My 2024 started with morning cycling and an afternoon 5-mile hike with family. My dad is the one in the picture below. This is what 80 can look like. My father has traveled every continent and still adventures.
My kids nicknamed my dad “cheetah grandpa”👴 for obvious reasons. He is now semi-retired but still goes to the office every day, plays tennis, and consistently squeezes in at least one 5-10 mile hike every week. Textbook perfect blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI and every other health indicator. There’s been no crazy anti-aging regimen, expensive self-care gadgets, plastic surgery, personal trainer, or nutritionist. If you didn’t know his birthdate, you wouldn’t even see him as a senior citizen.
What’s the secret? I think it comes down to attitude.
1. He has always been very proactive with his wellness, getting regular physicals and preventative checkups. He’s not vegan, gluten-free, no-microwave, or all-organic or farm-to-table. (Those may all be good.) He does eat healthily but without strict deprivation. Most of all, my dad values balance and is kind to himself.
2. He doesn’t accept the status quo or box himself in. After seeing a few of my piano videos and our singing together–witnessing then experiencing the joy of creating beautiful music–he started learning to play the piano and taking voice lessons at 76. However, playing the piano is hard! Disappointed with his slow progress, he quit, thinking he may have started too late or it may be too hard for older adults to learn to read music and play with both hands.
But if there’s anything he taught me, it’s that there’s no problem too big, just challenges waiting to be solved. He didn’t stay down 🙂 He pivoted and continued to learn and now plays pop piano which uses numbers. I only have a classical music background, so I don’t know the details, but he’s starting to sound good!
Way to go, Dad! Know what you really want. Take action, and don’t let setbacks stop you—overcome problems or go around the bottleneck. I often write about social determinants of health, cultivating a supportive environment, and parent training a lot because those are the surest ways of learning. Think about the most insightful workshop you’ve attended. You felt changed and empowered immediately afterward. But what if you can live those epiphanies day in and day out? I’ve been lucky and observed him do this all my life, from everyday life events from not panicking when we miss a flight on a family vacation–there’s always another flight to catch and always a way to problem solve to more formal learning like critiquing my project plans.
I proudly call him my mentor and best friend. But we didn’t always have a good relationship—or any relationship at all. He may not always have been a stereotypical model parent. By the time he was 32, my dad had become a self-made multimillionaire with his life centered around work. Growing up, I remember interacting more with his executive assistant than him.
He probably didn’t know how to be a dad. The stereotypical fathers of previous generations are often silent and distant. Maybe society doesn’t emphasize the importance of parenting and doesn’t value or reward good fatherhood. Maybe his dad was also aloof. There’s a lot of maybe’s, but fortunately, we jumped to problem-solving and building our relationship.
My dad’s success bought private school education, luxury goods, and homes with doormen, but it didn’t buy relationships with his kids. We hardly knew each other, and of course, there was other drama. Many families in similar situations continue to grow apart and brew deep resentment. However, we gave each other a chance. It wasn’t just forgive and forget, that’s not enough. We healed and rebuilt our relationship.
You can’t have a strong relationship without interactions and connections. I don’t think we had a conversation longer than two sentences up to that point, and it wasn’t personal. He’s not the type of person that chitchats. But I knew he talked to people at work and had seen him on business calls all my life, so that’s where I went. In my twenties, I moved back from the US to Taiwan to work for my dad in the family business and live at home. Contrary to popular belief, working in the family business is usually not glamorous. The second generation often works harder for less in order to prove their worth and dispel any suspicion of nepotism. The pros and cons of working with family deserve a separate article. But I digress. I got to submit weekly reports and receive performance reviews! And that was how we started interacting.
If you’ve had attentive and supportive parents, you might pity me as a victim. Whatever the case, my dad and I BOTH took actions to heal. I met him at work, where he thrived. He met me there, stayed open-minded and our conversations soon expanded beyond work. In the decades I’ve worked for him, we’ve dreamed, fought, failed, learned, and won together. Isn’t that what life is about?
When I was little, I would run across his offices and think he owned the world. I thought he was the richest man on Earth when he brought me posh outfits from Paris and stayed at the Ritz Carlton, but I also hated him for caring about his work more than me. Skip to the future, 2024; I now have my own teenage daughters and know he’s not the richest man in the world. But still the wealthiest in my eyes for being able to hike 5 miles and bike his grandkids. He’s wealthy and alive by continuing to learn. He’s generous for having given me and himself a chance to rebuild.
2024 can be a year of healing, of new beginnings. If you wish you had parented differently, or if a relationship has soured, why not try wiping the slate clean and giving each other a chance? Start small and with an open mind. Healing can happen if we really give each other a chance.