William McKenzie / The Dallas Morning News
As we approach Father’s Day, here are my observations on being an older dad, 10 years into parenting twins:
For starters, there is a freak-of-nature aspect to saying you’re a dad of elementary school kids when you’re on the verge of turning 60, which I am, having just entered the last year of my sixth decade. You draw funny looks and come across bizarre demographic realities. My favorite private laugh of the last 10 years was figuring out that I was older than the grandmother of one of the kids on our YMCA campout.
But given the choice of being an older dad or not one at all, I will gladly take being Dad. No matter your age, watching your children as they enter the world and go through their stages of growth is a remarkable experience.
Being Dad at this age is also easier, for me at least. That sounds odd given the demographic real estate between my children and me, as Time’s Jeffrey Kluger recently described the age gap that older dads experience.
But the responsibility competes far less with my career than it would have in my 20s or 30s. I am way more inclined to shut off work and turn on fatherhood than I would have been if I had been worrying about what I needed to do to get ahead.
Other older fathers I’ve spoken with say the same. They are more available than they would have been earlier in their lives.
There is a flip side to this availability angle. If you’re going to be there for your kids, you need to keep pressing yourself to keep up with them, including physically.
There are moments where parents of all ages would just as soon not get up and play chase, shoot baskets up and down a court or referee a fight. But when you’re approaching 60, hip aches, shoulder pains and slower strides make chase, full-court basketball and refereeing harder to endure.
Still, how wonderful to be biking behind your son on the way to school early in the morning, even though it’s been 50 years since you did that yourself. And how marvelous to race your daughter in the swimming pool and see her delight as she pulls up her goggles and realizes she has beaten the old man.
As I hinted, there is a brotherhood of older dads. We bond together at events, share jokes and possess a sense of detachment from the pack. One member of this fraternity told me recently that he spends a lot more time watching his young children rather than intervening with them, which he evidently did with his older children.
But there’s a dark side in being a father later in life. My greatest anxiety, one bordering on obsession, is the fear of leaving my children behind.
My family, fortunately, has genes that suggest endurance. My dad is 90. My mother is 85. One of my grandmothers made it to 95. And the family cemetery is dotted with the tombstones of long-living ancestors.
But the math is unbendable. The odds are against me seeing my son and daughter for the second half of their lives, assuming they live at least three score and 10. If I don’t get hit by that bus, or come down with an unforeseen disease, I have a decent chance of seeing them reach (normal) marrying age and settling down. But who knows how far beyond that?
I try to placate that anxiety by burrowing down into the sovereignty of God, the idea that He ultimately is in charge. And I try to embrace the knowledge that they are His children, too.
Yet those thoughts don’t always comfort me. My eyes still well up with those pesky tears, just as they did when my wife and I found out we were going to be parents.
But what can you do, other than deal with what’s in front of you? In fact, living in the moment is the greatest lesson I’ve learned. You only have time to deal with today, not 10 years down the road. That’s the comforting, exhausting truth about parenting — at any age.