• Genine Babakian

At an age when language is elusive, the right words come easily


It’s hard not to notice that my father struggles for words. I can almost see his mind ambling to find the right name, place, expression. Often he gives me the clues I need to decipher his meaning. Other times he stumbles to his final destination on his own. It is a fascinating process to watch.


Not long ago, I met my father for lunch. Not uncharacteristically, the topic of conversation drifted to food. “I had the best dinner the other night,” he said. “We started out with…” he paused, searching for the secret ingredient.


“Oh, you know,” he soldiered on, gesticulating with his hands. “That cold country lettuce … “


“Iceberg!” he finally declared. Triumphant.


It’s like watching a game of Password, only he is both clue-giver and contestant.


But among these lapses in language, there are three words he summons without a hitch: I love you.


At 93, my father has not given up on living. He plays bridge, laughs like a five-year-old, and counts calories. But he is also acutely aware that there isn’t much sand left in his hourglass. These days, he takes every opportunity to tell people he loves them. Just in case.


He was always an affectionate father, but that didn’t mean that he finished every phone call with an “I love you.” And his affection, I’ve noticed, is not reserved for his children alone. He shares these three tender words with waitresses, nurse’s aides, and friends old and new.


Recently, my father asked me to mail a letter to his friend Irv – a man he went to high school with three-quarters of a century ago. While I’ve never met Irv, I have conversed with him a few times by phone. He is, like my father, a man who faces the limitations of old age with his sense of humor intact. I called him to get his address.


Once Irving ascertained that I wasn’t’ calling to tell him that my father had passed away, he was all laughs and sunshine. We spoke for a few minutes after he gave me his address, and then, in parting, he said: “Thanks, darling. I love you.”


It must be an over-90 thing. Nonagenarians have the freedom to drop love bombs whensoever they wish.


Honestly, I don’t really care if my father can’t always find the words for his favorite food. Or if he stumbles over the names of my children. As long as he remembers the words that count, that’s all I need.

#iloveyou #agingparents #wordsthatcount