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  • Robert Farago

Getting Older is Not for Pussies

Random thoughts on Father's Day 2023

Peter Farago didn’t invent the saying above, but he perfected it. He’d say it in a deep Hungarian accent with an arched eyebrow and a perfectly timed Jewish shrug. Sometimes he was referring to his own health. Sometimes he was offering solace to a friend. To me, it meant more than physical commiseration.

When my father was a teenager, the Nazis forced him into a labor camp. He survived starvation, hypothermia, beatings and unrelenting brutality. One cruel winter, he operated on his leg with a rusty razor – and almost died of septicemia. During his “recovery” he continued building earthen tank traps to stop a Russian advance.

My father liked to joke that many of his fellow slave laborers went to sleep and woke up dead. It was no joke. Nor was arriving home to find strangers living in his house. To discover that the Nazis had worked, starved and exterminated his parents.

After the war, Peter Farago smuggled Jews into Israel. He married an American woman for a green card, then worked his way through the Rhode Island School of Design’s textile engineering program. He eventually married my mother and set up his own business.

My father endured hardships and setbacks, but he never lost his sense of humor. He built his company into a multi-million dollar success. No question: Peter Farago was no pussy.

One day last week, I woke up immobile. My back went out. I could barely crawl to the kitchen to get pain meds and muscle relaxants leftover from previous injuries.

The experience left me wondering how my father kept going through unimaginable loneliness, hardship and suffering. How he got back on his feet, both literally and metaphorically. I suppose he did what any survivor does: he kept going.

Throughout my life, I tried to emulate Peter Farago’s one-foot-in-front-of-the-other mental mindset. It wasn’t easy. My father’s towering achievements and razor sharp intellect made my academic and career efforts seem feeble.

I wasn’t a quitter per se, but sometimes I was. At least in comparison. Looking back, I see myself as a restless soul, struggling to make a name for myself. It’s not an excuse. It’s an explanation for how I ended up here.

As I drifted in and out of drug-addled sleep, it occurred to me that I’d started my entrepreneurial ventures to emulate my father, long since deceased. All except for one. A profession that set me apart from both my father and my high-achieving brothers. Writing.

Father was a highly literate man; he did The New York Times crossword in pen. (English was his third or fourth language.) Not often, perhaps not often enough, he told me my writing was my best talent – faking support when I digressed into hypnosis and other strange endeavors.

When I muscled my car and gun blogs into genre topping hits, my father’s eyes were upon me, in a good way. And yet it wasn’t enough. Not for me. I sold both blogs and walked away from the biz.

On one hand, I’d finally proven I could run and sell a profitable business. On the other hand, now what? Sales trainer? App developer? Fractional car ownership innovator? Hypnotist? Anti-AI campaigner? Writer? Of what? For whom?

Five years later, a TikTok post rescued me from existential angst. I didn’t download the clip; it only resonated hours after I’d scrolled past. But I’ll never forget it.

A jet fighter pulls up next to a commercial airliner. The fighter pilot says “watch this.” He performs some insane high-speed maneuvers. “What do you think?” he radios. “Watch this,” the airline pilot replies.

Nothing. Ten minutes later, the airline pilot ask the jet jock “What do you think?” “Nothing changed. What did I miss?” the jet pilot asks. “I went to the washroom, ate a brownie with ice cream, then came back here.”

There comes a time in a man’s life when he needs to throttle back. To trade adrenalin and excitement for comfort and satisfaction. To stop and eat the brownie. Still fly, but not so hard and not so fast.

Peter Farago retired in his sixties. He spent the next two decades fishing, indulging my mother’s art patronage and playing with his grandchildren. He was a snow-bird, shuttling between Rhode Island summers and Floridian winters. Avoiding the cold that reminded him of the Carpathian Mountains’ frigid hell.

So here I am in my sixties, publishing on Substack. I have 36 subscribers - roughly 80 thousand times less readers than I had some five years ago. And it’s OK. I’m enjoying writing about anything and everything, giving it away for free.

At the same time, I’m struggling with my third novel, the continuation of the Reservation Point crime series. That’s cool too. Some things require a steady, long term investment of our most precious resource. Time.

My father gave me lots of advice in his twilight years. Honestly? I don’t think it took. But Peter Farago loved me as best he could. I like to think that the fatherly advice I give my daughters is informed by his love.

”Do your best and see what happens.” That’s it. Nothing more. I don’t care what my children do, or how they do it, as long as they do it to the best of their ability. I don’t mean to be harsh, but I reckon anything less makes you a pussy.

There’s something else I learned from my father, now that I’m on the temporal downslope. Doing your best doesn’t get easier as you get older. Until and unless you let it. RIP Peter Farago.

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