I was having a discussion with my kids tonight as I drove them back from their mother’s house to mine. You see, today my boys turned 16 years old. And while this is an inevitable outcome of raising children, feeding them and foregoing the desire to scream and run when they do the sometimes stupid things they do, it doesn’t make it any easier as a parent to look at yourself in the mirror and realize how viciously Old Man Time has beaten you up so far. This can be especially fun when you have baldness.
But as the discussion carried on, one of my sons quickly headed off the lament that I’m apparently offering out loud a bit too frequently — Dad’s getting old. Well, I felt the need to clarify my feelings on the matter.
I’m 39 years old. I’ll be 40 in June. I’m perfectly willing to admit that I’m not old. But I am getting older. As much as I’m aware that I am getting older because I take care of myself about as well as the average person takes care of cleaning the air conditioning vents in the house, much of my solemnity stems from the very real prospect that my children are very close to vacating the nest. My dear daughter will be 18 in less than two weeks. She’s practically chomping at the bit for her own place. I imagine after two more years of living with me, my boys will be setting land speed records getting out of the house. And while this may seem to some parents out there as their wildest dreams come true, it scares the ever-loving shit out of me.
I’m very much aware that I’m an oddity as a parent — especially a dad. And I’m not just talking about the sci-fi TV and movie addiction, which borders on the unhealthy. I like being involved in my kids’ lives, much as they’ll allow me. I enjoy their company and I’m continually fascinated by watching them grow and understand the world around them in ever-increasing complexity and depth. And if I learned anything after the Ex moved out, I learned that I have absolutely no idea how to be alone. And while that has gotten easier with practice, it’s very easy for me to retreat to the depths of my man cave and shun society for days on end. Let’s be honest — that cannot be healthy. Faced with the prospect that my children will, rightfully, seek individuality and freedom the moment it becomes possible, I’m keenly aware that I’m going to be Clint Eastwood in Gran Turino about two or three decades too early. Ever see a 44 year-old man yell at kids to stay off his lawn while threatening them with his cane? Neither have I. And I really don’t want to be that person, regardless of how fun it may sound in my darker moments.
Another wrinkle in this (no pun intended) is that I’m single now. I think it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t be having anywhere near the problem with this if I were still married. And I’m not even talking about a happy marriage. Even when your spouse makes you miserable, there’s at least a modicum of mutual understanding that while the kids may be leaving, you’ll at least have the other person to keep you miserable company. And here I am, without a mutually miserable spouse that I can turn to. When the kids are gone, it’s me and the loyal idiot dog. Sure, he’s fuzzy, but I can’t exactly discuss world events with him. He just cocks his head to the side wondering if I’ll be giving him a treat anytime soon or if this tirade on the inherent unfairness of the income disparity between the very rich and the poor is going to go on for another fifteen minutes. He’s just…just not the best social company that a guy like me could have.
So my getting older, or at least my problems with it, is directly affected by the fact that my kids have nearly become adults. It’s not that I don’t want them to. In fact, I want them to properly use this springboard in their lives to create unlimited possibilities for themselves. But in doing so, they’re unintentionally reminding me that I never used that time in my own life properly. And if I haven’t properly swallowed that pill for the past 18 years, it’s certainly not any easier now.