My dad is turning sixty this year. He wears it well. Whenever he comes to visit, he gives my six-year-old son a run for his money in their running races. Dad still wins. To be fair, though, I should note that he cheats. “Look at that,” he says, pointing to a passing car or a blue-bellied lizard or a rock, if all else fails. And my son? He falls for it every time. The second he turns his head my dad is off like a flash of lightning—gone long before my son has the chance to shout an exasperated, “hey!”
He’s always been fun. When my brothers and I were kids he’d pick us up from school and, if we begged long enough, he’d play the “lost” game with us. He’d have us lie on the seat while he drove us out on some obscure country road. Once he deemed that we were far enough out, he’d tell us to sit up and look around. And then he let us take turns giving directions, “turn left up there,” or “make a right at the stop sign.” The challenge was to find our way home in record time. If we succeeded, there might be a stop off at a convenience store for slushees or candy.
Once I outgrew childhood games he showed his love in other ways. The summer after my eighth grade year I spent two weeks at cheerleading practice, getting ready for try-outs. My nerves were a wreck but somehow or other I made it through the audition without vomiting or breaking a bone. Then came the wait. The yes or the no wouldn’t come via a list posted on a gymnasium door or a telephone call. Rather, we were advised to leave our doors unlocked that night; the varsity squad would “kidnap” those who made it in the wee hours of the morning. My dad, afraid that we might not hear them come, slept on the couch that night, just in case. He needn’t have worried; a group of sixteen teenage girls is anything but quiet. I remember the look on his face as I was whisked out the door that morning. He was there in the stands for every game and cheer competition thereafter, his face beaming still.
I know sixty isn’t old, really. But the last time he visited, I noticed—for the first time—that his hands looked different. I remember them so strong and solid. I can’t say when the skin started to sag between his knuckles.
My dad turns sixty this year. He’s one of those guys that doesn’t know a stranger. Someone who’ll stop on the side of the road to help a stranded motorist change a tire. He’s never had a problem with the words I love you, but if you thank him for something—anything—he clams right up, reluctant to be noticed.
I don’t know why this particular milestone of his is so hard for me to grasp. I guess it’s just that there are those things in our lives—those people—we expect to go on unchanged. But then they do, and all we can do is watch. One thing I can be sure of. It’ll take a whole lot more than sixty measly candles to slow a good man down.