I stumbled today just as my father started stumbling when he was about my age—64. He was also in pain everyday, although he never talked about where the pain was or what it felt like; he just groaned, grimaced, and threw tantrums. Another thing he did was that if someone asked him how he was, he would say, “Not good,” 100% of the time, but then he would change the subject. He drank to keep the pain under control, and that might have increased his stumbling, but not by much.
Not many remodelers walk around the job site with a can of Miller High Life sticking out of their striped overall pocket, but he did, and his employers kept rehiring us, so I guess they didn’t object too much. We worked for everyone from teetotalers to hardcore alcoholics, and I liked them all. I remember one of the alcoholics saying that he had pretty much traded eating for drinking. Before I knew what lushes he and his wife were, I thought she was simply the friendliest person I had ever known, and I became angry when my father suggested otherwise, but he was right, and I was naïve.
When I wanted to say something nice to my father, I would tell him that he could work as hard as a man half his age. It was a bit of an exaggeration, although he was able to work nearly full-time until he was his mid-seventies. I had no idea how devastating age and pain could be, and therefore no idea how remarkable he really was. Now that I spend a fair amount of time trying to remember what it was like to not hurt every minute of everyday, I often recall that he still had ten working years ahead of him when he was my age. I’m not even optimistic that I’ll be alive in ten years.
I don’t know if my father starting drinking more in his sixties in order to quiet the pain in his body or the pain in his mind. Now, I wonder the same about me in regard to drugs because they just don’t help that much unless I take enough to pass out, but drugs are what I know to do, and I would be hard-put without them, although, along with pain and age, they isolate me. Just yesterday, I realized that I no longer have a single friend other than those whom Peggy and I see together and who, I suspect, tolerate me for her sake.
Dad was 73 and mixing concrete at the time of the photo. That’s me in the bellbottoms.