My parents are getting older, and surprisingly, it’s been hard to adjust to our changing relationship. My dad, in particular, is aging rather quickly. It seems as though the older my dad gets, the more anxious and high strung he has become. It’s difficult to watch.
Although my dad is only 60, mentally, he often seems more like 70. I think it has a lot to do with all of the financial struggles that he’s gone through over the past 25 years, the death of a son, the patience he’s had with my mom as she’s dealt with and slowly recovered from various addictions, and the mere fact that he basically raised seven children on his own. Sometimes I cry when I think about the man my father once was, or the man I want him to still be.
On a recent family vacation, as I watched the way my dad interacted with my niece, I realized that the youthful, joyful father and now grandfather is still alive, but it needs to be drawn out. As my niece ran around and entertained our entire family, he seemed to light up. It was as if I could see the same light in his eyes that I remember from my own childhood days when my dad chased my siblings and me around the park until we couldn’t run any more. My niece’s smile and joyful spirit seemed to be his medicine, the only thing that could really help him relax and set aside his stress and anxiety. Even if it was only for a brief time, the laughter and excitement that filled the room left all of us in astonishment. It was really something beautiful to watch.
And watching that interaction, a light bulb went off in my head. I don’t need to be angry about the struggles of the past or worry about how my father will age into the future. I don’t know what lies ahead of us and to worry about it doesn’t change anything. I think for most of us, and in this case my dad, we just need people to walk with, people to listen to us when we need to get things off of our chest, and most importantly, we need people to laugh with; we all need joy!
As I observed my father’s interactions with my niece, I noticed a particular childlike spirit. All of the silly things that spewed forth from her mouth, he found cute and entertaining. As I watched their interactions, I began to realize that this is the medicine for my dad’s soul.
As he’s growing older, maybe he just needs simplicity. Perhaps I should stop pushing dad to do things that he was capable of doing when he was younger or expect him to enjoy the adventures that were at one time easy and exciting. Maybe my dad just needs someone to laugh with or something to bring a brief relief from his stress. I haven’t quite figured it all out, but I think I’ll always remember that a child’s innocence and laughter can be a remedy for an aging soul.