OLD FART SYNDROME
It seems that most of us want to have a "voice." We want to be heard.
Enter the world of OFS. This particular acronym stands for Old Fart Syndrome. When initially observed this syndrome is not easily distinguishable. It is characterized by maturing years or as others might say "old age" coupled with a desire to be heard and even valued. Perhaps the "fart" is for being heard. Valued?
The aged with OFS when given an audience will verbally ramble, talking incessantly. They tell about their experiences that gave and it gives them personal insights into the world surrounding them. Those insights include such things as an understanding of youth, young adulthood, adulthood, and they think even their peer group.
The nature of my father in raising me was to have expectations without dialogue. It was not uncommon to be engaged in a project with him where I was expected to grab the "right" tool or to do the "right" thing without direction from him. Of course this was a formula for disaster for me. Whether he was cussing at me calling me a "dumb son-of-a-bitch" or throwing some object at me such as a steel wrench, hammer, or perhaps a rock, I knew I had failed meeting his expectation.
With that part of my life assumptively behind me, having returned from my military experience as a Cold War spy, I was working on one of the company trucks in the shop with my father. It was a blustery late spring afternoon, the outside temperature in the low 70s. He was under the truck fiddling with something when he asked me for some kind of widget.
What the hell is a widget? I knew better than to ask because if I did I would again be told how dumb I am, and probably how worthless too. I looked for the widget or whatever it was in the toolbox, in the scattering of items on the floor close to his hips, and on the seat of the truck.
"Are you going to get me the damn thing, or just stand there and do nothing with your thumb up your ass?" His hand had emerged from under the truck and it was opening and closing it as if trying to grab something I was to place in it while he asked that question.
I've been in the military and learn to talk militaryeze. Short words with simple meanings. I'd operated equipment with millions of dollars. I had filled a vital role at a critical time in the then ever present arms race between Russia and the United States. Coming forward to this point in time, I may have been a young man but I was a man. I kicked the offending hand. Almost to a point of yelling I told him to "go to hell!" With that I walked out of the shop heading for my old grey beat up '48 Willies Jeep pickup.
For what turned out to be such a meaningful event in my life I am embarrassed to say that I do not now remember what a widget is, or was at that time. As I walked away I could hear my father scrambling to get out from underneath the truck. I could picture the look on his face, red and infused with anger. In the back of my mind I could imagine him with a wrench or hunk of pipe with which to bean me.
The sound of his voice was different than any others I could remember. When I turned I saw him standing there with his hands on his hips at the overhead door opening. A puzzled look on his face with his bushy eyebrows furrowed as if in deep thought.
At this late date the dialogue does not matter but what did matter was that I had my first meaningful and real conversation with my father as an adult. I gave my complaints while expressing some understandings that I had as a part of our relationship. I expressed the constant turmoil I lived in when around him. As he responded I tried to listen, to understand what he was saying.
I knew he went to work in a sawmills at the age of 14; to support the family of his drunken father. In supporting his brothers and sisters (8) he missed out on the childhood I had had the advantage of living. He had worked so hard to make our life as his children better than his. I understood his military service during World War II as the patriotic thing he meant it to be. I knew the stories of his life that brought us to this moment in time.
We did not talk about those things. What we did talk about was respect man-to-man and how that had to be shared. Time has a way of marching on regardless of our perceptions. It seemed as if it had only been moments but the automatic lights in the shop had turned on as dusk was settling into night.
The conversation ended with my father telling me, "I know that I'm a little rough around the edges but all I have ever wanted and all I want is for you kids to have a better life than I have had."
"But dad, it has been and it is better because of you. There are many things that could be changed but they are what they are and it is all better than what could've been."
Dad stood there slowly shaking his head from side to side with the back light shadowing his face. The flash of thought was that he is like one of those old grizzly bears we have watched on TV and in the movies. "Don (?), I just don't understand. I just don't know. Why can't my sons listen to me?" It was with pleading in his eyes he asked these questions. I was totally caught off guard because this was simply not how my father talk to me. I had no experience with this type of conversation.
"I don't want you guys to make the same mistakes I have made. I don't understand how come you just listen to me and learn. I've lived so long. I am older and wiser. I thought that I had raised you to be smarter." He ended those comments with his palms turned outwards towards me as if his whole body were asking the question.
I could see in his eyes he was open to an answer. "Dad. This is our time to make mistakes, to learn and to grow, and we need to be able to do that. I know that in time I will want to be heard and understood just like you do. I will probably stand in front of my sons (my daughter wasn't born yet) and want to say the same thing you just said to me. I hope and pray I can remember this conversation; that I can have the strength and understanding to give the their own space and room to grow in."
My father was raised in another generation, in a different time and a different place. It was a man's world with certain societal and cultural expectations to be met before a man could call himself or expect others to call him "a man." Being of that generation in this particular conversation he was lost and confused.
"But Donnie, I have learned so much, I have so much wisdom, I want to share. I don't want to see you make the mistakes I have made." It was not the words he used but the pleading in his eyes that tore at me.
"But dad, before you can be heard you have to have an audience that is willing to listen. The only thing age guarantees, if you live long enough, is senile psychosis."
Each age has the modern miracles of its time. Today is the digital age with one of the overlays of social media. My father with his OFS could have thrived in this environment. He could have created a "following" with "likes" and "shares." There is a possibility he could of been heard and understood. But even if he was not, he could have lived with the delusion built into OFS that sometimes there is an audience and sometimes the audience is listening, it hears and understands.