From My Aging Eyes

from my aging eyes,

the boy I once was looks out—

hardly changed at all


I was born before D-Day, before V-E Day, before V-J Day.  If you don’t recognize those occasions, you’re most likely younger than I.  World War II was the single biggest event in the lives of the generation before mine, and the year I entered the world, it was still raging on.

When I was born, I joined almost 2.5 billion other souls on the planet.  In North America, the average cost of a house like the one we eventually lived in was $3600, and the average annual wage was only $2000.  My future father-in-law, then a callow twenty-one-year-old, earned $800 that year, the first time he filed an income tax return.  A new car, for those who could afford one, cost about $900, and the gasoline to fuel it cost fifteen cents per gallon.  A bottle of Coca-Cola cost five cents.


Among the people born in the same year as I (and you’ll recognize their names more readily than mine) were Arthur Ashe, Robert de Niro, John Denver, Bobby Fischer, George Harrison, Mick Jagger, Janis Joplin, John Kerry, Billie Jean King, Peter Marsh, Jim Morrison, and Lech Walesa.  Seven of them are no longer with us.

Major world leaders included William Lyon Mackenzie King here in Canada, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Franklin Roosevelt, Jan Christiaan Smuts, and Joseph Stalin—many of whom didn’t like each other at all.

Among the popular films my parents went to see in the year I was born were For Whom the Bell Tolls, Heaven Can Wait, Lassie Come Home, The Titanic, and the winner of the Academy Award, Mrs. Miniver.  Frank Sinatra and Glenn Miller were music icons of the day, and Oklahoma opened on Broadway.


Some of the most popular books published that year included A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene, and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo by Ted. A. Lawson.  My favourite (which, of course, I was not able to read until six or seven years later) was Thunderhead by Mary O’Hara.

The New York Yankees won the World Series that year, the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup, and Count Fleet won the Kentucky Derby, but both the U.S. Open in golf and Wimbledon in tennis were cancelled because of the war.

Invention, spurred on by the wartime effort, saw the development of the aqualung, the Colossus computer used to decode the German Enigma encryption, the ever-popular Slinky toy, and silly putty.  The Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb, which cost almost two billion dollars, was well underway.

atom bomb3

Nachos were invented the year I was born, and remain popular to this day.  The ABC radio network began broadcasting that year, launched by the founder of the Life-Savers candy company.  The Philip Morris tobacco company unveiled an ad that, for the first time, acknowledged smokers’ cough, although they blamed it on other cigarette brands.  The chairman of IBM conceded that “…there is a world market for maybe five computers.”  And a Swiss chemist discovered the hallucinogenic properties of LSD—presumably on a trip.

I was born well before the following technological marvels we take for granted today became commonplace:  duct tape, television, Tupperware, credit cards, waterproof diapers, transistors, defibrillators, supersonic aircraft, cat litter, the Zamboni, crash-test dummies, aerosol paint, teleprompters, airbags, barcodes, heart-lung machines, WD-40, zipper storage bags, automatic sliding doors, radar guns, computers, hard disk drives, silicon chips, videotape, lasers, spandex, artificial turf, the Pill, LED’s, Buffalo wings, 8-track tapes,  CD’s, space travel, personal computers, the internet, and smartphones.

I was not, however, born before the Wright brothers first took flight (as my sons-in-law are wont to claim).


But hey, lest this looking-back convey the impression that I long for the good old days, whatever they were, let me assure you that such is far from the truth.  In fact, as I approach my seventy-fifth birthday, I look forward to the changes yet to come—just as I marvelled at those occurring during my life so far—and with the same boyish enthusiasm as ever.

As Dylan so memorably wrote and sang, the times they are a-changin’.  But somewhere inside this gnarly old man, there still resides the precocious boy who spawned him, surprised he has not changed.

closing in on my

diamond jubilee, the

man is still the boy

man and boy1

          Have a happy birthday, old man!


My Old Man

In all the sixty years I knew him before he died, I never referred to my father as the old man.  Despite being acceptable in many households, that phrase always seemed a tad disrespectful to me.  And besides, my mother forbade me.

When I spoke directly with him, I called him Dad.  When referring to him in conversation, he was my father, or my dad.  He was never my old man.

I had no problem with others who used the phrase, though.  My friends always seemed to have a loving relationship with their fathers, regardless of how they referred to them.

But there was no denying one fact; during the last decade of his life, which ended in his 92nd year, my dad definitely became an old man—a state of being I am now coming to understand.

old man

We were different, he and I, in so many ways—temperamentally, emotionally, and physically.  From my perspective, he seemed a placid soul, tending to take life as it came (although often expressing frustration when it wasn’t to his liking).

I knew he loved me, but he wasn’t one to say, “I love you,”; in fact, when I would say that to him, his usual response was, “Thank you.”  Genuinely pleased to be loved, but unsure as to how to express it to his son.

He was a bigger man than I, and stronger, although he was not particularly active in his later years, save for a daily walk.  As I grew up in the family home, I never got big enough to wear his clothes or his shoes (although, given our discrepant styles, I probably wouldn’t have, anyway).  When I inherited his cherished Omega wristwatch, I had to have three links removed from the bracelet in order to wear it.

As a child, I think I mostly took him for granted.  He was always there, he was dependable, he was predictable—a benign, constant presence in our household.  Not until after I had become a father myself, dealing with adolescent children, did I begin to think more about our relationship.  Not until then did I begin to reflect more on our similarities, rather than our differences.

By then, he was in his seventies, the decade I now inhabit.  His hair was thinning and graying, his gait was slowing; and I’d often see him lost in apparent reverie, a thousand-yard stare in his vivid blue eyes.  I used to wonder what he was thinking about, but I never asked.  I wish now I had.

He’s been gone for fourteen years almost, and I still see him in my mind’s eye—but always as an old man.  For images of his younger self, I have to look at family albums, where I am always struck by how youthful he was.  I just don’t remember him like that.

Billy-Boo at 32 2

The clearest memories I have, however, are counterfeit, in the sense that they are channeled through me.  For example, I used to notice how graceless he looked when he bent over to pick his newspaper off the floor—bowed legs canted outward, fanny pointed skyward, gnarled hand struggling to reach low enough.

“Bend your knees!” I’d silently tell him.

At my age now, of course, I realize bending one’s knees can be quite a problem if one expects to rise again.  So, I bend from the waist, too—bowed legs canted outward, fanny pointed skyward, gnarled hand struggling to reach the floor.  And alas, I see my father in my ungainly pose.

He used to sneeze—not demurely, but prodigiously.  A-roo-pha-a-!  A-roo-pha-a!  we might hear.  Or A-ree-cha-a-a!  A-ree-cha-a-a!  Sometimes A-chintz-ish!  A-chintz-ish!  There seemed no end to the variety of forms his sneezes could take.  But always, they were six times repeated before he seemed able to stop.  I think we first learned to count by marking my father’s sneezes.

“C’mon, Dad,” I used to say to myself.  “That’s not necessary.”

Now I sneeze, too—not decorously, but colossally.  They come upon me at the most inopportune times, and I’m unable to control them. A-roo-pha-a-a!  A-ree-cha-a-a!  A-chintz-ish!   And to my chagrin, I hear my dad all over again.

I had my childhood heroes as a boy, but my father wasn’t one of them.  Not then.  He was too old, too square, too conservative.  And sometimes (to my shame now), too embarrassing.  But in adulthood, I came to appreciate that his stolid, almost-Victorian demeanour was comforting, that his sly sense of humour was refreshing, that his love for his family was unending.

As my daughters grew up, they called him Grandpa, or more often Gramps.  They didn’t think he was square; they thought he was cool.  Now that I’m Gramps to my own grandchildren, basking in their attentions, I’ve come to appreciate how much my kids’ love must have meant to him.  Which makes me very happy that I appear to have, at long last, become my dad.

As another Fathers’ Day approaches, I give thanks for one of my heroes, that old man who was my father.







The Better I Was

At threescore-and-ten years of age, plus a few, I am no longer cavorting on ice-rinks and athletic fields-of-play with the same wild abandon that characterized my youth.  Not even close.

My ice-hockey skates have lain, undisturbed for lo, these many years, in a box in my storage locker.  My inline skates were recently given to my grandson, whose feet, amazingly, have grown to my size.  And my baseball gloves (the ‘relic’—floppy, scuffed, and worn; and the ‘newbie’—still-shiny, with a lovely, leathery smell) lie beside each other on a shelf I never look at.

My competitive pursuits these days consist of golf (from the forward tees), tennis (‘doubles’ only), and snooker (on tables with oversized pockets).  My comrades and I—no longer so quick, strong, and skilled as once upon a time—are unhurried, more frail, and prone to error now.  And that’s on our good days!


I’m sure the same refrain runs through their minds, as through mine: O, how the mighty have fallen!

Not that I was ever that mighty, mind you.  The visions of grace and glory ever running through my youthful head were more likely delusions of grandeur.  And the triumphs I always looked forward to were more often trials and errors.

It might have been said about me at various times over the years (snidely, of course, by persons with varying degrees of sensitivity) —

  • He’s a legend… his own mind.
  • He’s not as good as he once was; but he might be as good once as he ever was.
  • He’s not a has-been; he’s a never-was!

However, the one I deem most accurate, given my propensity for self-aggrandizement, is probably—

  • The older he gets, the better he was!

That one comes closest to the truth.  When I absolutely ‘crush’ a drive off the tee now (which is rare, and which means about 150 yards), I bemoan the fact that I used to regularly hit it almost twice as far.  Not true.


When I double-fault into the net at a crucial point in the match (which is not-so-rare), I protest that I used to reliably smash aces past my opponents.  Also not true.

And when the cue ball ricochets off the ball I intended to sink, and itself literally leaps into the pocket (which is often), I smack my forehead and exclaim, “What a fluke!  I used to make those shots all the time!”  But I didn’t.

It strikes me that the phrase ‘I used to…’ is a prominent part of my conversation these days.

I suppose it’s a form of self-defence to claim a level of excellence that never truly existed, an attempt to ward off the all-too-obvious failings of the flesh brought on by rapidly-advancing years.  Even more fragile than my aging body, after all, is my vaunted male ego.  Yet sadly, the first gives out before the second.

I recall a computer-translation into Russian of the old saying, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  When a Russian-speaking person was asked to re-translate it to English, it came out as, “The wine is good, but the meat is rotten.”

Exactly how I feel!


Still, I continue to declaim the glories of my yesteryears to all who will listen (the number of whom is fewer and fewer all the time, I am noticing).  I am out there whenever I can be—on the golf course, at the tennis court, around the snooker table—rarely winning at the games, but always seeking the former stardom I pretend to remember.

“The important thing is not who wins,” I try to tell myself.  “It’s who shows up to play.”

And strangely, the showing up is somehow made easier by a still-burning desire to do better next time, to improve, to regain the degree of mastery (illusory, I know) once taken for granted.

After all, the older I get, the better I…..well, you know.

Weighed and Measured

I was weighed the other day, and measured.  And to my great surprise, I was found wanting.

There I stood, like a lamb for the slaughter—clad in undergarments and socks, a paper gown hanging ignominiously from my slumping shoulders—facing the long arm of the weigh scale, its pendulous weights being moved unrelentingly to the right by an unsympathetic nurse.


Another arm, this one perpendicular to the weigh bar, lay atop my head.

“No tiptoes!” the nurse said.  “Heels down.”

So I raised my chin as high as I dared, and stretched my torso skyward, straining for every fraction of height.  I’m sure I heard my spine decompressing…ouch!

I sucked my stomach in when she wrapped a tape around my waist, and held my breath as the gown crinkled against me.  I swear she took her time to read it, waiting to see if I’d have to let go.  Mercifully, she released me before I expired.

All my efforts were to no avail, however.  The results spoke for themselves.  Well, actually, I had to ask for them.

“Okay, step down,” the nurse said.  “Sit up on the bed, the doctor will be in shortly.”

“What was I?” I asked, clambering up as directed, pressing the gown between my legs to keep from exposing my nether regions.  As if the nurse cared.  At my age, I’m not even sure why I did.

“Weight, seventy-nine kilos,” she said, placing the clipboard with my chart on a small table by the bed.  “Height, a hundred and seventy-three point seven centimetres.  Waist, ninety-one point four centimetres.”

“What’s that in pounds and inches?” I asked to her departing back.

“Don’t know,” she said.  “Don’t use those anymore.”

The doctor didn’t know, either, although she was much more forthcoming than the nurse.  “You’re a little above weight for your age,” she said, “and a tad too short for your weight.  But it’s the BMI we’re concerned with.”


“Body-Mass Index.  It’s a measure of body fat, based on weight and height.  Ideally, you should fall somewhere between eighteen and twenty-five.”  She was busy typing who-knows-what into the computer on the table, its screen angled away from me.

“So what am I?” I asked.

“Let’s see,” she said.  “Hmm, slightly overweight.  Twenty-six point eight.  Nothing to worry about, but it would be good to get it inside the normal range.”

“I’m not fat!” I protested.  “I still wear the pants I wore ten years ago.  Thirty-four-inch waist.”

She looked at me—not unkindly, but quizzically—perhaps wondering why anyone would still be wearing clothes from a decade ago.  “You can’t go by the sizes on your clothing,” she said.  “The manufacturers fudge the numbers somewhat, likely to make us all feel better.”

“Really?” I said.  That was news to me, discouraging news, until I realized that, no matter the number, my old pants still fit.  “Okay, but they’re the same size they were…well, whenever I bought them.  I can still get into them.”  Even I could hear the tinge of desperation in my voice.

“I’m sure they do,” she said gently.  “But perhaps your BMI was high back then, too.  Or maybe you were taller.”

“Taller?” I repeated.  “You mean I could be shrinking?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” she said, rising from her chair.  “Gravity always wins, so most people shrink as they get older.”

“Older?” I repeated.

“Older!  Now, lie back on the bed,” she said, “and let’s have a look at you.”

I must have looked alright, even for an old guy, because twenty minutes later she let me go.  Dressed again in my familiar, old clothes, the crinkly paper gown gladly discarded.  As soon as I got home, I headed for the computer to do the conversions—kilograms to pounds, centimetres to inches.  I figured the metric units were bigger than the imperial ones—as in one metre is longer than one yard—so my real numbers would probably be smaller.  I was surprised by the results.

“A hundred and seventy-six pounds!” I said to my wife, disbelievingly.  “Five feet, eight inches!  Thirty-six-inch waist!  This is crazy!  I’m taller than that!  Their scales must be off.”

“As long as you feel good,” my wife said, “don’t worry about it.”

“I’m not worried,” I said, convincing neither of us.  “But these numbers can’t be right.  She told me I was overweight, for crying out loud.  My BMI.”

“What was the number?”  My wife obviously knew what BMI meant.

“Umm, twenty-six point eight,” I said, referring to the scribbles I’d made on the back of my appointment card.  “I’m going to calculate it with the imperial numbers, see if it’s lower.”

It wasn’t, though.  I was overweight metrically and imperially, it seemed.

In the Book of Daniel, chapter 5, there’s a passage depicting a judgement visited upon King Belshazzar, where a spectral hand wrote words of condemnation on a wall.  Those words have been translated as:  You are weighed in the balance and are found wanting.

That’s exactly how I felt after my visit to the doctor’s office.  I’d been weighed and measured, and found wanting.  Wanting to be lighter, wanting to be taller, wanting to be thinner!


I tried to imagine how the poor old king must have felt when he saw the handwriting on the wall, but our situations were quite different.  It had to have been worse for him.  He lost his kingdom, after all, and his life.

All I have to lose is some weight.