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It is hard to know when I first noticed that my parents were aging.

The closer you are to a subject, the more your perceptions are distorted and you don’t see as clearly.

For example, my mother and the mother of a childhood friend of mine both grew up in Germany.

When I would visit my friend, I was always struck by how thick his mother’s accent was so many decades after living in the states.

One day my friend remarked on how thick my mom’s German accent was, and I was like: What accent?

So too it has been in discovering that my parents have gotten older.

The revelation was most forcefully driven home after they had been traveling with a bus tour and Dad tripped in a parking lot and fell, fracturing his arm.

A trip to the emergency room and later his own doctor back at home left his arm in a convoluted sling that rendered the arm immobile and pretty much useless.

I learned that Mom had to feed Dad because his dominant arm was out of commission. He was also having difficulty sleeping because of the discomfort and pain.

When my wife and I visited a few weeks after Dad was on the mend, it was shocking to see Mom sticking a napkin under his collar while he ate with his non-dominant hand.

And a month after that, Dad fell off a chair while reaching for something on the floor while visiting us. I was in the kitchen when I heard a noise and the next thing I saw was Dad on his side on the floor.

It was quite the shock to see Dad — an authority figure who commanded respect and who I remember from childhood as being the strong guy I turned to for leadership — out of commission like that.

My reflections on all of this resurfaced after my brother-in-law’s father recently died at age 90. Ed’s dad was an energetic go-getter who unexpectedly took a bad turn after heart surgery.

And within weeks of his death, my former father-in-law, a contemporary of my Dad’s, also died years after learning he had Parkinson’s disease.

Dad has had a heart attack,  a defibrillator installed and significantly slowed down over the past six years. There have also been a couple of medical crises set off by high heat and lack of hydration.

All of that said, Dad, who will be 79 in the fall, is in good spirits and will soon have physical therapy. He is even driving again.

Mom looked a little worse for the wear immediately after all of the strain of his fall but things seem be more settled.  Though she complains about being old, there’s not much slowing her down.

They live in a retirement community that residents euphemistically call “God’s waiting room.” While there’s a bit of gallows humor about that, there is no escaping that, in the end, time claims everyone, including your parents.

I am an Older Dad and That’s Okay

What follows is the tale of my inspiring, gripping, and emotional journey from fretful Older Dad to just plain old Dad. The subtitle should read “How I stopped Worrying and Started Being There for my Kids”

Okay, the story isn’t really all that gripping, and it isn’t very emotional either, but I do indulge in way more “prosaic introspection” than the author of this Wall Street Journal article—despite what the reader comments claim.

That being said, I believe my adventures in middle-age parenting might just lean towards the inspiring side.

I fall squarely into the “Older Dad” category having waited until the chronological age of 42 to make my wife large with child. I was, again chronologically, 46 years old when my spouse informed me I should start getting those diaper changing muscles loosened up again.

By the way, I stress “chronological” because if you ask any of my ex-wives or former girlfriends, they’ll argue that emotionally and intellectually I’ve yet to make it past my awkward teen years.

But never mind all that, let’s get back to the inspirational.

My guess is that there’s at least a full 15-year age difference between me and most of the other dads at the neighborhood playground. It doesn’t bother me much anymore but it was a constant concern when my daughter was a toddler.

There was more than a little self-consciousness about being a graybeard among all the young bucks and I was convinced all eyes were on the old geezer as he watched after his rambunctious daughter.

Maybe all those youthful poppas with their youth and their youthfulness secretly hoped I wouldn’t fall down and break a hip. I imagined they fervently wished to be spared the awkwardness of having to explain to their little ones why that old man was being carted away by the FDNY.

More and more, I found myself parking my butt on a bench and shooing my little girl away, insisting that she play with her new toddler friends.

It killed me every time my shmoopee hid her obvious disappointment and shuffled off to find a new playmate. My beautiful little daughter didn’t see a middle-aged man struggling with his insecurities, all she wanted to do was hang out with her poppa.

The transformation into a hesitant putz that worried about what others would think was complete. Where was the confident and ballsy Bronx kid who insisted on playing by his own rules?

Thankfully, that kid showed up again just when I needed him most.

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It was a huge disservice to me and to my daughter. By creating imaginary slights and not experiencing the total joy of daddyhood with my baby girl while she still thought her grumpy old dad was the coolest guy in the world, I was losing out on a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I got my ass off that park bench and started playing with my sweet little Miss. I wore the pink boas and the princess crowns. I attended the pretend tea parties and unfailingly extended my pinky. I ran after her and paid little attention to how foolish or how silly I may have looked. I was a goofy dad and it was a blast.

Turns out those young fathers I was so concerned about could not have cared less.

The decision to wait until I was mature enough to raise a family was the right one. Oats were sown and challenges were undertaken and ya-ya’s were gotten out. That could not, and would not, have happened if there were mouths to feed at home in my younger days.

That’s not to say I don’t suffer the occasional flash of panic when the realization sets in that I’ll be close to 70 years old when my kids are in college. I’m keeping myself healthy and fiscally responsible for their future so there’s no use wasting time on worrying about things I can’t control.

What I can control is how much quality time I spend with them. I listen to their stories, tell them a few of my own, and act the fool.

When it’s my turn to kick it, I’ll kick it hard and with full-confidence knowing that I did all I could for my family.

Well, this was my inspirational story. The story of a family man with two young kids who is past the half-century mark, has no regrets, and will never suffer from the “what ifs”. He just took awhile to get there.

As the old neighborhood saying goes: I ain’t even sorry about it.

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Unemployment and Fatherhood

Just when you think you have things figured out, life throws you an off-speed pitch that takes you by surprise and changes the way you look at the world.

I’m about to run out of my second stint of unemployment in the past two-and-a-half years and I’m not sure what direction I’m headed.

Money is tight, I have yet to dip into retirement funds, yet my kids are all clamoring for iPhones and I have a new driver on the horizon who will surely want a car (actually, she wants a Jeep).

“Everything is on hold” I tell them until I find some steady work.

Never thought I would ever be in this sort of situation, as I have a graduate degree and many years of industrial science experience, but I find myself in a situation that many people my age and similar background are suffering through.

I worked successfully for a company for over 20 years but after a merger I find myself unemployed and wondering what to do next.

At first I thought this shouldn’t be too bad. I got a decent severance and I should be able to find something rather quickly. I’m even kinda burned out and could use a little break after working non-stop from way back in high school, through college and after.

Boy, was I wrong. And here I am, trying to show my kids that college, hard work and loyalty will do you right in the world.

If nothing else, I have used this time to really be a participant parent, which I would have otherwise not have been as I would have been working and away from home most of my awake time during the day. I’m not sure if my kids really appreciate me being home, but I would not have been able to experience the field hockey and baseball games, swim meets, dance classes, field trips, Halloween parades, class parties, marching band performances, football games, cheerleading events, everyday shuttling kids from place to place, and the list goes on and on, if I had not had this opportunity to be home.

I’m actually not sure if I really want to go back to the life I had before, but with four kids to put through school and beyond, I will have to do some full-time work at some point to afford them the chance to go beyond what I have done with my life as I know they are capable of doing.

They are so much smarter and more prepared for the future than I was at their age, and I want them to succeed and pass that to their own children at some point.

Growing up, my dad typically worked two jobs to support his family and I hardly saw him during the week, and I have probably spent more time with him now as an adult then back when I was a kid. All in all, I am very happy to have been able to spend this time with my kids at these important times in their young lives, and I
hope I have made some impact.

No, wait.

I am sure I have made a lasting impression that hopefully some day they will appreciate the time that dad was around.