My Dad and the spring chicken

Eighty, going on eighteen

Some years ago, my parents were visiting my brother who lives in the UK. My Dad noticed the neighbour working tirelessly all day in his garden, and complimented him on his energy.

The neighbour replied, “You should do the same, you know.”

My Dad replied, “No, I’m too old.”

“So how old are you?”

“I’m seventy six.”

The neighbour burst out laughing, “Why you are nothing but a spring chicken! I’m eighty four.”

The whole episode made me curious as there were several interesting factors that made the two gentlemen so different from each other.

My Dad had Type II diabetes since he was 45, and it had a debilating effect on his health as time went by. He needed to have a stent put in his heart to keep the clogged arteries open. He had other health issues too, including a bout of colon cancer and a prostate gland problem. All in all, it left my Dad physically weakened, and feeling like a bit of an invalid though every now and then he’d forget about it and happily pick up a badminton racquet. I don’t know much about the English gentleman but he seemed to be healthy.

There’s also the help angle in India. Domestic servants are still affordable and available to help with cooking and cleaning around the house. Whereas this kind of service would be unaffordable to the ordinary citizen in the UK, so they are forced to become self-reliant.

Besides my mother was 13 years younger than him, so my Dad had a healthy caretaker ever willing to indulge him. Whereas the English couple were much closer in age, and equally healthy or unhealthy.

The thing is in UK and the West in general, kids leave home at eighteen, and the parents get used to the empty nest syndrome pretty quick. As long as they are healthy, the now carefree parents can manage an independent life style and live an active life. But once they lose their health, they have no choice but to sell off their homes and move to an old age home as day care is far too expensive. Which is what eventually happened to my Dad’s spring chicken friend.

This is very different from India where people have been used to living in joint families until recently. It makes sense economically as the younger generation don’t need to waste money on buying or renting their own house. Also retired grandparents keep themselves busy by taking care of young children while the parents are out at work.

So this puts my daughter in the odd situation of having a great-grandmother who is quite healthy and actively contributes to the joint family cooking and cleaning even at her ripe old age. That’s definitely far more better quality of life than idling away in an old age home.

I was reminded of all this recently when I heard that the tennis star, Roger Federer had taken a sabbatical for the rest of 2016 in order to fully recover from a knee injury. But what was curious was the fact that people were debating if he should retire. I mean the guy had just reached the Wimbledon semifinals and would most probably have knocked out Raonic, if not for that game knee of his. I think Federer earned half a million pounds for reaching the semis. So why on earth would a guy earning that much, playing a game he loves, give it all up?

Then there’s Hillary Clinton. I think she will be 70 next year. At an age where a lot of people would be thinking of retiring and helping out with the grandchildren in India, this lady seems to be getting ready for a new career as the POTUS.

I’m certain there are lot more golden oldies out there, and I think the point they are all making is quite simple.

Age is just a number, and you are only as old as you think you are.

it’s an odd world

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