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A Father Looks at Forty July 15, 2011

Posted by markgeil in Philosophical musings.
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It was a halcyon image. A mother and her preschooler with armfuls of sidewalk chalk stood back, admiring their work. “Happy Birthday Mrs. Ruth!” declared their multicolored message, stretched from one driveway to the next in front of a presumably unsuspecting neighbor’s house.

I imagined Mrs. Ruth, probably an older lady, smiling when she arrives home. Then I imagined the smiles the little girl brings when she plays in Ruth’s yard. Other images played like a photo album on my short drive home through our neighborhood:

Two boys, on the way home from the pool, hurried to a shady spot because the sidewalk burned hot in the Atlanta sun.

A child, on a walk with her parents, switched to holding mommy’s other hand to avoid the spirited dog coming her way.

A frustrated father stooped over to push a little bicycle while the helmeted child walked alongside.

And then, for a moment, there was me, all philosophical, pondering my place among these scenes of the stages of life. I even let a Jimmy Buffet chorus escape my lips, out loud, there in the car by myself: “Yes I am a pirate, two hundred years too late. The cannons don’t thunder, there’s nothin’ to plunder, I’m an over-forty victim of fate, arriving too late, arriving too late.”

The words don’t exactly fit me. I like to sail but I really don’t think I’d have been a very good pirate. I’m neither discontent nor disconcerted. But I AM forty years old, as of June 28th. Seems like one is supposed to get all philosophical when one turns 40 so, mainly out of sense of obligation, I sang out strong and pondered my place.

My children are growing up. We’re scouting out colleges instead of preschools. The girls’ ages are all in double digits. Rebekah was born the day before my 30th birthday, so she just turned 10. She got her ears pierced, and she’s getting all leggy and tall. Mind you, there’s still loads of childlike silliness and life in our house, but I can’t avoid certain monumental thoughts:

A year from now, we’ll be thinking about what to do with a spare bedroom when Sarah moves off to college.

I’m probably closer, chronologically, to holding a grandchild than I am to holding my own baby children.

Forty is halfway, right? It’s probably over halfway.

Here’s the thing, though. I’m not really sad about any of this. A favorite thing for seasoned parents to say to their younger counterparts concerns the pace. “Don’t blink,” they say. “They’ll only be that little for a second. It goes by so fast.”

I suppose that’s true, and maybe we’ve heeded that advice, but I feel like time’s passages are pretty appropriate. I feel like we’ve squeezed a lot of life into these years, and we’ve been so very blessed. My memory of Sarah’s first steps seems as distant now as my memory of my own childhood, but that’s okay. We’re making new memories, and even though they’re growing up, the children are taking new “first steps” all the time, and I’m still there, hands outstretched, guarding and protecting and celebrating.

So when I do step back and philosophically view my life from a wide-angle lens – which is good to do every now and then – the images are halcyon. And as I look at forty, I do so with nostalgia and not regret, with anticipation and not melancholy, and above all, with gratitude.

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