"I'm done with traditional medicine," my father announced at dinner. "There's nothing they can do for me."
As my father will soon be 87, it wasn't necessary to say that traditional medicine hasn't done too badly for him up to now. But I got his point. Because I knew that what he has been hearing directly and between the lines from doctors and others is, "what do you expect? You are 86." What my dad expects, however, is not to be satisfied with survival. What matters to him, and undoubtedly to most octogenarians, is quality of life. He is not asking to live forever, only that if it is possible to have more energy, be capable and independent and do those things that matter to him, that he be given encouragement and whatever aids that goal.
This skeptical attitude has evolved over time, partly, I suppose, because his doctors got younger and younger. And partly because his generation, raised to venerate experts and authority, realized that those experts were somebody's children, just like their own, whom they knew for a fact to be quite fallible.
Dad has long been interested in alternative medicine, done much research and tried things, a case study of one. He is pleased with what he has found, and recently he has learned something new he would like to try, "what if it would do as promised?" Once again he is proactive in reaching for his health and well-being. His mood for several days can be made by a good workout at the fitness center.
There's much to say about what I have learned from my father, a natural optimist, but this late life lesson is huge to me. He has ever been a man of action, no procrastination. He starts habits, stops habits, whatever he comes to decide is the best course of action. He shows up in his life, and has that trait of courage--- persistence--- in measures I long for. Is he at all set in his ways? Sure, just try cutting an onion or tomato in front of him, or taking out the garbage. He has many instructions. But this openness to the new, and the willingness to dig for information even if initially skeptical, is an example I value.
One of the first things he taught me was "never assume." This was learned the hard way, trying to excuse my way out of faulty judgments or actions. But, ah, yes, "never assume." Find out, know your stuff, take the time to be thorough, and take responsibility, it's your life. Trust yourself, take a leap, there's always something to be learned.
I expect I will give my doctors a hard time, too, if they try to get me to "settle." It's my father's legacy to me.