Today marks, if not a special day on my calendar, at the very least an interesting one in my mind. Today is the fifth anniversary of the day I became older than my father was when he died. Does that seem like a strange thing to be commemorating? I suppose it is. Maybe a little context will make it more intelligible, if not less silly.
For most of my life, up until his somewhat untimely, if not surprising, death I had been told “You’re exactly like your father!” Frequently as an admonition for some behavioral trait I had exhibited. All-too-frequently it was something my mother found neither amusing nor endearing. I also looked like and was built like my father, adding to my perception that I was somewhat predestined to follow in his footsteps. This was exacerbated by our culture, which is based on and continues to exhibit vestiges of primogeniture. Being the first-born son of a Conservative Jewish family, I know I was doted upon and received far more attention than I’m sure I deserved. It also added to the perception of inevitability I both relished and rebelled against.
When my father died in 1984 I had just turned 37. My metabolism, which is now obviously quite unlike my father’s, had yet to change and I was still pretty thin; still physically similar to my father when he died. He was less than two months shy of his 60th birthday and you can bet there were lots of conversations with my mother and my brother over what that turn of events might mean for my and my brother’s future health.
These conversations continued occasionally throughout the years and, as I grew older, it became more and more apparent I was not really “exactly” like my father. Not the least of these revelations was when I reached the age he was at his first heart attack (around 50) and not having one myself! I’m sure that moment was made more important by the memories I had of being the one to recognize the symptoms and driving him to the hospital late at night at over 80 miles an hour, running lots of red lights in the process.
So, what anxiety I felt slowly dissipated over the years. However, I had done one thing that set a landmark and, having done so, it was impossible for me to ignore or deny it. I had entered my father’s birthday into an electronic spreadsheet and subtracted it from the day of his death. By formatting the result as a number I had the exact number of days (give or take ~ 24 hrs) he was here and alive on this planet. I then added that number to my birthday and converted the result into a date. Ironically, the day on which I would match the total time my father had lived occurred on a Friday the 13th. Though not superstitious, I have to admit the date had a little extra “spice” attached to it.
As it turned out, that date – April 13, 2007 – coincided with the first night of the In2:InThinking Conference I was attending. Since the weekend’s classes, seminars, etc. were to take place in the Woodland Hills Hilton’s conference rooms, many of the out-of-town speakers and leaders, as well as all the people who were working on the conference and its many ancillary activities, would stay at the Hilton beginning on Friday night. In addition to being an attendee, I was a co-presenter that year for one of those ancillary activities, but that’s another story.
As part of the package the In2:InThinking Network had negotiated with the hotel, we occupied the Presidential Suite where there was traditionally a big party. The suite was open to all the participants and there was food and drink; a merry time to be had by anyone who wished to show up and be a part of it. Fortunately, partying has always been one of the things I do quite well, thank you very much, and I spent the evening until well past midnight. I was gratified, as were my friends, I didn’t drop dead at the stroke of midnight and, since that day passed, I haven’t thought much about it.
I spent the evening (after which I would be older than my father when he died) drinking and eating and enjoying myself immensely. It was, for me, a two-fold celebration. I was happy to get what was a bit of a monkey off my back and I was happy to have known my father as long as I did. I was happy he and I had squared away our mostly rocky relationship and were well on the road to being friends when he died. I was happy he was my father and I celebrated his life, knowing that he would have wanted me to have a good, long one. I intended then, and continue to expect, to do just that.
Today is five years to the day and, as a special treat – a lagniappe, if you will – it’s also Friday the 13th; just like it was on that day. Even though it became obvious long ago I wasn’t “exactly” like my father, the realities of genetics and the similarities in our personalities always kept the limit of my father’s time on Earth in the back of my mind. It was never an obsession, but it was a bit of a pastime for a while I do, occasionally, feel like I’m living on borrowed time which, in many ways, makes every day just that much sweeter.
ADDENDUM: I have long known of the word triskaidekaphobia, which means “fear of the number 13”, but just discovered the existence of a word for “fear of Friday the 13th”, paraskevidekatriaphobia, which is far more specific.