on the black rotary phone in his house while smoking Kools (he quit smoking about 30 years ago) to calls in his car on the iPhone we made him get, my father was the voice that people sought when their lives were teetering on the edge. And he made things better for them. Somehow; some way.

One year ago, my father was told by the law firm where he had been working for many years, the place that had courted him away from his prior spot, that he had to go. That was it. Bye bye.

He started aging the next day. Admittedly the heart surgery had slowed him down and he had some health-related setbacks. No, he had never really taken an interest in proper diet and exercise. So it is fair to say that his own excesses and lack of "proper nutrition" contributed to his issues.  But his reason for living and being had suddenly been snatched away with no warning and no apologies or thank yous.

There was an offer to partner with a friend in a suburban law firm and serve as an advisor, but that wasn't enough.  Without that regular stimulant, without that blast of adrenaline-induced intellectual joy that comes with regular work and people contact, my father seems to have simply checked out.  The fire and energy in his eyes is gone.  The edge in his voice is gone.  They are replaced by a somewhat empty look that recognizes things, but doesn't care to focus too much and by a conversation that merely responds and doesn't engage.

The 40-year Bears season-ticket holder who spent years clamoring for Lovie Smith's ouster isn't moved to discuss this year's Bears or the oddness of Marc Trestman.  I try to fire him up with some talk about the government shutdown and the very essence of his 50-year law practice: an entity (in this case, our government) going into default and I get nothing.  Nothing.

My mother asked me to try to cheer him up. Right. I can't transport him back twenty years any more than I can restore the shine on a 20-year old Buick. But, I try.  And, I fail.

Getting old sucks and my father is aging right before my eyes.

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