This guest blog is by Tom LaMarr, a proud adoptive father and author.
It was never our plan to become older parents. True, we had deliberately held off on starting a family, but even then, my wife, Sam, and I were thinking more along the lines of slightly older parents.
But here came the twist. By the time we chose to end our wait, parenthood had grown tired of waiting for us.
Pregnancy came easily, but ended in the heartache of miscarriage—the first of three. We visited specialists, changed our diets, and removed every last trace of fun and spontaneity from our romantic lives.
Four years in, we considered in vitro with its many complications, the most frightening measured in multiple births. All this time, we had been watching friends pursue adoption and share photos of beautiful, smiling children who weren’t quadruplets.
The photos won out. Domestic adoption emerged as our choice, and it’s one we never came to regret, even today, as our daughter Evelyn completes her first year of teenhood.
Being a parent proved worth the wait. At 61 years of age, I am part-time chauffeur and full-time proud father. I am also the world’s greatest chef, at least when preparing nachos or tomato soup, and a nuanced interpreter of bedtime stories.
These are the roles that most fully define me. They also happen to be the ones that give me my greatest satisfaction.
Ask, and I will provide dozens of reasons for pursuing adoption, especially when asked by others who wonder if they have waited too long.
“Like those ruby red slippers that whisked Dorothy home to Kansas—making the whole rest of the movie pointless—your answer has been there all along,” I will say. “Look into adoption. Just like me, you might be surprised.”
10. I survived the first weeks.
After becoming a brand new dad at 47 years of age, I was truly amazed by my ability to go without sleep while helping to keep an infant safe, clean, and fed.
In fact, my long-dormant instincts not only kicked in, but went into overdrive.
Three hours sleep? Hell, give me two! I no longer remember why I once thought I needed that stuff.
In reality, of course, I was operating on a serious sleep deficiency. Worse, I was handling sharp objects (see #4 below) and driving to new parent classes on a serious sleep deficiency.
Our daughter, at least, stayed safe on the road, secured as she was in a backwards facing car seat clearly designed by someone at NASA to withstand a hail of asteroids.
To my lasting credit, I never put its invulnerability to the test, instead managing to keep my eyes open and stay in my lane.
I even avoided the Number One cause of death for all new parents: tripping over a cat at the top of dark stairs while returning an empty bottle to the kitchen at 4 in the morning.
This happens, believe me, and I’m not even sure it would have qualified as an accident in my case, seeing that Bud and Hobbes, the cats at the top of our stairs, were making no effort to conceal their sense of betrayal at watching a baby take over their home.
9. I had so much to learn and, as it turned out, was not too old to learn it.
Luckily, kids are excellent teachers. Over the course of 13 years, Evelyn taught me to look past the glacier-swift traffic that was keeping us from whatever appointment we were already late for and take in the glistening, snow-capped Rockies on the horizon.
She introduced me to great movies like “Up” and “Shrek 2,” and showed me how to operate most of the electronic devices in our home.
“No, Dad, this is the App that will automatically write your guest blog for you.”
Through parenting, I also acquired a common, practical skill that had evaded me for decades. When Evelyn was four, we caught an episode of Sesame Street in which Big Bird tied one of his freakishly huge shoes.
The bird showed great meticulousness, and a series of extreme close-ups made it impossible to miss the slightest detail.
I took a personal interest, as this had been my darkest secret since grade school: I did not know how to properly tie my shoes, having been the kid who daydreamed through countless tutorials, forcing him to later invent his own highly flawed system.
There was one little twist I could never figure out, and all through my adult life, my shoes refused to stay tied for more than thirty minutes in one stretch.
This slowed me down when racing through airports, hiking with friends, and running from bears encountered while hiking with friends.
With my daughter sitting beside me, Big Bird changed all that. Big Bird taught me how to tie shoes, and I was a better man for this.
The next bear would have trouble catching me.
8. I have yet to hear, “And you must be Grandpa.”
Parenthood seems to be keeping me young, these lying gray hairs to the contrary.
Young is a relative term, of course, but I will happily settle for hearing a new acquaintance say, “You’re not old enough to write a book called Geezer Dad.” (Yes, I have written a book called Geezer Dad, and will subtly try to stoke your interest as you read on. Consider yourself warned.)
“There’s no way you’re 61.”
It is true that, during the first months of parenting, I found it impossible to ignore all the previously uncharted aches and pains.
But from talking with parents of all ages, I learned to stop asking, “Am I too old for this?”
“Are you kidding?” a much younger mom corrected me at one of our parenting classes. “All new parents feel like they’re sixty. At the very least, we should be eligible to claim disability
7. There are serious advantages to getting a late start.
Although I may not offer the absolute best example, older parents are generally more organized, and more prepared to navigate life’s least pleasant detours.
We have retirement accounts, wills, and insurance policies no self-respecting 30-year-old would place in a safety deposit box even if 30-year-olds kept safety deposit boxes.
We also exercise more care. We don’t text and drive, for example, and in collisions with young drivers who insist on combining these activities, we are the ones wearing seatbelts.
Older parents are also more appreciative. We do our best to savor each moment, and never take hugs or good grades for granted.
There’s certainly none of the resentment about missed opportunities that can torment young parents, no “I could have been underwater foosball champion for central southern Illinois. My YouTube video got more than 160 hits…and then you came along.”
A few more perks: A new older parent can slip off his or her reading glasses and admire the cutest baby in the world, whether or not that opinion would be shared by a younger person with 20/20 vision. (This one never applied to us. Our baby was cute.)
Finally, if our kids turn out to be serial killers or telemarketers, we won’t be around to see it.
6. The disadvantages are also very real, starting with the most obvious one.
Should my daughter one day discover the cure for Restless Arm Syndrome, it’s unlikely I’ll be there to witness her triumph.
5. I discovered true peace at 3 in the morning.
This—”How I Became a GEEZER DAD and Discovered True Peace at 3 in the Morning”—once served as the working title for my book. (Yeah, I know. So much for subtlety.)
Borrowing an excerpt about rocking my infant daughter to sleep, I will let the memoir speak for itself:
Days pass, I can’t say how many. Time is measured in feedings now, and it slows to an arthritic crawl while baby’s bottle warms in a plastic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon souvenir cup.
This process takes only four minutes, but Evelyn is quick to point out that anything more than a minute represents a good chunk of her life.
Her face turns red, as red as the lungs I’m viewing through the cavernous hole her sweet little mouth has somehow become. Evil spirit, leave this body. Out, thee, in the name of our Father.
My reward always comes with the ding of the timer. Evelyn shows me her tender side.
She lets me see just how happy she is when the rubber nipple meets her lips and she finally tastes the soy-based formula that smells like my tattered old tennis shoes right after I mow the lawn.
Her eyes try to focus on the ones I’m trying to focus, and if she could speak I know she would say, “Thanks, Dad, that was more than worth the wait. I’m sorry I behaved inappropriately.”
Not that I would hear these words, having developed tinnitus during her caterwaul, which lasted the same number of seconds—one hundred and forty—as it.
Fortunately, I don’t need my hearing. In an instant, the night is transformed, along with the room. The ceiling and walls are gone, and I’m feeling the breeze on an African plain, watching gazelles as they pass, unmindful of our presence.
Two wildcats stare from a distance, but I sense no danger. Something in their eyes gives them away. These guys are as harmless as housecats. Our housecats.
Everything here is primal: Evelyn’s hunger, her trust, my feeling connected to a thousand distant ancestors. The calm is profound, as deep as the sky. I’ll pay for this tomorrow, I know. I also know it’s worth it.
4. It’s possible to give up old habits.
Swearing, for example. I remember lapsing only once during those first sleepless months, and that was when I discovered just how sharp the inner rim of an Enfamil formula can is.
Upstairs in her crib, Evelyn was no doubt wondering, Why on Earth are drunken marines having a bar fight in our kitchen?
While getting to know my daughter, I discovered reserves of selflessness and patience that had never before hinted at their existence.
Instead of reading the paper first thing each morning, I prepared meals for others. Instead of watching “The Colbert Report,” I acknowledged pleas of “Again, again,” and patiently restarted a Barney video.
My self-centric world had fallen, all to a single, unarmed invader. How else to explain my reaction to a baby vomiting milk curdled in the oven of a flu-stricken stomach?
Holding her out in front of me, I gently encouraged Evelyn to “Throw up on Daddy. No need to get it on the furniture.”
To this day, when crossing a street with my daughter, I take the side between her and oncoming traffic, clearly conveying the message: “You want her? Then take me first.”
I still lose sleep when she’s unwell, and can even lay claim to making the ultimate act of selflessness: letting her have the Chinese leftovers I was saving for my lunch.
3. Kids can help do things.
Like feed the dog. Or brush the cats. Or put away silverware.
As for cleaning up their own rooms, this is more of a challenge.
2. Parenthood is not only keeping me young, it is also keeping me alive.
My daughter gives me the biggest and best reason for defying the actuarial tables and sticking around.
Making this both my greatest obligation and goal, I refuse to write myself out of the story before I have moved furniture into her first apartments, masterminded the mysterious disappearance of an unsuitable boyfriend or two, and sent countless emails I know she won’t actually read: How’s the new job? Is that Jacob guy still bothering you? I could drive out to Wichita, and talk to him if you like.
If honoring this unwritten contract requires eating more spinach and broccoli, then so be it. I may even be willing to ingest some kale.
1. The biggest surprise that came my way? Life could still surprise me.
For the first time in decades, I saw our tired, predictable world as something new and mysterious by viewing it through the eyes of a child.
Truly cathartic, becoming a dad now ranks as the most emotionally satisfying experience in my life.
No one could ask for a better surprise. I might even recommend it to younger adults.
Tom LaMarr is the author of Geezer Dad: How I Survived Infertility Clinics, Fatherhood Jitters, Adoption Wait Limbo & Things That Go “Waa” in the Night. He has also written a few critically praised novels. Learn more by visiting tomlamarr.com.