Lean in and listen. Although my Dad really doesn’t want anyone to know, he’s turning 80 this October.
We’re celebrating his birthday in style at the Alpine Club with folk dancing, Oktoberfest schnitzel and beer. An un-Mennonite evening to be sure, but there’s nothing quite like a guilty pleasure.
My Dad has packed a lot into his 80 years. He’s lucky. Happy and healthy, surrounded with fabulous friends, a stimulating family, and a supportive church community, he’s curious, eager to learn new things, and enjoying these golden years.
From all accounts Abner always was a golden boy. The baby of the family, smart, talented, and a real looker, he got a good education and married his gorgeous bride. He accomplished just about everything he wanted. Only a bit of ill health got in the way, but as it happens, things turned out pretty well.
I thank my Dad for taking some risks along the way. Abner fashioned an epic tour in 1972. While he was studying conducting with Helmut Rilling, we were hanging out in the Schwarzwald eating sausage, swimming, watching weird cartoons and playing with German kids. We beheld the great art, music, architecture and landscape of Europe up close. Here’s my iconic memory from that trip. Our family of six was crossing a busy London street. I was the last in line, taking my sweet time, when suddenly the light changed, the British cars revved up, and I was helplessly caught in the middle of bustling rush hour traffic, black taxicabs zooming all around me. From the far side of the street, my heroic Dad appeared wielding a terrible weapon – a rolled up newspaper – with which he thwacked the oncoming car hoods yelling “Stop!” as I ran across the road into the safety of my parents’ arms. I think of that incident and get a bit misty.
But a daughter can only purloin so much attention. My Dad was completely dedicated to his Holstein-Friesen cows, and when we were visited by friends from his former days as a professor at Mount Allison University, he described his herd and their pedigrees with pride. It seemed he never regretted giving up academia for a country life. Outside the farming, Abner gathered a group of rag-tag rural choristers to perform a precedent-setting Messiah, and in so doing, passed on a passion for singing big fat oratorios. He now supports what I do with Pax Christi Chorale, and he’s a great proofreader, with a keen eye for errors and omissions.
My Dad continues to appear for me in crisis. On the other end of a cell phone, Ab and Shirley talked me through my desperation in Cuba when Bruce was dying in hospital. They appeared at the airport in Toronto, held me, took me home, and stayed with me “for as long as I wanted.” I have never felt more helpless, or more grateful for my strong, fast thinking, practical, experienced, grounded, amazing parents.
Raise a glass with me. Alles Gute zum Geburtztag, Abner. Long life and happiness to you!