As a senior, I believe we are entitled to certain privileges, chief among them, being the recipient of respect.
Indeed, there comes a point where one should no longer feel a need to defend one’s self. Like many of you, I have faith in what life has taught me and I tend to be guided by that wisdom, expertise and experience, rather than be swayed by the criticism of others.
None of us would have gotten this far otherwise.
The exception comes when we’re dealing with our children. Parenting is never an easy job and, in fact, the task doesn’t become any less difficult as our children age into adulthood. Yes, I’ve heard all about the need to cut the cord and let them fend for themselves. Perhaps I’m simply too emotional or overly sentimental, but that’s never been easy for me. Silly me — I kept their double stroller in the garage until they were well into their 20s.
That then indicates my degree of nostalgia ... or simple silliness, depending on your perspective.
I still celebrate their triumphs and ache when they face disappointment. I lament the fact that life doesn’t seem as easy for them as it once was when we were younger. By the time I was in my mid-20s, I had landed my first job in the record business and was well on my way toward initiating a career. Sadly, my two boys are in their mid-30s and still struggling to get their footing.
It’s not that they lack the desire to get ahead, but the fact that they are helping their mother care for her aging father who now has dementia has hindered their progress. They’ve sought out opportunities, but unfortunately, they’ve failed to come to fruition.
I haven’t seen my two sons in three years due to COVID and other limitations. I miss them terribly, and I’ve been burdened by a certain amount of guilt as a result. I see the closeness that other folks have with their families, and I feel distanced from my boys by comparison because they live in Florida. I make it a point to keep in touch by phone or by text, but it doesn’t seem like it’s enough, and I often wonder if I’m as much a part of their lives as I should be.
There’s a term for that of course. It’s called parental guilt. At a certain age, our generation finds ourselves playing a double role: We still remember how we perceived our parents when we were children and, in turn, we strive to incorporate those lessons into our roles as parents to our children. It indeed can be a high bar to attain, one that encourages us to succeed while also avoiding the tangled web that we found our own parents falling into.
Am I doing enough to give them the support they need? Am I still present in their lives? These are the things that I grapple with.
And then a revelation ...
Fortunately, I now feel vindicated. My son, Chris, wrote a remarkable tribute to me on Facebook. I don’t know what inspired him to do so — other than he had written something similar about his mother on her birthday. In my case, it wasn’t timed to a birthday, or a holiday or even Father’s Day. It was simply an expression of emotion and gratitude that took me wholly by surprise.
He wrote: “My father is the greatest man I will ever know. He taught me the value of chasing your dreams, even when they are sometimes plagued by nightmares. ... Despite being an amazing writer, the word ‘enough’ is not in his vocabulary. Achieving one goal is simply an excuse to move on to the next. Dad, I am so honored to call you Father. Thank you for teaching me the value of being a decent human being in a world where decency is the road less traveled.”
This is from somebody whose responses during our phone conversations usually don’t muster more than a mere “It’s OK” or “Things are fine” when I ask how he’s doing. That’s hardly ample evidence of the articulation reflected by his written words.
I’m sure you can imagine my reaction after reading that. I was humbled, reassured and grateful that I had somehow succeeded in making a positive impression and being the dad that I always aspired to be. I felt valued, appreciated and confident that my worth on the planet has been assured.
After all, there’s no greater success that we as seniors can ever attain than the success we have as parents. And yes, no matter how old they get, they’ll always be our “kids.”
Like all people, I tend to get criticism from some with whom I disagree. Sometimes it’s intended to be helpful, but at other times, it’s merely mean-spirited. After reading that letter from my son, none of it matters. If I’ve succeeded as his dad, I’ve achieved my dream.