On Sunday May 22, 2022 my wife and I, along with our oldest’s significant other, sat on the lawn of the Depauw University campus and watched as our daughter graduated with a Liberal Arts degree(with concentration in English Lit) from this small school in the middle of nowhere in Central Indiana. I can’t really say what I was feeling sitting in the crowd of hundreds, waiting for the weather to cut loose a halestrom of rain and lightning(it was in the forecast.) But as if some Midwestern miracle of Meteorology, the rain stayed away, and in its place was just overcast skies and cool temps.
I bought a nice, light blue button-up shirt but it was covered in a rain coat. Honestly, I’m glad the coat was there as I felt like the shirt was too tight. I was somewhere between braun and bloat yesterday morning. Stoic cool that was merely masking an emotional carousel ride, complete with calliope music and a crying overweight dad trying to understand how time works and why it goes by so fast.
A man still reeling from a nearly year-long rollercoaster ride that started with our middle child’s high school graduation a year ago which was preceded by head injuries, then proceded by car wrecks, possibly fatal automotive malfunctions, impending unemployment, and worked our way up to our youngest getting a job and leaving me to quietly maudlin afternoons and evenings after work wondering what to do with myself(of course the answer to that is clean obsessively and wonder why I can’t be more creative, along with more cleaning.)
I’m sorry if this all sounds depressing and sadsack-y. I’m not moping and listening to The Cure’s Pornography 24/7 over here. I’m more or less a pretty content middle-aged husband and dad. I’ve mellowed in my middle-age. I make a concerted effort to let things roll off my broad shoulders, and I think before I let snark leak from my mouth. It’s just that how our kids are spaced out age-wise a lot of “big moments” in their lives are only separated by a year. So it’s kind of like Groundhog Day, only on a massively emotional and mental scale. And with everyone out and about and me getting off work at 2pm everyday I’m coming home to an empty hourse for like three to four hours, just me and our geriatric Miniature Schnauzer.
I feel bad for our four-legged friend, as I’m projecting a TON of my anxiety and heavy heartedness on him. I notice every little thing about his aging and I’m feeling it that much harder. Kids are getting older, the dog IS old. He’s been with us through the worst and best, and I’m feeling the time slip through my fingers like sand on some dirty, man-made beach. He’s still active and plays like a pup at 11-years old, tosses his toys like a predator in the wild. He moves a little slower than he used to, and he can’t jump with the ease of a 5 or 7-year old pooch, but what old man can? You’re supposed to slow down and take it easy in your 70s. Enjoy the golden years. You can’t run marathons forever.
Of course there’s the correlation between the dog getting older and seeing my dad getting older. My mom is older too, but she dyes her hair and pretty much looks the same as she did 20 years ago. My dad walks bent like a question mark with his grey, wiry billy goat gruff beard. His 6’4″ frame looks more like 6’1″ these days. We have coffee nearly every Saturay morning in my living room. We talk politics, music, movies, and about his 50 years working as a cylinder maker at RR Donnelley. He’ll occasionally tell me the same story, but for the most he’s still on top of it mentally.
I’ve felt a shift between us over the years getting together for coffee. We started getting together right after he retired at the beginning of 2015. Then, I still felt like a kid around my dad, even at 41-years old. He was the guy I looked up to and gave me answers to questions I had about fixing stuff around the house or buying cars or what local politicians were real “assholes”. He has always been a giant in my life, both figuratively and literally. But over the last seven or so years I feel a shift has occurred. Not a negative one, but more of a mutual respect. A softeness and warmth; we’ve gone from handshakes and “see ya later” to hugs and “I love you.” I don’t feel he’s giving me advice and telling me what’s best as much as there being this equal conversation and him hearing me a bit more. Asking my opinion and taking it to heart. I took a lot from him on how to be a dad, both in what to do and what not to do.
It’s not that he was a bad dad. He was a great dad, but I never really saw him do much to help my mom around the house. They married in ’67, so there was still that division of responsibility between husband and wife; he worked, cleaned the cars, and did the repairs. My mom did everything else. I honestly gleaned more from my mom than my dad growing up. Cooking, cleaning, caretaking,…I’m definitely the homemaker in our home. I got that from my mom. My dad sees that and I think he realizes he didn’t do most of that when I was a kid. He respects that in me I think. Regardless, I may not be able to change the oil in my car or comfortably connect charger cables to my car battery, but I work 40 hours a week and still cook dinner, clean the house, mow the lawn and have plenty of extra time to worry about my old, geriatric dog(another thing I learned from my mom.)
Commencement brought to light just how fast it’s all going and maybe my own insecurites about getting old(er) and not being needed like I used to be. It’s a weird middle stage in a parents life; watching your kids get older and move on. I know it’s a good thing, your kids becoming independent, finding themselves, and moving on into their next stage in life. But it takes a little longer for mom and pop to catch up. We’ve dedicated ourselves to their well being, best interests, and happiness for 18 years. You can’t switch gears in the course of a morning or evening commencement. It takes time.
I’m older. I need a little space to freak out a bit and catch up. Just like the family dog and grandpa. We’ll catch up, so just go ahead. Might be a litle greyer and slower when we do, but we’ll meet you there. Promise.