The other day, my father called to tell me he was considering getting his personal trainer’s certification. At 76 years old, you’d think he’d be more interested in heading over to the senior center for Bingo, but nope, he’d prefer to guide people on the best ways to get fit. It didn’t surprise me in the least, considering that just a few years ago, he decided he was bored with retired life and went out and got his real estate license, passing the test on his first try and completing several home sale transactions during his first year of business.
For my dad, life has always begun at whatever age he happened to be at the time. Blessed with good health and a generally sunny attitude, I don’t think it ever crosses his mind whether or not he should do something “at his age,” and he illustrates quite beautifully that it really is just a number. He rarely says no to any new adventure or opportunity that comes his way. He’s gone on days-long bike trips, hiked mountains, does a yearly ski trip with friends, and has traveled the world. He reads, tries to stay up on current events and can text on his iPhone almost as well as any teenager. He’s never afraid to start something new, whether it be a business, a hobby or a relationship (oh yes, he’s had a few girlfriends in his so-called twilight years!)
He sees worry and stress as a waste of valuable time, and has always told me that 90 percent of the things we worry about won’t happen, and the other 10 percent are out of our control. This mindset has allowed him to step away from fear, make every day a new beginning, and to always keep moving forward.
While he’s still a product of his generation in many ways, with some seriously outdated notions about gender roles and the world at large, he is also incredibly open and progressive. When my brother came out as gay, his acceptance was immediate and unquestioning. He doesn’t judge anyone based on race, sexual orientation or religion; in fact, he doesn’t judge anyone, period. He is incredibly kind, and if a friend or family member needs help, he’s the first to offer.
My dad has somehow managed to remain what I can only term as “pure,” never growing jaded and still seeing the world as a place of wonder. We took a trip to New York one year, and I realized he’d fallen behind our group. When I turned back to see where he’d gone off to, he was standing on a street corner, staring up at the city skyline, an expression of pure delight on his face. “Can you believe how tall these buildings are?” he said, “Isn’t it incredible?” In a hurry, I said “Dad, we have to go, we have dinner reservations.” He smiled, put a hand on my arm and said, “Look up.”
Impatient, I glanced upwards. Then I paused. The high-rise buildings that towered above us, set against the blue summer sky, were actually very impressive. I felt dwarfed by them. I felt awe. I felt wonder. We both stood there for a moment, looking up. Then our friends called out to us and we went on our way.
As I grow older myself, I look to my dad as an example of what it means to live a rich, full life. A life where you say yes more than no, where there are no limits and never a time when you can’t start over. A life where the world is still an amazing place and every day brings the chance to try something new.
And on the days when worry about the future overwhelms me, when I can’t see the good, or anything even closely resembling wonder, I think about my dad. I think about his undying optimism despite the things happening in the world around us, his refusal to let age or anything else stop him from living his life. I think about that day in New York. And I look up.
Jody Ellis is a freelance writer who specializes in beauty, health, travel, fashion and style. Her work has appeared in publications such as LennyLetter, Huffington Post, BBC Future Planet, Civil Eats and Eater.