Dad is 75 years old today. This doesn’t mean much, as dad will always be young, and for as long as I can remember says he still feels 19. Naturally, he and mom are spending this weekend with their oldest friends. Dad, Lynn, and Brian went to high school together. To say they’ve known each other for a lifetime is an understatement. They’ve been buddies for three generations, starting in their own magical, Midwestern childhoods and spanning the corporate ladder/baby-making years to the current era with adult children (who are so close we call each other cousins) and grand-spawn (ditto).
Dad never thought he’d see this birthday. At least he didn’t twenty-five years ago, when we were on the screened porch swapping stories and refilling our wine glasses. I was home from college; he had just completed some workshop about financial planning. When asked to estimate his final year on the planet, Dad guessed we’d be arranging a big celebration of life event for him at age 74. (He always says the worst part of dying will be missing the party.)
It sounded far too young to me. But Dad was being practical, and theoretical way-off-in-the-future death is easier to discuss than the realer kind. Still, the idea that he had only another quarter century to do ALL OF THE THINGS had made an impression on him. But anyone who knows John Stockton knows he’ll do all of the things, recognize their importance and impermanence in the very moment, and regale us with the details. Dad has never been able to make a long story short, but excels at the opposite.
As I was thinking about Dad this morning, my phone starting binging with a dozen texts from my cousins.
“Uncle John’s birthday is today!”
“75! Make sure you remind him he’s closer to 80 than 70!”
“Tell him congratulations on his 76th year!”
“Think I can get a Jersey shore liquor store to deliver wine to the house?”
“Sweets on the way!”
Then Facebook reminded me what Joe Burke said about Dad on his birthday three years ago. And as usual, Joe says it better than anyone could:
Your mom raised you best. She just did. She raised you for the long haul. She gave you the dual and mutually supporting gifts of outrageous humor and graceful endurance. She built in you loyalty and integrity. I’ve never known you to equivocate. I’ve never known you to give up on important tasks or people. People may slide but you don’t. You may get exasperated certainly and appropriately — but only to allow for time for things to come around. You are a gifted easy rider with ups and downs. And ride them both with balance and realism and anchored humanity…always with your brand of just barely breath stopping, two feet out in space – appropriately inappropriate humor. You are stunning John Stockton. You are the best friend I ever had. And I hate the space and time and life details that have separated us. Happy Birthday.
I agree with Joe. Grandma Mid raised you best, Dad. (Kinda fun to imagine heaven with those two in it.) I know that the warmth, hospitality, and humor that was classic “Mid” was inherited and even amplified by you. So when my walkway is a tangle of bicycles, our wine rack is depleted, our guest rooms are rarely empty, and the ‘fridge is full of bacon just in case… that’s you. When I can’t tell a story without all of the funny details, that’s you, too. From my oddly-firm-handshake-for-a-girl to a tendency to stay up too late without switching to alternative beverages (which led to a no uncorking after 2am rule), I’ve learned from the best.
At 75, you’re officially off the clock, Dad. The party at the Jersey shore has already started and you’re not missing a single minute of it. Can’t wait for the stories.