Most of you know that I’m the youngest, by far, of the children. Dad was 40 years old when I was born, just after the mid point of his life. I’m the only one in the family to grow up in Birmingham, Michigan, where Dad got his last job as general counsel for ExCello Corporation. And that was a much bigger deal than I knew as a kid, which wasn’t much. I found out only a couple of weeks ago Ex-Cello was a fortune 200 company!
Anyway, I feel lucky to have grown up in the mid-west with my parents at in their mid-point of life. I had a lot of opportunities to spend quality time with Dad, sailing on Willy Wispe, hanging out at the Detroit Boat Club, and traveling on vacations all around the country and world.
But, there was something special about cruising on the sailboat. I think it was because Dad was at such peace when he was on the water. I’ll never forget summers cruising in the Georgian Bay and North Channel in Canada, where we would go for days without seeing another boat, anchoring at uninhabited islands, and filling the water tanks right from the lake (you can’t do THAT in salt water!)
The longest time Dad and I spent together was taking the boat from Michigan to Maryland after he retired, a trip which took an entire summer between high school and college. It was such an amazing journey. From Dad, I learned the joy of timelessness, where each day blended into the next. It was an adventure- we never knew what to expect. I remember circling around a buoy in the fog in the Thousand Islands for an hour. We didn’t know exactly where we wanted to go because Dad refused to spend money on charts for a place we’d only be once in our life. So we used a Texaco ROAD map as our guide, which didn’t clue us in as to where the shoals were or the location of the next buoy. But sailing the Thousand Islands with a road map made the trip that much more fun.
A really important lesson I’ve learned from Dad is that you can keep growing and enjoying life. He LOVED his retirement. It was so smart for him, especially now as I look back, to retire in his fifties. He got more than 10 wonderful years with mom traveling to cool places, visiting family and friends, and hanging out in their new home in St. Michaels.
But then events surprised us all. The family script, as I remember it, was that mom was supposed to live into her 90s, and dad to die earlier. Historically, men in the Foster family were not long-lived. But mom died in 1991 at the age of 69, and I have always been thankful Dad didn’t wait to retire until he was 65.
Mom’s death was devastating to us all. But Dad KEPT his sense of adventure and desire to learn new things. He continued his travels and adventures THEY had once BOTH enjoyed. I was lucky to go to the Galapagos with him on his first big trip after Mom died. Dad’s nature was to remain receptive to what life had to offer. (pause)
And then, the best “tip” he got from his financial advisor, Judy Werbitt, was Diane Keane’s phone number. In Diane, dad found a fellow widower with a zest for life who wanted to share the adventure. I saw their relationship grow in love and admiration over the years, and I want to thank Diane for bringing so much happiness to my father the last years of his life. I saw him grow and change at an age when many people are bent on remaining the same.
THAT is one of the GREAT GIFTS he has given us…. The lesson that life is to be lived to its fullest. No matter what your age, growing older doesn’t mean you stop growing.
I’m the baby of the family, but even I am quickly approaching the mid point of my life, and my siblings, I hesitate to say, crossed that mark a little while ago. But if we have learned anything from Dad, it’s to enjoy life to the end.
DAD…. WENT…. QUICKLY, which in many ways, as hard as it is for us, was a blessing for him. I believe he’s now in a place that’s like sailing in the St. Lawrence on a foggy day. And if I know Dad, he’ll circle that buoy for a while, but it won’t be too long before he changes course and goes where the current takes him.
Good bye dad, I love you.