For as long as I can recall the number 3 was my favourite number and any number with a 3 in it was always a close second. One day it clicked: three 3s are 9 and when written together they form 39. Perfection! From that point forward I chose the number “39″ as my so-called favourite number. It was the number I had on my back when playing competitive sports and has appeared in various combinations in my passwords and phone numbers over the years. 39 was, and is, “my number”! Sitting down to write this post is when I first recognized the personally significant fact I was 39 when our son was born. I’m shocked I didn’t notice it before now!
This little read isn’t about sports, it isn’t some off-the-wall numerology lesson, and it’s unlikely you’ll glean any keen insight on how to be a dad. It’s a few random thoughts on fears that have plagued me since becoming (what I would consider) an ‘older’ father three-years ago and my take on how, despite my irrational fears, I believe I am better equipped to be a dad in my forties than I could possibly have been in my 20s or 30s. It’s a brief reflection on what becoming a first-time father later in life has meant to me, to us, and to our son.
Like all parents, I want only the best for my child.
I want to protect him from tears and from fears and fill his little world with nothing but snips and snails and puppy dog tails. To this day I still cringe and gasp audibly when I see him fall. It’s heart breaking to see his feelings get hurt and watch the prelude to tears as his little brow furls, his smile turns upside-down, and his lip begins to quiver. I want to keep him safe, I pray he stays healthy, and hope he never knows real and deep sadness.
As an older parent I believe I value life and cherish the little moments more each day than the day before. While I’ve always valued life and everything in it, my proprioception, the way I experience life, somehow changed.
Life became almost “invaluable” once I joined the ranks of parenthood. I think that’s why I find myself at times almost paralyzed by my fatalistic “what if” thoughts.
I know life is not predetermined and while I am better equipped emotionally to understand the truths of life than I’d have been in my 20s or 30s, I believe being an older dad has made me a bit irrational when it comes to responding to those realities; especially certain fears. In a way I guess I’m afraid of being the “other people” to whom bad things happen rather than just living our lives to the fullest with the “it won’t happen to us but if it does we’ll get through it” approach.
At infrequent and sporadic moments of emotional weakness, from the beginning of Mrs. P’s pregnancy to today, I find my thoughts consumed by vivid Ally McBeal-esque spates of congenital defect, acute illness, and bizarre head-striking falls that somehow cause our son permanent harm. Sometimes I get a reprieve from the life-changing fiction of my imagination and my mind drifts to less serious (almost) mundane thoughts about our son surviving childhood bullying situations; whether being bullied or, perhaps worse, being the bully. Occasionally, perhaps in deference to my age, my mind runs rampant with sudden ominous thoughts of something serious happening to me, and how his little world would forever change without his Daddy.
I find I must regularly remind myself that despite my very best, dedicated, ongoing, control-obsessed efforts, I am in control of exactly nothing when it comes to illness, injury, and whatever other of life’s truths lay ahead.
While I’m a lot better at it than I was a few short years ago, I’m still learning to dismiss my insidious thoughts and fears. I’m not ignoring them or disregarding them in a no-longer-important and can’t-happen-to-me way. Instead, I’m harnessing their power and turning the thoughts into a sort of touchstone of what’s truly important: how much I value life, parenthood, being a dad, and a husband.
That’s likely the biggest benefit to being an older parent: I have a clear understanding of the what’s really important in life. The second benefit of being an older father is I’m experienced enough to realize it’s best to just enjoy the ride that is fatherhood, regardless of age, and try to live with and learn from your fears. Mrs. P has been waiting patiently for me to work through some of my fears and I believe I am ready to fulfill her request to go down the fatherhood road again. I’m 42 now.
Those are thoughts of fear worth having.
Fathering a child and being a father is not the same thing. Quoting PD James, “What a child does not receive, he can seldom later give.”
Happy Father’s Day!
A father & a husband. Doing the very best I can… at both. Learning as I go… that’s life. I rely heavily on the examples set by my dad & mom. When I cannot recall an example, I make it up as I go along… I’m pretty sure that’s what my folks did.
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He blogs at www.dadsdailydiscourse.com
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NextGen Speaks Out, our guest blogging series, is envisioned as a hub for information and discussion. NextGen is a non-political, non-denominational organization focused on giving all nextgeners a voice. NextGen does not represent the opinions expressed by the individual columnists.