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Benefit of age fleeting

Published November 12, 2006


Being a patriarch isn't what it used to be. In my 87th year, having reached patriarchal status in my extended family, I find that I am about 200 years too late.

Back then, patriarchs were important. They were regarded as a source of collective wisdom and a font of experienced advice. In matters ranging from fiscal to physical, they had usually been there and done that.

However, in today's fast-changing world, the past is often obsolete, both technically and philosophically.

I note occasionally that religious "patriarching" is still a going line of work, but I'm afraid those long gowns and the constant aroma of incense would get to me after a while.

Grandkids used to sit at grandparents' feet and feed them a steady stream of questions that were usually answered in as serious a tone as the ancient one could muster, although tongue-in-cheek answers were known to slip out now and then.

With our grandson, Joey, 10, the flow of answers is in the opposite direction as he teaches me how to program my new cell phone and gets impatient when I fall short of what he thinks I should know by now about my computer.

He also gives me demonstrations of the latest electronics and has a puzzled look when I talk about my turntable and how it can play both 33 and 45 rpm records. He makes fun of my clunky old LP albums and doesn't care in the least that I know some of Cole Porter's hit lyrics by heart.

He does, however, try to avoid a look of condescension when I come up short in knowledge of rock, country or rap.

In quiet moments, I can sometimes regale him a bit with stories of cars that could be started with a crank and a dangerous world without seat belts or airbags. He never actually asks how we managed to survive, but I can tell what he's thinking.

Personal advice was once a province of patriarchs, but today's practitioners, ranging from Oprah and Dr. Phil to Abby and Miss Manners, have pretty much crowded us out of that sector, too.

We do know how to make popcorn from scratch and how to change a typewriter ribbon, but then, nobody does those things anymore. When I was young and the oldest of five kids, my overworked mother taught me how to iron my own shirts, but that's probably akin to knowing how to crack a buggy whip.

Yet, for a family patriarch, one distinction remains. I'm always the oldest guy at family get-togethers.

James Pettican lives in Palm Harbor.

[Last modified November 11, 2006, 19:48:36]

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