Patriarch (noun): 1) head of the family; 2) the oldest member of the group; 3) a venerable old man; 4) respected senior; 5) biblical ancestor; 6) Hebrew leader |
What is it about Americans of my generation that we don’t want to grow old? Is it that we don’t want to be reminded of our mortality? Is it so we can psychologically put off having the undesirable conditions (arthritis, dementia, erectile dysfunction, incontinence, etc.) associated with aging? Is it so we don’t have to wear funny clothes? Here I’m thinking about coffee-stained plaid shirts (crookedly buttoned), and cuffed, high-water, gabardine trousers (with permanent pee spot) worn practically to the armpits held up by both belt and suspenders. Unkempt, wispy hair and hanging boogers complete the picture. When I was a kid I remember an old lady at our church that had nose whiskers. We called her the walrus. It made an impression. I’ve been trimming my nose and ears for years.
And how about the increasing amount of cosmetic surgery performed on people of my generation? Here’s a flash, folks: no matter how much nip-and-tuck you have done, those speckled hands are still a giveaway. But I empathize. See, the disheartening reality is that we’ll never again be perceived as handsome, dashing and romantic, but instead as old cornballs that use dated lingo (groovy, dynamite, etc.) and tell well-worn jokes (over and over again). That’s why people cross the street when they see us coming.
I decided that’s never, ever going to happen to me. Avoiding mirrors helps; so does the psychological process of denial. I discovered long ago that one of my natural talents is self-delusion. Another is pocket-pool. Oh, and I can also do hand and underarm fart noises, loud wolf whistles, and cupped-hands tooting.
On my father’s side of the family, I am the eldest of my generation with two younger brothers and originally six, now five, younger cousins. Carol was victim of a brutal homicide. It happened on my Dad’s birthday. More chilling was he received a card from Carol that very day. Even with nieces and nephews we’re a rather small and geographically disconnected clan.
Some of us got together this past weekend at my youngest cousin’s home. She and I are the bookends for our generation separated by 20 years. I refer to us as the first and the worst. Anyway, another cousin, Mary, had the audacity to walk up to me and declare that I am now the patriarch of the family. Me? Patriarch? You’ve got to be kidding. Don’t they have to have long beards like those guys from the Eastern Church? Anyway I wouldn’t belong to a family who had the likes of me as patriarch. I hadn’t thought (ever!) about being the oldest anything still standing. The previous generation looked like they would be around forever—a very comforting feeling, by the way, since they always represented some kind of safety net—but they all passed into time between 2001 and 2005. Aunt Phyllis, the wife of my Dad’s youngest brother, is still among us and relatively healthy.
Let’s take a look at the patriarch definition(s) versus my talents, abilities, and ambitions, shall we?
1) Head of the family – PUH-lease! I don’t have enough self-control to be responsible for myself let alone a whole clan of crazy Mizzies—that’s what we call ourselves. Oh, we’re average (as in barely adequate) citizens, but each of us has just a touch of insanity (or idiocy) to make things interesting. That said I’m not nutty enough to want to provide some kind of ersatz leadership for a bunch of Mizzies. Let’s see… If I had to, what wisdom could I possibly offer to those my junior… Well, how about this? Sex is fun. On that we all agree; but farts, especially loud ones in inappropriate venues like theatres and church, are funny. Nothing brings down the house like a loud fart or belch. (Why is it that guys and children get it, but women don’t? Same thing with the Three Stooges.) But wait, I’m not a one trick pony. I have more sage advice, to wit: Never enter into a dating relationship with a prostitute because why would you want the whole cow when you can get the milk for a $20.00 handie?
2) The oldest member of the group – Well, technically (i.e., chronologically) that statement is accurate. However, if one considers maturity I must respectfully disqualify myself (refer to foregoing paragraph); a bit of an escape clause there, you see?
3) A venerable old man – This definition, as it applies to me, is just plain wrong—mainly the second part. Old? Me? Never! Old guys have noses that whistle during both the exhale and inhale cycles. They sit around and whittle and complain about local politics and recall how much better times used to be. I do none of those things. Further old men say things like, back-in-the-day, years-ago, now-when-I-was-a-boy, etc. As for the first part, venerable, any hint of me being esteemed, august, and/or honored is way off base. C’mon, I proudly bask (wallow?) in the glow of lifetime underachievement and unfulfilled potential. Hoo-hah!
4) Respected senior – Two words; GOOD GRIEF! Is there even such a thing as a respected senior in our society? I think not. It’s an oxymoron. Asians are known for honoring their elders, but here in America the closest thing we have is Hugh Hefner who you have to admit is mainly the point of pathetic humor. Let’s say you’re a senior citizen that has an engineering degree and two graduate degrees. Further, let’s say you’ve been an executive with a good track record of performance with the reputation of a great communicator. You’d be respected, right? You’d be sought for advice, right? After all science doesn’t change; physics and chemistry are constants of the universe, and so are statistics-and-probability and the science of the manufacturing cycle. WRONG on all counts, grasshopper! After a certain age, such a person is considered to have ZERO value and must be shunned by former co-workers and associates. When you get to the “golden years”, as all of you will, you’ll be able to tell by the phone calls you don’t receive, and the way you look forward to mowing the lawn just to have something to do. (Oh goody, this is my week to trim and weed whack.) The Occupy Wall Street mental giants say such a person should hurry up and die. Respected seniors in America? There’s no such thing. Thank God I’ve saved myself from the pain of that experience through my lifetime commitment to screwing around and goofing-off.
5) Biblical ancestor – C’mon, I’m not that old. Besides the only way I could make the Good Book would be either as a badass Philistine or a contentious, quarrelsome Hebrew. See I like to sit in the back of the room and make wisecracks. “Hey, Aaron, you don’t have the stones to make a farm animal out of gold!” Then to the multitude after the task is done, “Wouldn’t you think he could come up with something better than a cow? Who’ll worship a cow? He should have made a dragon.”
6) Hebrew leader – Since I do not belong to that tribe, I’m disqualified on that account. Even if I did, I couldn’t possibly compete with the likes of Abram/Abraham/Ibrahim (chose one). And just what kind of a leader was Moses? If he’d turned right instead of left they’d have all the oil in the Arabian Peninsula. I guess that meandering cloud and pillar of fire he followed didn’t have GPS. Or did it? I can see God up there randomly moving around a joystick and laughing maniacally. He’d see how many years he could get them to wander about. I suppose he started with 10 then decided to see how long he could keep it going sort of like that commercial where the guy test drives a new car for hours. However, 40 years had to be good enough to reach the top level of the game.
So there is my case for abdicating the title. If anything, I am the anti-patriarch. Besides we still have Aunt Phyllis as default matriarch. Actually the job suits her rather well. Even though she is connected to the Mizzies by marriage (poor thing), she’s the one who holds our coast-to-coast clan together.
Copyright by Gene Myers, author of AFTER HOURS: ADVENTURES OF AN INTERNATIONAL BUSINESSMAN (2009), Strategic Publishing Group, New York, NY – a hilarious account of the author’s overseas travels; and SONGS FROM LATTYS GROVE (2010), PublishAmerica, Fredericksburg, MD - a mildly sinister, but amusing work of fiction. Both are available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and available in Amazon Kindle and Nook formats. Watch for SALT HIS TAIL, a catch-me-if-you can crime thriller.
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