19257 Questions

My father was 52 years old when he died. He lived 19,256 days.

Today, the 19th December 2022, is day number 19,257 for me. Today, I am older than my father ever got to be.

It’s a strange thing, passing a milestone like that. And as you can probably tell from the mere fact that this post starts with such numbers, this milestone has been on my mind for a while. Since shortly after November 1985, actually, which is when he passed.

Would I get there? What shape would I be in if I did? And if I didn’t, would I have lived the life that I wanted to? Would I have unfinished business? Regrets?

Losing my Dad was heartbreaking for me as a 15-year-old kid but like all 15-year-old kids, I was sad because I’d lost something. Sure, I was sad that Dad had lost his life but in reality, my sadness was mostly about me. It wasn’t until some time in my late 30’s that I properly pondered what Dad losing his life actually meant for him.

When I was 15, I thought of my parents as being ancient relics. I think most 15 year-olds think of their parents that way. Now that I’m older than he ever got to be, I realise just how young he was. I realise just how much he missed out on.

Did he have unfinished business? Did he have regrets?

I can’t answer for any of his regrets. But unfinished business…

Dad passed away 37 years ago. He had a wife about to turn 50, a daughter in her late 20’s, a 15 year-old son, and two grandsons aged 5 and 2.

Mum continues to live a full life, is now in her mid-80s and still running rings around everyone. My sister’s in her mid 60’s and her boys – Dad’s toddler grandsons – have both married and had kids of their own. Dad was a two-time grandfather when he passed. Today, he’d be a five-time great-grandfather. There have been house moves, educations attained, football premierships, careers established and moved-on-from, too many prime ministers to mention, the Waugh-Warne-McGrath-Ponting era of invincible Australian cricket teams, and much more.

Those are just some of the things that he might have enjoyed during those 37 years but, of course, they would have happened around him.

More important, perhaps, is considering what he might have chosen to do in that time. What life choices would he have made?

Where would he have liked to live?

Would he have travelled?

What would he have done in retirement?

What new interests might he have pursued?

I could speculate on the answers to those questions (the Dandenongs or the Peninsula, he definitely would have travelled, photography and gardening, unknown) but in the end, it’s all a little irrelevant.

The important thing to recognise and address is that Dad had to leave stones unturned. A combination of capital-L Life and 1980’s medicine left him without a choice.

I’m his age. I’m still here. I have choices.

——

So what to do? What does one take out of a milestone like this? A slightly morbid one, but a milestone, nonetheless?

I guess it’s a chance to take stock of how life has gone thus far, be thankful for it, and see if plans for the future measure up. I don’t know.

What would you do at a moment like this?

Is there an appointed time for self-reflection, for measuring oneself and weighing the results?

And what do you do with the results?

I’ll spare you the minutiae of any deliberations I’ve had in the months leading up to today. Suffice to say that I’m OK. But a few basics, perhaps….

Regrets? I’ve got a few.

Dad worked for himself and had two kids. I’ve always worked for someone else and have no kids. I don’t regret being a salaried employee but I do somewhat regret not having kids. It was the result of a bunch of deliberate choices, soberly made, and I’m comfortable with those choices, over all. But I can’t help feeling a tinge of regret.

I’ve also made some other decisions – for good, honest reasons – that have dented a few people’s hearts and/or spirits along the way. I don’t regret the decisions. They were the right things to do and the reasoning behind them was sound. I don’t know if there’s a way I could have navigated those decisions any better, but the fact that some people were hurt suggests that I could have. I don’t know.

Unfinished business? There’s always plenty of that.

Travel. Writing. Photography. Work. There are plenty of places to see, plenty of things to learn, plenty of things to share and I’m married to a wonderful woman with whom I plan to do it all. We have based ourselves here in Sweden a) because it was available to us, and b) because it’s a great launchpad from which to do/see a lot of wonderful things.

Which leads me to where this has been going all along, perhaps…..

Legacy.

What do we leave behind when we go? What’s the point of doing all these amazing things if those experiences only serve as talking points and beautiful memories in our golden years.

Here I am, thinking of and writing about my father who departed 37 years ago. I’m thinking about the (somewhat stunted) relationship we had, the imprint of him that’s carried forward in me. And I’m wondering what sort of imprint I might leave behind, if any.

If you’re a parent, your children and grandchildren are your primary legacy. If you’re not a parent, then what?

Perhaps there’s an outward-facing element of that ‘unfinished business’ that I need to explore.

——

I’d love to know your thoughts, if you’d care to share them.

I don’t need your thoughts on my situation, but if anyone reading has gone through a similar thought process and come up with any answers, I’d love to hear them.

How do you recognise the contributions of others to your life? And how do you live in such a way as contribute more than what you’ve received?

19,257 questions, indeed.

You may also like

22 Comments

  1. An extremely thought-provoking piece, Swade. Thank you for providing us the opportunity to stop and hold up a mirror, however uncomfortable that may be.

  2. I’m not such a deep thinker as you but I lost my mother at age 47. She was happily looking forward to being engaged as a grandmother with our 2 children. Her last visit with them was in the hospital where medicine of the 1960’s couldn’t save her. However, for years afterward, I felt her presence as if she were sharing in our lives from an after-life somewhere. I felt the same about a brother I lost to polio at age 13.
    All I can say is keep on living the good life. He may be watching and would certainly enjoy your happiness and success.

    1. 47. Wow, Ted. And would she have survived with today’s technology? I’m pretty sure Dad would have, but then who knows.

      Keep on living the good life. Sage advice.

  3. What I realised is that you’re probably remembered by 2 or 3 generations maximum. After that you’re a ‘who’s that in the photo’

    I like the saying you die twice, once when you die, once when you’re no longer a living memory.

    My legacy? Work wise as a workplace safety regulator maybe one or two people alive who maybe wouldn’t be, some arms and legs saved and maybe some people living longer lives and healthier ones they can enjoy because I made their companies get them the proper safety gear. Some justice for families of dead or badly injured workers – a 16 year old kid with his arm ripped off and a sporting career destroyed stays with me.
    Personal life, well hopefully living up to the values of those before me and passing them on.

    1. Dying twice sounds about right, Jon. And the values stuff is pretty spot on, too. I’ve taken a lot of cues from my folks, and my sister, on that front.

      We are a mix of who makes us and who brings us up. Nothing particularly mysterious there, I guess.

      And it’s great work that you’ve done. Very worthwhile.

  4. Very thought provoking. Happy birthday mate. I have been around since Saabs United days and am fascinated by the events that have shaped your life.

    All the best

  5. The Mystery of life and we cannot change it, but enjoy, stay healthy and be there for one and other.

    We cannot predict the future, but hope.
    You always have a way with words.
    Love you always xxx

  6. A touching and beautifully written piece.

    It certainly resonates as I get closer to the age Dad was when he died 17 years ago.

    I too always wonder what he would have done had his life had another few chapters. What he would have made of his grandchildren and his children’s lives. The choices we have made. I wonder if he would have visited us here in Australia (by no means guaranteed).

    I don’t think more than a couple of days go by without thinking of him and a number of my other ancestors, particularly my grandparents. Not with the same sadness as when they died, but with the comfort of a feeling that they are still there (that is about as spiritual as I get).

    As for legacy, I am just hoping that when I get out I got slightly more right than wrong, morally and in terms of my interactions with fellow humans, creatures and the planet in general.

    Very best wishes to you and all who read this board. Have a nice Christmas and all the best for 2023 and beyond.

    1. I don’t think more than a couple of days go by without thinking of him and a number of my other ancestors

      Same here.

      For years after he died I kept expecting him to walk through a door like nothing happened. And I’d have welcomed it.

  7. Hi Swade.
    Loved reading this with tears in my eyes. I can hear your voice as I do.
    I still have my dad but he doesn’t want to see me. (Or any of us) different but similar.
    Where in Sweden are you? I was in Uppsala last week and will be in Stockholm in April. I’d love to meet up again. Robin.

    1. We’re in Helsingborg, Robin. A bit south and west of where you’re landing. It’d be great to catch up should the chance arise.

  8. Very true that after a couple of generations no-one will remember you. Most of us won’t leave a mark on the world but for me as long as I have good friendships, don’t do any harm and have a happy life I’ll be good with that. And there are a few years left and retirement when I get to it hopefully will be a blast.

  9. Swade, we share a similar story. I’m not due for the symbolic anniversary for a couple of years, but my brother has. He mentions it as one of the reasons that he decided to retire early and enjoy life a bit more.

    1. It feels comforting to know I’m not the only one such an anniversary has crept up on. Thanks Bernard.

  10. This is a somewhat prescient piece, beautifully written as always. My dad is 80, and is looking more and more frail, and suffering with various ailments which have yet to be diagnosed despite extensive testing. Like you, my relationship with my dad has always been somewhat stunted; he’s never been big on affection or praise, but has never had an issue with handing out criticism like it’s going out of style; undoubtedly that has not helped our relationship. I think of what he had achieved at my current age (54), and have to acknowledge that I’m not doing as well as he was in 1996. Thanks to dodgy genes on my mum’s side, I have high LDL cholesterol levels, despite my healthy diet and high fitness levels; thankfully medical advances since your dad’s passing have identified the danger I’m in, and hopefully will help me live to the same age as my dad is now, or longer. Not so long ago, the first warning sign of atherosclerosis was a heart attack, which you might or might not survive.

    I didn’t have kids either, and it’s a decision I’ve never regretted in the slightest. I’ve travelled for years at a time, lived in some amazing countries, owned some amazing cars, and met some amazing people; none of that would have been possible trying to raise a family. Life is for living; and the meaning of it is the meaning you assign to it yourself. I feel a little sorry for people whose lives are entirely defined by their role as parents; as if the essence of what makes you “you” becomes subsumed by being a parent above all else. Who are you once that role is fulfilled? Where did “you” go?

    I play guitar and sing in a band, and even skydiving can’t compare to the rush of being on stage in front of a big crowd. People ask if I don’t get scared when I play, and of course I do; but that’s where we as humans feel most alive, standing on the edge, adrenalin pumping, pushing the envelope.

    1. I miss playing, Mike. I only ever did local gigs but even then, I know the rush that you’re talking about. I can’t imagine what it must be like in front of a big crowd. Epic.

      Life is indeed for the living.

  11. Hello Swade,

    This was interestingly written. My youger brother sort thinks like you, but me? Not so much. I did learn to introspect during a semester of journaling from high school that I carried on for a few more years afterwards. But today I don’t do any of that. And I’m sure you are more than aware that I have not continued my Racing Ready blog for some years now, either.

    As to the concept of legacy, I have been starting to ponder that concept somewhat recently, and moreso in light of how our partial future retirement in Mexico will influence that, starting about 2-ish years from now.

    Take care my friend, and keep up with the interesting content!

    Dan Scanlon