This past Monday, my youngest, Lana, started school at BYU. A couple of days later, on Wednesday, I turned 50. Or as my daughter teases, "fiddy, Daddy. You are fiddy!" I confess liking the hipness of "fiddy" as opposed to fifty. Half a century! It's hard for me to fathom.
As I look ahead to the next phase of life and specifically, the next 10 years, I've made some decisions based on the first 50, and specifically the last 10.
Among the milestones of the last 10 years was my belated college graduation in 2002 from BYU — a proud moment for me personally because I struggled academically. My wife and I celebrated our 18th-28th wedding anniversaries. All our kids graduated from high school since '02. Our sons became Eagle Scouts, served missions, went to BYU (no graduates yet — hopefully they don't take as long as Dad). One son married and produced our first grandchild and is about to give us our second. All in the last decade.
Professionally, I covered a Super Bowl in '04, two World Series in '08 and '09, horse racing's Triple Crown in '04, the Salt Lake, Athens, Torino, Beijing and London Olympics — all in the last decade.
I could not possibly imagine as a boy the many wonderful and amazing things that have happened to me in my life, especially from age 40 to 50. So what new milestones will we celebrate in the coming decade of life? I suspect there will be disappointments, heartache and difficulties that will balance the triumphs and happiness.
After I graduated from BYU in 2002, I set a goal to get a master's degree before 50. Haven't done it. I had hoped to build my parents a small retirement home on their little plot of land in Tonga but my mother's diabetes prevented them from returning to our ancestral homeland, so that won't happen. I wanted to be closer to my NFL playing weight, but age and gravity are strong opposing forces.
There are 101 things I wish I would have done or could've done better, but didn't.
I do know I'm making some changes that will be immediate and others that will take a little time. We broke the following news to our college children on Skype on my birthday.
The beautiful home in the leafy suburbs where they were raised and the only home the younger ones have ever known is too big for just the two of us. I know kids come home for holidays and to visit, but even then, the house is too big for two to manage nor do we want to. It's served its purpose. I'm sentimental but not for bricks and mortar. So, we're going to put it on the market. Not right away. But within a few years, probably when the market is a little better. I view New Jersey's property taxes as prohibitive for empty-nesters and retirement living.
I want to be more mobile in my 50s, 60s and the rest of my life. I don't want to be tied down to a big house. I want a much smaller house.
I want fewer cars. I want fewer THINGS. So, we're going to minimize and downsize. We're gonna spend the next few years ridding ourselves of THINGS and preparing for a life of more service with the mobility to move and go where ever we want. Ideally, I'd like to move into a condo in Philly and buy a home in Provo, Utah. That's right. Provo. Not a big home or even a new one. We want an older, well-kept, tiny one.
Most of our kids are in Provo as well as our grandson. During our trips to visit our married son, LJ, and his wife, Kaylie, in their little apartment in south Provo, I drive around looking at their neighbors living in those older, smaller homes south of BYU's upper campus — the ones with a porch and steps to the front door, without a garage but a single vehicle carport. That's exactly where I want to live.
I'm talking about those homes with small yards for $100,000 — three bedrooms, two baths, maybe 1,000 square feet. A place where we could have barbecues in the backyard with my grandkids, the next-door neighbors, no swimming pool but just enough room for a few picnic tables and a small vegetable garden. A little place for grandchildren sleepovers in such tight quarters that we move the furniture and sleep on the floor in sleeping bags under forts of our own making.
Like Mitt Romney, I'd give anything to break up another fight between my boys or to find my children sleeping on floor of our bedroom because they were watching a Disney movie on our TV. I long for my grandchildren to visit grandparents in a neighborhood of smaller homes, not a show place.
A friend with whom I shared my sentiment asked me, "But eventually, you'll outgrow such a small home as you will surely have more grandchildren," to which I responded, "Then we'll have the barbecues at their parents' place, which will surely be bigger to accommodate their growing families, but I'm keeping my retirement home small and manageable. My parents remained in their small home, and visiting them and sleeping on Tongan mats was among the most memorable things my well-traveled and privileged kids ever did. Why would I cheat my grandkids of that privilege?"
I'd like to be of greater service to my community, church and country. Given my experiences in public school, attending and struggling through a private university from my impoverished and immigrant background, I think I could offer a unique perspective and guidance on a school board.
My wife and I have always planned to serve our church together on a mission someday, as most Latter-day Saint couples do. I'm still literate and fluent in Tongan, so maybe they'll send us to Tonga. Or to South Dakota to work on the reservations as I did 30 years ago. Who knows? Maybe it happens in my 50s or 60s — we'll know when it's supposed to happen — but I expect we'll go multiple times.
A little more than a year ago, I met with Deseret Book CEO Sheri Dew, at her request. She asked me to consider writing a book. There's no timetable, but she graciously offered to assign an editor to me should I choose to do so. I find the task daunting, though writing a weekly column is cathartic. I just haven't been motivated enough to undertake such a project, but that may also be in my future.
In the next 10 years, we expect more of our children to get married, which means they'll be more grandchildren. We are anxious and excited for that possibility. We pray they'll be selective, choose wisely in finding spouses, as I did and as LJ did with Kaylie, whom we love and adore.
I'm closing in on 20 years of employment with NBC Philadelphia. I've had two jobs in my adult life: playing football and talking football. My wife reminds me of that fact whenever I grumble about taking out the trash, scrubbing a toilet or mopping her kitchen.
I've had a charmed life. Fifty years worth.
Already looking forward to the next fiddy.