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Jewish Journal

The New ‘Old’ Codger

by Tom Tugend

August 2, 2001 | 8:00 pm

Older folks know how to have fun.

Older folks know how to have fun.

The trouble with old folks is that nowadays they no longer know their place.

Used to be that when an alert and productive chap of 64 turned 65, he was instantly transformed into an old codger, lovable, to be sure, but kind of eccentric and not all there upstairs, if you know what I mean.

His wife, the old lady, shooed him out of the kitchen and told him to play poker with the boys, or better yet, go fishing. (How a grown, or even senile, man can spend hours holding a rod and wait for a fish stupid enough to take the bait is beyond me.)

I don't know whether it's better diet, more exercise, or just to spite the next generation that has to pay for our Medicare, but people not only live longer but enjoy life more than even one or two generations ago.

To illustrate the point, let me crib from a scenario of mine in which a daughter calls her mother.

Daughter: Mom, Rosita just quit on me, Jack has to go to the office, and I have an important staff conference. Could you or dad take care of Jake and Hannah for a couple of hours?

Mom: We would just love to, but I have my hang-gliding competition, and dad has a meeting of his rappelling class.

Daughter: All right, I'll figure something out. Don't forget, though, that Jake has his birthday party next week.

Mom: Oh, dear, I feel awful, but we'll have to miss it. We're flying over to Oxford for a three-day course in British history, from the Norman invasion to Tony Blair, plus the complete works of William Shakespeare.

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a wee bit, but let me give you a for-instance.

We have a tennis foursome, and the youngest guy is 74. The oldest is 83, a Nobel Prize winner to boot -- and he's the sharpest of the lot. We're not yet quite ready for Wimbledon, but I fancy that we can give a pretty fair match to intermediary players half our ages.

Another thing is money, which pensioners, as the Brits call us, are supposed to have precious little of.

I may not be rich -- have you ever met a rich journalist? -- but with all three kids finally, finally out of graduate school and the mortgage paid up, I actually find myself with some change in my pocket.

I appreciate all those senior discounts, but to be honest, the time I needed them most was when we had three girls in college, constant dental bills, and the house to be paid off.

Another fading stereotype is of the doting grandparents who fulfill the grandkids' every whim. Not so. We enjoy our grandchildren, but we demand certain standards, and since we don't have to wrestle with them 16 hours a day, we have sufficient energy and patience to make our rulings stick.

We are abetted in our resolve of strictness because we grew up in the Dark Ages -- before "experts" taught that telling a kid to stop talking or turning off the TV set would inflict lifelong psychological scars.

One thing hasn't changed from generation to generation: Just as our parents knew better than we did how to raise our children, so we know better than our children how to raise their kids.

Tom and Rachel Tugend hone their grandparenting skills on four handsome boys, three lovely girls and counting.

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