I flew to Grand Junction, Colorado to take care of my dad while my sister was out of town. During the time I was there, he turned 90-years old. But, given all I’ve read about achieving longevity, I honestly don’t know how my dad made it to such a ripe old age.
The Army Air Force thought he had a mild heart attack when he was in the service during WWII. It wasn’t serious and he continued to serve, but for a long time after the war was over, it was hard for him to get insurance. Finally, his doctors realized they made a mistake. Much later on, he had at least 5 angioplasties and wore a pacemaker.
Every morning my dad checked the obituaries to see if he was listed. His father lived to be 86 and both of his grandparents lived to be 93. They were born in the mid-1850s and were reported in the newspaper to be the longest-married couple in Brooklyn NY. It’s amazing they lived so long growing up before electricity in the rough and tumble Bowery of New York City.
He did everything wrong
For most of his 90-years, my dad subsisted on diet coke, ice cream, and junk food. I never saw him do much of anything physical like play sports or work out, although he walked without a wheelchair or walker. It’s amazing he got that old.
The doctors diagnosed him with type 2 diabetes, so we tried to control his sugar intake but he would always sneak something sweet. He survived a few bouts of pneumonia and several trips to the hospital, mostly because he wasn’t drinking enough water and got dehydrated.
His doctors at the VA also thought he had the beginnings of Alzheimer’s, but I think it was just old age. When he was young, he took an IQ test and scored 180. For most of his life, he was a math whiz, bridge champ, and always loved to do crossword puzzles.
When I was visiting I had to help him dress. It’s alarming when you have to tell your dad to drop his pants. During the night, he would get up to go to the bathroom. Once, we often found him with 2 pairs of pants on and his shoes on the wrong feet.
But when I was sitting with him watching Fiddler on the Roof he shouted out every story point right before it came on. I’ve seen the film several times and always forget what’s coming up next.
So how did my dad get to be 90-years-old?
One of the things that kept him alive was his sense of humor. He was always funny, loved being around people, and was never a loner. He smoked when he was younger but I made him stop in the early sixties when TV commercials warned smoking could kill you. Sometimes he’d have a few cocktails but I never saw him drunk.
My mom, who made it to 89. always kept trying to kill my dad. When no one was watching she would ask him to climb on top of a coffee table or gather wood in the icy snow. She didn’t want to let him live down the fact he had a girlfriend during a year they were separated in the early ’70s. They got back together and have been married since 1951 (minus that one year when my dad sowed a few wild oats).
He died that winter at 90-years-old and my mom died 2 weeks afterward to keep an eye on him and give him a hard time. We miss them both, but they had a long, fun life and we are grateful to have had them for so long.