Barry Saunders

He knows he’s old – no need to remind him

Listen up, you young whippersnappers. Frank Godfrey has had it up to here – no, not there: here – with your comments.

“Nobody who’s old has to be told he’s old,” Godfrey told me when I called about a smoldering, written rant he’d sent to The News & Observer and addressed to “the children of parents who have grown ‘old.’”

The letter was provoked by the attitudes of his adult children, but it could be addressed to everyone’s children. It reads like a declaration against ageism from everyone who has ever contemplated buying Grecian Formula, who has ever walked into a room and then stood there wondering why, who has ever become frustrated while looking for that darned cell phone – only to discover that you were still talking on it.

Oh, so I’m the only one, huh?

To the aspiring Peter Pans who think their hair will never turn gray and they’ll never forget where they put the car keys, he wrote, “Please know that one day you, too, will be old.”

Snide and brutal

Godfrey, a retired college professor, told me, “I have three kids and three grandkids. They’re always making these little snide remarks about my age. ... People aren’t trying to be insensitive, but sometimes they make brutal remarks. If I forget something, they’ll say, ‘Uh-oh, Dad, you’re getting old.’ They say it jokingly, but it’s not funny. If my daughter forgets something, she simply forgot. Well, sometimes I simply forget.”

Right on!

Godfrey, a former professor at his alma mater, St. Augustine’s University, also taught at Strayer University and worked at NASA. He is now a substitute teacher at Wilburn Elementary School.

“I’m loving it,” he said. “I felt unfulfilled when I took early retirement from St. Augustine’s. I felt that I had a lot to give but I didn’t have an outlet.”

He thinks driving back and forth to Norfolk and babysitting his toddler grandson – 52 trips over the past two years, he said – prepared him temperamentally for working with young children after decades with young adults.

There is a point at which everyone knows they are old. It might be the first time you go to Golden Corral and they give you the senior citizens discount – and you didn’t even ask for it – or the first time you go to the movie theater and get it. Of course, to the 16-year-old ticket seller at your average multiplex, there’s no substantive difference between a 36-year-old and an 86-year-old.

‘Legitimately old’

Godfrey admits now, for the first time, that he is old. “I just turned 70,” he said. “I was in denial until I was 60, 65. At 70, I’m legitimately old.”

That doesn’t mean that he is fixing to go gentle into that good night. “I can’t do some of the things I used to do. I used to run 1,000 miles a year. Now, I walk 1,000,” he said. In his letter he wrote, “The old saying, ‘once a man, twice a child’, is real, although some seniors, for whatever reason, are spared that second childhood (typified by) memory loss, incontinence, and overall dependence. And, ironically this reality might have nothing to do with how one lived—diet, exercise, or overall life-style.”

In case it does, though, Godfrey is taking no chances. “I’m at the same weight I was when I finished school in 1967,” he said. “I’m on no medications, I work out on a regular basis. I don’t eat beef or pork, no fried foods, no potatoes, no french fries.”

What’s the use of getting older then? I thought but didn’t say, lest his preternaturally healthy self sock me.

“So, please,” Godfrey concluded his letter, “keep your insensitive comments to yourself, even if you did not intend to cause discomfort. We don’t need reminding. Think of how patient you have to be with your children as a reminder of how patient we had to be with you even when you so-called ‘grew up’. Love us and use every moment as an opportunity to enjoy and embrace us. We are closer to the end than we have ever been, but we are still here. Still here.”

Again, right on.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or