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Over-40 Dads Pay Price, but It's Worth It

Helping care for toddlers seems to be a bit more demanding the second time around.

April 06, 1997|DENNY FREIDENRICH | Denny Freidenrich has lived in Orange County for 25 years. He writes from Laguna Beach

Every Saturday and Sunday morning, dads of every color and stripe meet in cafes and coffeehouses throughout Orange County. I am one the thousands of over-40 dads, with toddlers in tow, who is giving my wife a weekend break from the kids.

Don't get me wrong. I love my children. But to be perfectly honest, I never dreamed I would be a father again at 48, struggling to keep up with my 2-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son. The first time around, I was 31 and a veritable whirlwind of energy--capable of changing diapers, picking up my son and enjoying a night out on the town. A decade and a half later, I'm all thumbs with diapers, in constant pain from chronic back troubles and asleep at nine nearly every evening. Whoever coined the phrase "children keep you young" must have been out of his or her mind.

When I signed on as a husband, it never dawned on me I would be a dad who rarely plays golf, surfs or goes to movies on the weekend. Being 48 isn't what it used to be. Take a look at old family photos when your parents or their friends were my age. If they were anything like my parents, they looked ancient. All my parents' friends were overweight and their hair--it was either missing, gray or, worse, turning blue.

On the outside, I look like a happy camper, but, on the inside, I know my days are numbered. When I put on my favorite baseball hat, all I can see is gray around my temples. When I take my children to preschool, all I can think about is paying for their college education.

My wife thinks I protest too much. She says my preoccupation with age and paying tuition are train wrecks waiting to happen. Well, she's not the one who now drops fly balls in the backyard, wears bifocals or shows her youngest son 40-year-old swimming ribbons.

My teenage son often makes fun of me when I'm struggling with his little brother or sister. "Dad," he laughs, "you are too old for this." Even though he's right more often than not, I can't help but feel my teenager's getting a real education about life and commitments. Yes, life sometimes is messy and no, you don't always get to take the easy road. Both have their downsides, but both also have their rewards. I know my life is blessed being a father and a husband.

Even though the image I originally had painted for myself looks different than the one I see today, I feel good about where I have been and where I am headed. And if through my trials, my children learn to be better parents than I have been, then all the gray hairs, backaches and sleepless nights certainly will have been worth being another over-40 dad at the local cafe or coffeehouse. Croissant, anyone?

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