I’ve been lucky enough to have an older dad with lots of wisdom to share with me. So, I sat down with my dad in 2018 to conduct a more formal conversation to gather wisdom to then share with you all. Sadly, he passed away at the age of 85 on August 16th, 2022. I’m thankful for the foresight to have captured his wisdom before he passed. I hope his words inspire you to be yourself and enjoy the different periods in life.
P.S. Check out my dad’s classic recipe for a great dry martini at the bottom of this page.
My dad was an older than most of my friends’ dads. Specifically, he was 55 years old when I was born.
As a child, I remember people thinking my dad was my grandpa. These comments confused me when I was younger because I didn’t think anything of his age. I just thought he had light blonde hair, but turns out it was actually white. Slowly, as I became more socially aware, I realized that my dad was much older than many other dads. And, I began to see other differences too.
Having an older dad is a special gift for many reasons, including having a life coach who has a lot of experience and wisdom to pull from. In fact, the part of the relationship with my dad that I cherish most are his wise words. He provides perspective, when I feel stuck or in analysis paralysis. He reminds me that life is both long and short at the same time, that balance is important, and being thoughtful is a virtue to cultivate.
Alicia: What is the best advice someone has ever given you? How has it shaped your life?
Dad: A president of a union I belonged to once said to me “If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always got.” It is a quote from Henry Ford. I try to ask myself “Am I satisfied with the result and what I did to get there?” If you find your results are not what you are looking for, especially during our changing times, it is time to evaluate, get more info, and a new perspective.
Another piece of advice I’ve gotten is, essentially, there is always an exception to every rule. Nothing is infallible, including this advice. It’s a truism, but an important one. Nothing is absolute, or cast in concrete, no matter who you are.
Alicia: What are some of the ways that growing up now is different from when you were growing up in the 50s?
Dad: In the early 50’s, I was in high school. It was a tense time politically, because we were experiencing the beginnings of the Cold War. We had atomic bomb threats that led to drills to hide under our desks. In fact, this reminds me of the active shooter drills that children are experiencing today. We are always afraid of something.
At the time, Eisenhower was President and it was a kind of conservative era. But compared to now, it was a more “relaxed” time. After getting home from school, we went out and played. There were not a lot of extracurricular activities. It wasn’t as hectic as the world is now for teenagers. There was less media, not a bombardment of info.
But the good old days are not as good as we remember. A lot of issues around segregation, women’s equality, LGBT rights have gotten better overtime, but not entirely. Things don’t happen fast. There are always tense issues in a democracy. I believe “nirvana” and “peace” are unreal, although it appeals to people. That’s just not the human condition.
Alicia: Any tips for guys navigating masculinity in the #MeToo Era?
Dad: It’s a good question and I think about it a lot. First off, behave yourself. I don’t think I need to describe what “behave yourself” means to most men. But, for those who don’t know, ask someone older than you. I see groups of men acting in very hurtful ways, wanting to humiliate people, hazing others, it’s disgusting. And, they seem to be trying to out-do each other in a competitive way.
Second, don’t try to emulate those who do not respect others. Doing the right thing does not emasculate you.
To me, masculinity is about doing the right thing, protecting others and taking the right kind of chances. There are a lot of heroic aspects to be a man. I hope more men can become those exemplary people. There a lot more questions about masculinity nowadays, and it’s not as defined as it used to be. But, things have gotten out of hand and men need to hold each other accountable.
Alicia: Why did you decide to get married later in life?
Dad: I was never one to go along with common folk wisdom; “What you’re supposed to do.” When I was growing up, my parents were an exception in not asking me why I wasn’t married. Because my parent’s never asked, I never had the pressure.
I also didn’t put pressure on myself. Instead what I did was go to work, got paid for what I did, but I didn’t take a tremendous amount of satisfaction in it. It wasn’t my sole source of happiness. Then outside of the job, I took time to pursue hobbies and travel. I was still looking around, trying to figure out what is life all about!
It’s not that I didn’t date. I had an active social life, met some very nice women. But, no one was who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I thought when I meet the woman I want to get married to, I’ll get married.
I met your mother, who I thought was an interesting, lovely person to spend my life with. The timing was right because I wanted to be responsible for others and I had met the right person.
When I was younger, I didn’t feel confident in taking on the responsibility of marriage. My parents took their marriage very seriously, which set a good example for me. Marriage takes work and families need a lot of support. You have to ask yourself if you are willing to give that.
Alicia: What would you say is the key to a happy marriage?
Dad: Poets, philosophers, and many others have puzzled over it for hundreds of years. I doubt I have the answer…
It’s a lot of different things. You need to care for another person by putting their interests ahead of yours at many times. You cannot be selfish, but you also have to make clear you have needs too, and find a balance. Talking things out, sometimes being uncomfortable in conversations that are still necessary, getting to know big likes and dislikes. You need to understand the person that you are close with, because it is your responsibility to get along. And, getting into the responsibility of getting married takes a lot of effort for some people.
I found it was easier to take on the responsibility and give time, since I had done what I wanted for so long. I was more mature, which was important for me.
Alicia: What have been some of the benefits of having children at an older age?
Dad: As a benefit, I knew more about life in a very general sense. I was aware of what could go on. So having kids didn’t come as a shock or unimagined stress. I just thought, “this is the nature of the child, they’re growing up.” I didn’t have a great deal of need for collecting a library of child care books. I think so many of the theories are not as useful as common sense. Kids for millions of years have grown up in tons of situations, and they will survive. They are hearty characters!
Another aspect is that when you’re older, you think not only about how the child is learning from you, but also about how you are learning from the child.
Alicia: What is something that you are concerned about with Generation Z and Millennials?
Dad: I have a couple of concerns. I see the millennials and generation z spending too much time on electronic devices. It seems like almost all waking hours. I just think that “contemplation” doesn’t go on very much anymore if you are wired to these gadgets.
By “contemplation” I mean removing yourself from outer situations, either physically or mentally, with something in mind to think about. It is a chance to reframe and allow your mind to be in a different place. Think about your decisions in a careful way. In fact, while contemplation usually happens in isolation, I believe that it may get you closer to other humans than say social media, news sites, etc. Looking inside of yourself is a great way to really understand humanity and how interconnected we all are.
I do want to mention that being connected to technology all the time has a lot of pluses. It is a conundrum, and we need to find a balance.
JFK has been a inspirational figure for my dad.
Allied to the concern with technology is also a concern about the quality of education. I remember driving your sister and her friends home one day, and one of Julia’s friends wanted to stay home from school the next day to play a video game on the day it was released. He thought it was “no big deal.” When I went to school, it was serious. I never played hooky. I wonder if education is viewed by both the students and others as less important nowadays.
Colleges have been turned into trade schools, meaning that students are taught hard skills to get jobs. Philosophy, drama or other liberal arts might fall by the wayside, because you need to get hard skills for jobs in the future. But, it comes with a price…people aren’t as well versed in history. They don’t feel compelled to look at situations from a different perspective; the human connection through education has been lost.
Alicia: What do you think about popular culture nowadays?
The man in back with long hair and a headband, that’s my dad!
Dad: I think the “herd mentality” of popular culture concerns me. It contributes to large part of society’s issues. It means that you don’t think a lot about what you want to do, just what other think you should do. And, that can be dangerous.
Personally, I am not “other directed.” If I am eating something, it is because I like it. People may ask me “Why are you doing that?” But I am “inner directed” thus I am not worried about what other people may think.
On the other hand, if people set a good example, the herd mentality of popular culture can be good. There are exemplars of the decent way to treat people. President Obama is someone who comes to mind.
Alicia: What are some things that you love to do?
Dad: Listening to music. I have a lot of CDs that my family has given me. Mostly classical music. I enjoy sitting down, with a drink and listening to the music while looking at the line notes to better understand the meaning of the music.
I also very much enjoy reading, especially the Washington Post and New York Times. I also read articles online. Whenever I have a question, I go on the internet and explore. I’ll print off articles to read when I’m waiting around. You never know where your curiosity will lead you.
Alicia: What has gotten you through difficult times in your life?
Dad: I have read about people’s great challenges, or deep depressions, or thoughts of hopelessness. I never had any of these. I’ve never had moments of euphoria either. It’s been a level road.
My dad’s family during Christmas time 1976.
Taking care of my mother in old age has been one of the most difficult times in my life. However, I thought that if I used common sense and compassion, that would do it. I relied on my ability to deal with a challenging situation. I felt confident I could make it through.
In general, I would say: Take a breath, think about it for a little (contemplation), and then start acting. Be confident that you will do the best you can, no matter the obstacles.
Alicia: Any career advice for those in their 20s or 30s?
Working in the Dominican Republic.
Dad: Trying to figure out a career path is difficult. Some people are fortunate to know what they wanted to do from an early age.
Personally, I wanted to go into the foreign service. But, I didn’t end up in it. In the end, I’m glad I didn’t because I didn’t miss what was going on in the U.S. However, I kept up the foreign affairs focus, but didn’t work in the foreign service.
I think young people should look at their career in a balanced way. Look for a job that gives you enough money to do the things you want to do. There is that infamous quote: “no one on their deathbed said I wish I would have spent more time in the office.” There is more to life than work. Find a balance.
Also, find meaning too. Don’t take jobs that will put you into an ethical compromise.
Alicia: Are there any traditions that you have seen fall by the wayside that you miss?
For his 80th birthday, he taught us how to smoke a cuban cigar, that a neighbor had brought back for him.
Dad: I miss courtesy. Nowadays, you take what you can get, instead of considering others. I’m not talking about the phony kind of courtesy, but genuine consideration for others.
It about the ability to appreciate another person and recognize their existence. Without courtesy, it makes life more miserable than it has to be.
When I asked him how the interview made him feel, he said: It made me think about a lot of things. Which is the full-time occupation of octogenarians. I try not to bore people with my “old days” stories. In thinking about these questions, it brought a lot of clarity to me about experiences. It was fun and interesting to share.
I would say that during your lifetime, it is important to lean on those who are older, wiser and with more experience than you to help you understand the larger picture of life. Especially, during your 20s and 30s which seem to be such a time of transition.
No matter where you are in your building of your life, I hope that these shared thoughts can help put life into more perspective for you and inspire you to have a conversation like this with an older family member of your own.
Learn how to make my Dad’s favorite drink, a “very” dry gin martini! Click on the link below to get step by step instructions. Cheers!