What it's like to be an older parent of young children.
"Wanted: Responsible grown-ups willing to postpone retirement. Must be flexible, energetic, young at heart, burn-out resistant. Applicants fax resumes to (555) 555-2222."
I never actually saw an ad like that, but I might as well have. After thirteen years' experience in that very position, I could write a complete job description.
First some "deep background," as they say. I'm what they call a late bloomer. It took me a long time to catch on to what other people seem to have learned much earlier in life. After devoting my twenties and thirties to a career that precluded marriage and children, I examined my inner self and discovered a void of cosmic dimensions. I wanted what all those "happy families" I'd been envying for twenty years had. Sure, I knew not all of them were as happy as they looked when all dressed up, but I was positive I could do it right, given the will and the opportunity.
"Will" finally overcame inertia. "Opportunity" arrived in the person of a great woman whose iron-rod strength and steadfast love gave me courage that, together, we could take on the world. On May 16, 1981, at the age of 44, I married Esther Conte. We believed that our children, when they came, would grow up to serve rather than take from our love-starved world. There was just one problem. After five years of marriage, it was still just the two of us.
One morning, Esther woke up as if emerging from a vision and declared, "Why don't we adopt?" I can always count on her to get the good ideas long before they'd ever cast a shadow across my imagination. "Okay," I said, counting on my fingers and toes my age and the difference between me and our as yet unknown child. Then, I counted forward and realized how old I'd be when our first child graduated from high school. Visions of her coming to the old-folks home in cap and gown to show her addled dad her diploma almost nixed the proposal right there.
By the time we squirmed our way through the adoption process, nearly two more years had passed. I had just turned 52 when we finally traveled to a war-ravaged Central American capital and departed with our Monica aboard a San Francisco-bound jet. She was days shy of her fourth birthday.
Mastering the "big toys"
Thus began my new career as a middle-aged dad. I quit my day job and became a sometimes-employed freelance writer with big dreams of writing a best-selling novel. Working at home allowed me to be a full-time father--one with no specific training and no track record of success to display on my resume.
Soon, I was a "big toys" regular at local playgrounds. "No, she's not my granddaughter" became my refrain to the young mothers (and some few dads) whose children played alongside my little girl. When we adopted three-year-old Cristina a year later, our foursome was complete. Clever as I am, I quickly mastered the hand-eye coordination needed to push two swings in sync and the Solomonic art of arbitrating sisterly quarrels. Lunch pails in hand, I delivered my two little bundles to Stepping Stones Preschool each morning with a perfect on-time record.
Many highlights dot my career as an "older dad of younger children." One that stands out is orientation night for first grade parents at Christ the King School. Hardly a mom or dad in the room was over thirty. CYO basketball games were always fun. I made a point of not sitting in the adoring, ref-baiting grandparents section.
Our daughters are now in high school. As I look around at the younger parents, I notice a change has taken place. They bear the battle scars of parenting their kids through elementary and middle school. Hair-graying secondary school concerns about dating, drugs, and teen-age driving have blurred the physical signs of age difference.
The advantage of age
I've come to this conclusion about parenting young children in mid-life. There's a definite advantage in being a parent after you've finished growing up yourself. A problem I see in some younger families is that those responsible for guiding youthful minds and hearts haven't figured out who they are. They haven't yet arrived at a clear set of personal values they can pass on with conviction.
By mid-life one has a sense of history. Time and experience give perspective. You're still young enough to be idealistic and hopeful, but old enough to accept the limitations of human nature, politics, society, and religion. Young people are lucky to live in a parental atmosphere that offers some wisdom and balance.
I confess that two things cause twinges of envy in me. The first occurs at the annual Frosh/JV/Varsity Girls vs. Parents basketball game when common sense demands that I sit in the stands, rather than pull on my tan-colored AirWalk sneakers. The other happens when I pull up behind a motor home and see the bumper sticker: "We're spending our children's inheritance." But these waves pass quickly.
If I could redraw the map of my life, would I opt for marriage in my twenties? Would I want to send my first-born off to school when I'd just turned 30? My gosh, that's when I date my own "coming of age" as an adult! How would I like to guide my teen-agers through the treacherous narrows of their adolescence at barely 40? No thank you! Not unless I could know about relationships at 25 what I knew at 45. Not unless I had the life experience at 30 that I had at 50. Not unless I knew for sure I'd survive my own "mid-life crises" before taking on the responsibility of modeling a life well-lived for my teen-agers.
I'll let you in on a secret. What I like best about my delayed parenting experience is that my two daughters don't seem to care that their dad is older than their friends' parents. They're more aware of it now, of course, but as far as I can tell they're "cool" with it. What more could a dad want? Well, maybe to retire before 80.
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Al Garrotto is a freelance writer and president of the Mt. Diablo Branch of the California Writers Club. His third novel Circles of Stone will be released in 2003 (Hilliard & Harris Publishers). His romantic suspense novel, Finding Isabella, deals with the light and dark sides of international adoption. He invites you to visit his website at www.blsinc.com/products/garrotto.htm and to e-mail him at alg.blsinc.com. "Reflections of a Late Bloomer" appeared the summer of 2001 in "Ageless Lifestyle" and "Roots and Wings" magazines.
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For permission to reprint this article, contact Mr. Garrotto at alg.blsinc.com.
Copyright © 2001 Alfred J. Garrotto
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