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Sunday, March 25 Opinion

In the Suburbs / For the 69th time, 'Happy Father's Day,' Dad

A few weeks ago, my dad and I were having a friendly disagreement about my coming 70th birthday in August, and he told me that this couldn't possibly be 70 for me. He was sure it would be my 69th.

I explained that this Sunday would be his 69th Father's Day (the holiday had already passed when I was born in 1944). After conceding I might be right, Dad cut the conversation short because he and his girlfriend Bernice were going to dinner.

"Whatever," he said.

"Whatever" is Dad's new word to end a discussion. I always thought that word was a dismissive used only by young people who didn't want to debate an issue.

My Dad's slight forgetfulness aside, as we approach this Father's Day, I am so lucky to have him. He'll turn 94 in October, is in wonderful health and remains sharp as a tack. The gene pool has definitely been on Dad's side, and I'm feeling like I will follow in his footsteps. But the thought of my being even a 70-year-old dad is frightening.

Growing up in Chicago, I remember wonderful Father's Day get-togethers with family and friends. In the '60s, my four grandparents were still around, and there was lots of celebrating. My dad was always the chef, and we usually lucked out with great weather. Mom put out a huge spread of cole slaw, potato salad and tossed salads to go with the hamburgers and hot dogs Dad was grilling on our old Weber grill. Who knew from exotic gas grills in those days?

Gift buying then was simple and easy. Dad was -- and still is -- an avid reader, and Mom would take us to a local book store to buy Dad a nice, thick book about history.

As Dad's disposable income became greater in the '70s, he started playing more golf, and in the nearly 48 years since my wife and I have been married, we've purchased golf balls, gift cards for nine or 18 holes at a course, clubs and other paraphernalia. Sadly, in these past two years, Dad's leg has been giving him problems, and he's pretty much given up golf. It made us sad to see him hang up his clubs. My brother, who lives nearby, says Dad may play an occasional nine holes, but it's a lot of walking and he tires easily.

My wife and I debated about giving Dad and Bernice a gift certificate for dinner, but decided the book would be a better choice. He's still digesting "The Bully Pulpit," Doris Kearns Goodwin's book about Presidents William Howard Taft and Teddy Roosevelt. It was one of two books we have him for Hanukkah last year.

I found something a bit shorter for this year, but the book still focuses on history. Dad remains an enthusiastic follower of politics and presidents, and we hope he'll like our choice.

I feel fortunate that I was able to visit Dad just two weeks ago in his new man cave in the independent and assisted living facility he moved to barely a month ago. Living on the independent side, he is so proud of how he decorated the three-room apartment, and I feel he is finally settling into life without Mom. Bernice and my sister-in-law Chris helped Dad decorate, and the place looks like it's straight out of house beautiful. He loves his privacy and zooms all over the building with his walker.

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I do feel a little sad for him on this year's Father's Day. My brother and Chris left for Indonesia today to visit their younger daughter, so I'm not exactly sure what Dad will be doing. We don't think he'd be up for a trip to Connecticut or to Washington, where my other brother lives. We're closing on the sale of our house soon, and Dad told me he wants to see our new home once we're settled. But we'll have to wait and see.

As we approach Dad's 69th Father's Day, I feel blessed for the love, wisdom, sense of humor and love of family that he has passed along to me. I only hope that we will all be able to share more Father's Days and perhaps a 75th Father's Day before his 100th birthday.

Happy Father's Day, Dad. Sorry we can't spend it together with hot dogs, hamburgers, family and friends.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at stevengaynes44@gmail.com.