Article How my birthday provokes reflection and a little sadness for my dad

I still get excited about my birthday

I recently turned 57 and I still get excited about my birthday.

Not because I love getting gifts – they are totally not my love language.

There’s something about having a birthday so soon after the new year that reinforces my excitement about a fresh new year ahead.

Thinking about my dad

But my birthday has also become a time of reflection and thinking a lot about my dad.

You see, it was barely a week after my birthday four years ago, that I journeyed back to Queensland because it was clear that my dad was nearing the end of his life.

Not an easy end to a long and engaged life

Although my dad, Patrick Charles Rowen, lived to the grand age of 90, his later years were extremely difficult for him.

He was an intelligent character who loved to socialise – his nick name was ‘have a chat Pat’ – and he lost no mental acuity with age.

However, physical decline made it increasingly difficult for him to engage with the world in the way he wanted and his discomfort with all of this was awful.

Love for learning

Dad was a prolific reader, driven by a desire to learn and know and try new things.

His expansive general knowledge and recall of facts amassed through reading were astounding.

He had a pastime and side gig of beekeeping and honey production and although he had an apiary mentor, he was largely self-taught through books and journals on the subject.

Multi-talented

Dad could turn his mind and talented hands to anything he wanted to try.

A brilliance for woodcraft grew out of his career in carpentry.

He was a prolific maker of magnificent cabinets, coffee tables, jewellery and blanket boxes, many of which included complex inlays and marquetry.

There are several reminders in my house of items dad turned on the wood lathe like decorative bowls and cups, even pens and knife handles.

He used some of his honey to make mead and there was also a stint of homebrewing beer.

Anything dad wanted to try, he just read about it and gave it a go.

I look like my dad – a lot

I’ve always been aware of my likeness to my dad.

People have told me how much I look like him since I was a little kid and I see it myself when I look in a mirror.

I even have the same physique with broad shoulders, skinny legs and a beer barrel abdomen.

The resemblance is concerning in one respect – have I inherited his health problems along with the physical characteristics?

I’m not just concerned – it terrifies me

Dad had his first heart attack at the age of 57 – I just turned 57…

He made some changes immediately after this episode, losing weight through dietary modifications and starting a walking program.

These changes were not lasting though, and the trajectory seemed to be set.

He went on to have angina, further heart attacks, heart valve disease and eventually, heart failure and minor strokes.

Risk factors inherited

Dad had high blood pressure and I already know that I inherited this heart disease risk factor, despite being an extremely fit and healthy person.

I wrote about this in a previous blog that you can check out through this link.

High blood cholesterol is another heart disease risk factor I’ve apparently inherited from dad – not as severe as dad’s but marginally high. Again, despite my active lifestyle and largely healthy eating habits.

Things you need to know before you get sick

Like many people, dad did not go to the doctor for health checks, only making appointments when he was sick.

I’ve realised that he may not have known he had high blood pressure and cholesterol until the time of that first cardiac turn in his late fifties.

These are modifiable risk factors for developing heart disease, but they can be present for years without symptoms before precipitating an acute episode.

We can only know we have these risk factors through regular check-ups when we still feel well.

Progressive decline

The saddest part of dad’s story is how his progressive physical decline came to impede his mode of interaction with the world – reading, learning, knowing, participating, socialising, doing.

His cardiovascular disease likely contributed to failing eyesight which stymied his prolific reading and beloved daily ritual of doing both standard and cryptic crosswords in the Toowoomba Chronicle.

He used many magnification devices over the years and kept trying as long as possible before it was just too hard.

Heartbreaking limitations

Mobility issues, caused by both heart disease and osteoarthritis, were the worst thing to witness.

The distance he could walk before becoming breathless grew shorter and shorter, while joint pain and stiffness limited him even more.

Maintaining mobility can help with osteoarthritis and prevent falls, of which dad had some doozies, but it’s hard to keep moving when you’re out of breath before too long.

An unfortunate catch twenty-two.

The combination of failing eyesight and mobility problems eventually stopped dad doing his beautiful woodwork even though he was desperate to keep it up.

Did it have to be so hard?

Dad’s heart disease, while it may have been inevitable due to genetic predisposition, would have been mitigated through a healthier life that included exercise.

With a healthier cardiovascular system, he could have moved more and better managed his osteoarthritis.

Maintaining strength and mobility would have meant taking part in more of the things he loved and a better quality of life for much longer.

My dad’s experience is central to my inclination for exercise

If I live to be in my nineties, which is highly probable, I want to live well and be able to do everything I want to do.

I do not want to be limited and suffer through my final years like poor dad.

This is my ‘why’, my deep and personal motivation for exercise.

Vision & Mission

Watching my dad struggle and not be able to live the life he wanted was truly sad.

It’s in my power to avoid his fate and I do that through exercise and healthy living.

But I don’t just want this for myself.

Here are my vision and mission for FiftyFitness.

Vision

Empowering over 50s with knowledge and inspiration to embrace fitness, feel great and enjoy top quality of life now and forever.

Mission

To provide informed and empathetic fitness services and education for over 50s that will change their approach to exercise and make it a prized part of life.

Why?

Because I believe we can be over 50 and better than ever!

Are you starting from scratch with physical activity?

I know that the idea of starting with exercise is daunting for people not currently active.

I have the perfect entry point for starting with physical activity with my free video series.

Click the link to learn more and see how it can be easy to get started.

https://bit.ly/NiceAndEasyNewHabit

EVEolution™

To learn more about how you can empower yourself to exercise safely through all stages of your female life, check out the EVEolution™ page on my website.

Keep in touch

Please reach out to me if anything in this article resonates with you.

You can email me at kate@fiftyfitness.com.au or connect via social media.

I’m on FacebookInstagram and LinkedIn.

You can have a read of my previous blogs here 🙂

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This blog was written by

Kate Rowen's avatar

Kate Rowen

I wish to acknowledge and pay my respects to the traditional custodians of the land where I live, work and exercise, the Whadjuk people of the Noongar Nation.