Healthy Flirting at Any Age
August 29, 2018
Dexter Kim, guest contributor
I remember my amusement when my dad told me he joined a gym. It wasn’t because he wasn’t physically fit—he rode his bike to work every day until he retired—but I didn’t see him as the kind of guy who would be pumping weights and checking out his 70-something-year-old guns in the mirror. I’m sure I thought it was good that he wanted to get out of the house and stay active, even if I was skeptical he would go on a regular basis. But go he did—not to pump iron but to splash around in water aerobics classes and to steam his arthritic bones in the sauna. He tried to convince my mom to join after her own retirement but she was immovable in her refusal. Despite being 11 years younger, she was an even less likely gym rat candidate than he was. There was just no way her Korean War frugality could ever conceive of throwing money away on something so frivolous. Besides who had the time? He was able to use that frugality against her, however, when he bought her a membership for Christmas, knowing that she would never allow that money to go to waste. So she went with him, albeit begrudgingly at first.
As the years passed, the gym—along with aerobics at the local senior center and tai chi at the park for my mom—became part of their daily routines. But despite all the exercise, my dad’s health was in decline. Along with the rheumatoid arthritis, neuropathy and a host of other ailments—that he would, without warning, list off to complete strangers—had set in. Slowly my mom took over the role of his caretaker, which was no easy task. The pain and knowledge that he wasn’t able to do a lot of things he could when he was younger made him often grumpy and short-tempered.
I’m sure there were days when he woke up feeling he would rather stay in bed than jump in a pool with a bunch of elderly ladies, but when he was there, his demeanor changed. While my mom was in her yoga class he would hold court in the lobby and chat up anyone passing by. “Suddenly, he’s like a different person, smiling away,” my mom would say. Even though these interactions were primarily with members of the opposite sex, my mom harbored no jealousy and even encouraged his behavior because it improved his mood so dramatically. That kind of thinking struck observers as highly modern for a Korean woman of her age, but she was always, first and foremost, a pragmatist, so if socializing made him feel better, and in turn, made him easier to get along with at home, she was all for it.
More than four years after my dad’s death, my mom still attends the gym with a religious fervor, sometimes twice a day. It’s not only her workout spot but also her community center where she makes lunch dates and connects with friends. Maybe it’s also comforting for her to spend time in the place where he was often the happiest. When he gave her that first membership, we laughed about how his gift seemed more for himself than her. Now I wonder if he anticipated that it would continue to keep her moving and healthy after he was gone. Perhaps not, but I can imagine his look of satisfaction and amusement with the idea, smiling away.
Dexter Kim is a writer, editor, filmmaker and former Korea Times English Edition staff writer.
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