The young protagonist in this story is obsessed with his friend’s age.
It feels like one of those white people who talk about me being Chinese all the time. Yes. We get it. I am your token friend/co-worker/family. Talking to me while adeptly avoiding the use of most slurs makes you a better person. A Not-Racist Person. Ugh. (It doesn’t.)
This kid kicks off every conversation with “How old are you?” or some comment about his age. He relates every single thing this dude does to his advanced age.
The moral of the story is – hanging out with older adults is a gift that young people must bestow as a good deed. Young people are tasked with saving older people from a miserable life of peace and quiet and not having young people constantly othering them.
The kid asks weird comments about how being old must be hard. Not because of like, the medical model of aging, hostile bigotry in public and business environments, or medical negligence. Just being old. The natural state of tragic oldness.
The author goes on to perpetuate stereotypes about the bland, inactive, and navel-gazing life of older adult. He spends his days smelling roses, walking, listening to birds, and hanging out with this child. These are “the things that keep me going,” which I guess he needs due to the tragedy of not being young.
There’s no deeper story about mindfulness or having had decades to learn what really matters. The reader is left to read bird-listening and flower-gazing as boring stuff left for older people who are boring.
Despite being active, optimistic, handsome, outgoing and vital gentleman who might want to talk about stuff other than his age, we’re supposed to see Mr. Tempkin as man past his prime, just puttering around, getting himself into things he can’t extract himself from, waiting to die.
The climax begins with the kid telling this grown-ass man that he is ‘too old‘ to climb a tree, as if Mr. Tempkin is too ignorant to know his limitations. This is all a set-up to prove the kid right. This foolish, benevolent old man! He falls out of the tree. Of course he does.
We had an opportunity here. When Mr. Tempkin decides to adjust a bird feeder, and the kid is like “aren’t you too old to climb a tree?” and Mr. Tempkin is like “nonsense.” This could be a turning point where this kid, being so obsessed with this guy’s age, gets a TWIST. We could have learned how older people know their own bodies, strengths, and limitations.
But NOPE. The steaming hot and stinky moral of this story is that older adults need supervision, rescue, and “Climbing trees is not for old men, and I guess I’m just a foolish old man.”
The book goes downhill from here – he can’t push his own wheelchair and the kid offers to help, making the kid ‘a mensch’ as opposed to ‘a decent freaking human who does the very basics of assisting a friend who asks for help.‘
(I go into more detail on the problems of setting the bar for ‘goodness’ so low as letting an older woman get on the bus first over here.)
“Dad says that spending time with Mr. Templin is a mitzvah” I wonder why the makers tell us whether spending quality time with a good friend your own age could also be a mitzvah. (I don’t really wonder. We all know it’s because this author thinks hanging with older people is an act of heroism, not a mutually beneficial friendship of equals.)
Also see: Say Hello, Lily, which contains more of that ‘being around old people is favor’ plus a nice heap of gerontophobia and the message that all older people belong in nursing homes. Eventually Lily realizes that older people are people too! It’s a icky combo of terribly boring and terribly condescending, toward readers of all ages.