My father turned 74 yesterday. Most of the associated festivities were fairly conventional, and more or less predictable.
The usual suspects converged on my parents' home in Washington, Conn. My sister and brother-in-law and their two kids timed their mid-summer trip from Baltimore to coincide. My grown kids, save one who couldn't get away, all assembled in time for a celebratory dinner. There was homemade cake complete with candles, and the customarily dubious rendition of "happy birthday to you." Several men's fashion retailers clearly made out like bandits, as did Hallmark.
And, naturally, my dad and I exchanged our annual and prototypically awkward hug, before reverting back to the handshakes and monosyllabic grunts that put us right at ease. We love one another, of course, but we're guys. You know how it is.
At least one element of Dad's 74th was almost certainly somewhat atypical, however. My father and I (age 50), along with my brother-in-law (late 40s) and a friend in our age group (but not my dad's) went for a 54-mile bike ride.
The Harlem Valley Rail Ride, sponsored by Bike New York, happened to fall right on my dad's birthday this year. He noticed that some months ago, and proposed the four of us register accordingly. Who says no to a guy on his birthday?
The ride, which began and ended in Millerton, N.Y., was spectacular. Most of the time, we were winding along country roads and passing cornfields, flowers, and horse farms. We were fortunate to have a cool, overcast morning -- although our good fortune ran out temporarily for the roughly 5-mile stretch between about mile 38 and mile 43 we spent in a very cold deluge.
My brother-in-law, a serious cyclist and some-time tri-athlete, monitored our activity and tells me we averaged just a bit less than 17 miles an hour. For those who don't know, that's moving, particularly with the rolling hills factored in. It was serious exertion for all concerned, and my father was right there with the rest of us, all 20 years or more his juniors.
That's impressive. And more impressive still is that my dad's grandchildren find it impressive.
My folks have seven grandchildren; my wife and I have five kids, my sister and her husband have two. We didn't quite manage to assemble them all, but for much of the weekend we had five, and got up to six for the birthday dinner. There was talk among them more than once about how "cool" it was to have such active grandparents. The youngest of them, my niece Samantha, now 11, was not too young to notice, and agree.
For one thing, the kids were clearly just proud of grandparents who were so vibrant (my mom also bikes; in fact, she and my dad take inn-to-inn bike trips all over the world). For another, they have benefited directly because they routinely get to participate in grandparent-sponsored activities, which have ranged from rafting, to hiking, to horseback riding, to skiing. My folks are fun grandparents, and great role models.
A 54 mile bike ride to celebrate a 74th birthday is, indeed, very cool -- for many reasons. My father's lifelong devotion to physical activity is partly responsible for my own. I believe my father and I are part of the reason my brother-in-law got into triathlons. I was the example that turned my niece into a competitive equestrian, and she, in turn, has drawn her mother into the sport. My kids are all very fit and active; several are accomplished dancers. Samantha is a devoted, and quite talented, gymnast. Apples, all, not far from the tree.
A vigorous, 50-plus mile bike ride (or any comparable activity) on the occasion of a birthday near the middle of the seventh decade is testimony to the benefits of a lifetime of good living -- and the kids have noticed. The vitality that allows for such activity, and the blend of pleasure and gratification it accords, is a gift my father has given himself.
It's a gift that keeps on giving. It pays dividends across decades. And it pays dividends across generations. For my kids and my nieces, this is just what 74 looks like; it's what they now expect. And with our oldest now almost 25 -- who knows? My dad may yet get to imprint his love of an active lifestyle on a fourth generation.
My dad's example to his grandkids is wonderful. Getting both pleasure and health from active recreation is a contagious demonstration. My dad isn't trying to put on a display for anyone; he's just doing what he loves. But as a parent looking on at the impressions he is cultivating in my kids, I am grateful just the same. Everyone has a shot at more years in life, more life in years -- if they take good care of themselves. It's not a chore; it's an opportunity. I tell my kids that healthy people have more fun; their grandfather shows them just what I mean.
So, there you have it. For my dad's 74th, it was 54 miles. This makes me think that when I turn 54 several years from now, we may need to go 74 miles. Assuming we do, I just hope to be able to keep up with my dad.
For now, here's to healthy living -- the gift that truly does keep on giving -- across the years, and across the generations. Thanks, Dad -- and happy Birthday!
Dr. David L. Katz; http://www.davidkatzmd.com/
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