On the occasion of his 70th birthday Mark Twain made a speech. Luckily for us, someone took notes so that we could plagiarise him today. Let’s face it, after so many birthdays we were looking for new material.
The seventieth birthday! It is the time of life when you arrive at a new and awful dignity; when you may throw aside the decent reserves which have oppressed you for a generation and stand unafraid and unabashed upon your seven-terraced summit and look down and teach- unrebuked. You can tell the world how you got there. It is what they all do. You shall never get tired of telling by what delicate arts and deep moralities you climbed up to that great place. You will explain the process and dwell on the particulars with senile rapture. I have been anxious to explain my own system this long time, and now at last I have the right.
I have achieved my seventy years in the usual way: by sticking strictly to a scheme of life which would kill anybody else.
It's almost as if Twain had Dad in mind.
I like the idea of Dad feeling like he can now stand on his “seven-terraced summit” looking down and teaching – “unrebuked”. The reality however, is somewhat different. This is a man with a wife and three daughters you must remember and while we respect him greatly I am not sure that he has ever been able to tell any of us how to do anything…
Where Twain speaks of “explaining the process and dwelling on the particulars with senile rapture”, it's fair to say that Father has really embraced this notion. Most of us here have been the recipients of such rapture, though he has brought Twain’s concept into the 21st century and does most of his “explaining and dwelling” via a travel blog or Facebook or email or text or Skype or Viber.
We can all marvel at the uncanny similarities between Dad and Twain. Twain believed he "achieved (his) seventy years in the usual way: by sticking strictly to a scheme of life which would kill anybody else." Neil too has stuck to a strict regime. And where a diet of duck fat and red wine would slowly kill most mortals, in father it seems to power him, fuel him for adventure and leave him in pretty rude health.
And his health has been the topic of some discussion over the last few months. When a “pulled calf muscle” turned out to be a DVT Dad had to spend a few days in hospital. It was amusing to see the look of surprise on the faces of the medical professionals when they asked Dad for a list of his ailments. “Nothing” he said. And for this we are very thankful. Mostly because we love him and want to keep him around, but also because he’s a shocking patient. He was bored and impatient, hated the hospital food and really didn’t look great in that hospital gown that is open at the back.
It is fitting then that Dad spent his actual birthday overseas, having driven Route 66 from Chicago to LA with his good mate Peter. Nothing flips the bird to the god’s of aging quite like an all-male, Thelma and Louise style trip across the US. And while they may have chosen a sensible four door sedan for the trip, I like to think that the two of them wrestling to get Dad’s compression stockings on and off provided a bit of spice to the trip.
In the decade since his last significant birthday Dad has become a retiree, a vocation he takes very seriously. We are constantly amazed by how busy he is. Golf twice a week, cruises around the world, and numerous trips to Centerlink when they cancel his old person’s card because he has been out of the country for so long. He loves spending time at Blairgowrie and can often be found sitting in a carpark overlooking the beach, reading his book. And while this may be relaxing for him, it is undoubtedly creepy for the young mothers and children of the Mornington Peninsula.
Dad’s health and activity level may sometimes fool us into thinking that he cannot possibly be 70. However, we have noticed some changes over the past few years and we have been forced to acknowledge that he is approaching his ‘twilight’ years. In the past he may have been found out on the town late at night. Now he needs an early night in case he needs to be at Aldi when they open to make sure he doesn’t miss a bargain. Where heated discussion of sport, politics and world affairs may have taken up his time, now nothing galvanises him quite like talk of bin night and those bastard telecommunication providers. And where, in the past, he would call his three daughters to check they got home safe he now calls to advise them of major weather events.
He is adored by his 9 grandchildren, respected by his 3 sons in law, treasured by his 3 daughters and who the fuck knows how he has been tolerated by his ever-loving wife of 46 years.
As he stands on his 70 terraced summit he has a lot to be proud of and to celebrate and I am sure he is grateful that you are all here to help him to just that.
So to finish, Mark Twain made some salient points regarding the advantages of turning 70. Unfortunately though, Tony Abbot is in power and the age of entitlement is over. After reading Twain, Mr Abbot made some amendments and from now on these pleasures will only be afforded once you turn 80. So let’s meet back here in 10 years.