…on her birthday. An exemplary caregiver, nurse, nurturer, Mom.
She was “dedicated to caring for people all her life.”
Sometimes a domesticated dad has to display his family values in a concrete way… has to to participate in family activities he might rather take a pass on, were he still the single and autonomous ogre he was before signing the dotted line of that particular social contract. Activities like, say, joining the family at the multi-plex, donning dorky 3D glasses, and enduring yet another rendition of Shrek.
Now there was a guy who knew his own nature and owned it, no enhancements sought or desired. He’s an ogre, dammit, and he’s not about to apologize for acting like one. We’ve seen this story before, many times. Frank Capra meets Dr. Faustus meets Pixar, and comes around in the end. They all live happily ever after.
But it was a techni-color marvel, of course, with a strong message of acceptance and gratitude. You don’t have to be hyperthymic to appreciate your blessings, even if that entails a bit less autonomy and dignity than you might have enjoyed as a free agent. Real dads don’t live in the past. There’s no place like home, there’s no time like the present, except for their future.
Here comes the sun. It’s alright.
Eric Weiner says only a philosopher or a fool would attempt to generalize about happiness.
Christopher Hitchens, channeling Dr. Johnson, says only a fool would write except for money.
There’s two quick strikes against me, but here’s my foolish, unremunerated generalization:
Happiness is a day in June when school’s out, the kids are home, the weather’s fine, the bikes are oiled, the net is up, and the latest netflix disc is in the mailbox.
Not saying that’s the only answer, just one of ’em. Yesterday’s. Wonder what today’s will be.
Wednesday’s big adventure: a bike trek to Target, at Younger Daughter’s request. (All those birthday gift cards were screaming for her attention.) Not exactly the Tour de France, but enough hills and heat to make it an achievement for the likes of us. The shine’s officially off the Schwinn.
Then, back to the hospital. Granny’s surgery went well. Nice view of the Tennessee state capitol building from her room. The girls like eating in the Food Court.
Home in time for dinner, courtesy of our wonderfully thoughtful neighbor. Then another round of badminton, again at Younger Daughter’s request. You can expel a lot of aggression, smacking the birdie.
We were disappointed when a couple of thunder-claps cancelled the free movie in the park we were planning to enjoy, but then capped our evening instead with a screening of the first Lost episode, at Older Daughter’s request. A disturbingly-gory plane crash (some of us had to leave the room), an unexpected polar bear, strange intimations of supernaturally-tinted evil. I’m not sucked in yet, but I would like to visit Hawaii.
My real generalization: happiness is what you make it. Don’t guess it takes a philosopher to recognize that. But maybe it does take just a little maturity, at least in the chronological (if not also the emotional) sense. Did you see the headline? Happiness May Come With Age, Study Says.
Worry stays fairly steady until 50, then sharply drops off. Anger decreases steadily from 18 on, and sadness rises to a peak at 50, declines to 73, then rises slightly again to 85. Enjoyment and happiness have similar curves: they both decrease gradually until we hit 50, rise steadily for the next 25 years, and then decline very slightly at the end, but they never again reach the low point of our early 50s.
That’s really great news.
The book I’m writing about childhood needs a chapter, or at least a section, on unfairness. How unfair it is, for instance, to have your birthday upstaged by your grandmother’s fall and hospitalization on a day when everything’s supposed to be about you. How unfair to have to spend time at the hospital when you’d rather be partying.
That was the story here yesterday, when the call came that Granny had a losing bout with gravity while attempting to water the flowers on her porch, that she and her broken hip had been rushed to Centennial Hospital, that all plans for the day, the week, possibly the summer were now scotched since we’re Granny’s only local support team.
Younger Daughter hasn’t complained a bit, she’s stifled any expression of disappointment and any complaints about cosmic unfairness. She’s a compassionate, loving granddaughter. I’m the complainer here.
Not only is life often unfair, it’s also too often hostile to the very spirit of childhood, to carefree abandon, to present-time enjoyments, to fun. Reality breaks the spell, and sets the life-challenge of recovering that magical trance from before the fall. Many of us never get it back again, too many of us never even realize what we’re missing.
I’m just glad we got the new volleyball net up before we had to go to hospital, and that she got her birthday Sushi dinner with complementary green tea ice cream.* She’ll get her party, too, eventually, and a long bike ride on that shiny new Schwinn. It’s only fair.
*P.S. Some timely cards & calls from Missouri helped a lot, too. Especially her “first credit card!” Thanks for the pre-loaded Visa, Aunt K.
My sister always sends the best birthday cards…
Speaking of Plato, on Valentine’s Day: his Symposium is one of the great treatises on love, but he ends up taking it too far in the wrong direction, towards impersonal and universal love of Being and the Form of Beauty, and away from tangible human-to-human connection.
But he was right, romantic interpersonal love (for all its splendors) is a relatively short-term and incomplete experience. We should cultivate many varieties, including love for our progeny and our species. (A fun and breezy survey of some of the varieties of love, btw, is in Chris Phillips’ valentine to his favorite dead philosopher Socrates in Love.)
One of the best forms (lower-case), available to us all (not just the materially wealthy, Katherine Fulton points out) is philanthropy. Can you picture your portrait on your great-grandchildren’s wall in 100 years? What will you give them?
How nice, to wake to this iHome podcast on this very morning:
We’ve been enjoying our snow days: sledding in the street, walking in the winter wonderland (a new experience for a young dog in middle Tennessee), huddling around earth-stove and fireplace with cocoa “from scratch,” and watching movies.
Richard Dawkins said “open your eyes” to the real wonders of the world. Little Miss Sunshine says open your heart, Fritz (and your mouth, Dwayne). August Rush says open your ears and your senses, the music (which isn’t an exclusively aural phenomenon) is all around.
Dewey said that too, when he pointed to the sources of art in the everyday. But they haven’t made his movie yet.
It’s cold here, by our standards at least. We hibernated around the electronic hearth last night.
Forrest Gump is a good holiday family film, we found, though the battlefield scenes were particularly upsetting to Younger Daughter– and a couple of others, she thought, were just too icky to look at. But overall, we agreed, it was a sad and funny and hopeful and silly and even, fleetingly, profound entertainment.
“I don’t know if momma’s right, or Lieutentant Dan, I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re just floatin’ along accidental-like on a breeze…I think maybe it’s both.” It is both, so long as you don’t lean too hard on the notion of “destiny.” We all have plenty of destiny-shaping opportunities, for sure. But like a good chocolate assortment, you never know what you’re gonna get. And like the urge to run (or walk), transforming experiences often seem to happen for no particular reason but they have to happen before we can move on. What a powerful message, too, about the generations of life (Dewey’s “continuous human community”) and how they complete us.
This was so much better than the Hugh Grant-Sarah Jessica Parker letdown we wasted our time at the multiplex with!
Happy birthday, Dad.
Dr. James C. Oliver, 79, born in Montgomery City, MO, to the late Clay J. and Myrtle Marie Hart Oliver on December 27, 1928, and passed away September 12, 2008… Dr. Oliver will be remembered by his family and many friends for his kindness and generosity.
That’s exactly how he’s remembered, and for his sweetness and light and wit and humanity. He was a Deweyan too, he paid so much forward. I think of him every day.