When I first started writing about my children 20 years ago, I was the only dad in the world. No one else had ever before experienced the amazements, the bafflements, the flooded basements of parenthood. It was really something, and I couldn’t wait to tell everyone about it.
Of course, the only thing unique was that it was happening to me. Over time, I realized that my parenting experiences weren’t much different from those of, oh, every single parent ever. I wasn’t that special.
Middle age, on the other hand! Let me tell you about middle age!
When I was young, I knew of course that I was going to get old. I saw the white hair, the wrinkles, the frail, stooped postures. In Grade 6, our music teacher made our class listen to Harry Nilsson’s “I’d Rather Be Dead (Than Wet My Bed),” so that was a bit of an eye-opener.
I knew aging was inevitable, but like each generation, I simply assumed old people were doing it wrong. “That’s not how I’m going to get old,” we told ourselves. “Shuffling along like that, napping in our chairs, putting out bowls of candies that sit so long they become one giant, sticky clump. No way! And what’s with the polyester pants?”
No one told us, though, that aging begins, well, now. They didn’t mention that strange things would start happening to our bodies in our forties, that strange things would start happening to our teeth. Our teeth! Shifting around all over the place. Who knew?
I recently learned that one of my high school classmates is getting divorced. On top of everything else he’s going through, I imagine the prospect of dating again must be terrifying. I’d certainly be freaking out, and not because of the emotional baggage and lumpy bodies we’re carrying around or the fact that our hairlines are fading faster than Barack Obama’s credibility. I’d be terrified of dining out – the prospect of all that food getting stuck in my teeth. This never used to happen. But now? I can store entire loaves of bread in there. I look at my teeth after a meal and it’s like a scene from Lunch of the Living Dead. So a dinner date? The only thing I’d be able to order would be clear broth.
All to say that this is why I need to keep being nice to my wife.
Oh, and, by the way, polyester pants make for perfectly sensible work wear.
Thankfully, middle age isn’t all bad news. There are some pleasant surprises as well.
Sleepovers, for instance. Over Thanksgiving weekend, I spent the night in my daughter Katie’s college dorm, which sounds like the setup for a sit-com, but it was all on the up-and-up and no less hygienic than I remember from my own student days. Besides being impressed that she gave up her room for me and her brother, I like the idea of being invited into the new, separate lives our children are building for themselves. They’re becoming adults, and more and more I’m just a spectator – preferably a spectator with a comfy pillow.
And cussin’. I can finally swear with impunity in front of my kids without pretending to myself that they don’t. Not that the air in our house is thick with it but sometimes a raunchy adjective is exactly what’s called for, though when Katie walks into the room and calls out, “What’s up, bitches!” I know she’s doing it just to irritate me and, yes, I glare; someone has to maintain some fucking standards around here!
Then there’s just plain not giving a damn. I’ve walked outside in my work clothes (polyester) and my wife’s fuzzy pink slippers because I can’t be bothered to put my shoes back on. It’s liberating, I tell you. I’ve retrieved the newspaper from the street in my boxer shorts and felt no shame, even when our neighbour from up the street has driven by. I give her a good-morning wave. She’s recently divorced, too. I wonder if she likes soup…
Finally, there’s the gaining of wisdom, something I lacked when my children were small. Middle age grants me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to shut up about it.