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Ruminations on fatherhood from a dear ‘old’ dad

by Mick Rhodes

The first time I heard “Your grandson is so cute!” I was in the Village, at Wells Fargo with my newborn son. I was peeved. Couldn’t the teller see that my little toe-headed mini-me was mine?

Nowadays? Meh. I take it as a supreme, albeit backhanded compliment that a man of a certain age (I’m 53 as of press time) has the stamina to parent a now seven-year-old son, let alone the subtext of having the juice to help make that human happen in the first place.

I just gave up on caring about the inevitable. Worrying about aging is like fretting over gravity: it’s just there.

I’m good with it.

There are, of course, drawbacks to being a grey-haired, grey-bearded dad. For one, my body. Let’s just say it’s not “summer ready.” Permanently. But when you’re a father of young children—my boy is seven, and my youngest daughters 11 and 14—you find yourself partaking fairly regularly in activities mildly to strenuously athletic.

Take for instance the beach. There was a time when I owned the waves. I feared nothing, and could spend hours on end body surfing, swimming and generally frolicking in the surf like a good SoCal boy does.

I discovered boogie boarding just as I was beginning my love affair with the Pacific, sometime around my son’s age. My green slab o’ laminated Styrofoam was a cherished possession, a purchase that took my mom some time for which to save.

I spent years on that thing. It was cool. Hell, I was cool. Of course, not as cool as my friends who stood up and surfed on actual surfboards, but for this tall and awkward Glendora kid it was a small, much-needed step in that direction.

My buddies and I spent a good chunk of our precious summers bounding up and down the 57 Freeway to 15th Street in Newport Beach. It was our place.

Flash forward 40-plus years and I’m back at 15th Street, this time with my boy, my mini-me, intent on teaching him the cool art of the boogie board. It was one of those many parenting moments where your image in the eyes of your offspring can go one of two ways:?A) You can do that? Awesome! or B) Omg. Stop. It. Unfortunately, my boogie boarding lesson earned me the latter.

My son was visibly shaken after seeing the big waves pummel, flip backward, submerge and otherwise humiliate his previously bulletproof dad. It was, well, humbling. And it certainly wasn’t the invincible Warrior of the Sea image that fathers like to project.

In the end, I succumbed to nature, time and good sense, and joined my boy in the whitewater. He was having a blast. And—after gathering myself and regaining my equilibrium—I did, too. My body and what was left of my ego were bruised, but that’s part of the deal with being a geezer dad: you do what you can, and you let the rest go.

But I’m not alone. From 1980 to 2014, there was a 58 percent increase in the number of fathers over 35, according to the most recent government statistics. And between 2000 and 2008, pregnancy rates for women between the ages of 40 and 44 climbed 22 percent—while pregnancy rates have dropped among women in their teens and 20s, according to a report by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

So, there are more of us geezer dads out there, slogging through the never-ending tasks, obligations and delights of fatherhood.

Dad-hood has been for me both mind-bogglingly complex and serenely simple. As I get older (and older) I try to de-clutter the process as much as possible. I lean toward the simple, though my kids would probably tell you I am a control freak. But I’m learning, trying, to let go.

Parenting for me has involved a lot of letting go, and as my kids get older, a lot of shutting up.

My oldest daughter, now 32, once had a less than ideal boyfriend, with whom she was constantly on the rocks. During one particularly dramatic breakup, I made the mistake of chiming in about how ill-suited the kid was and how I was relieved she had finally dispatched the laggard. The next day they were back together, and I was an enemy of the state. Now, with my two younger daughters about to enter dating age, I’ll put my learning to the test. I hope I learned my lesson.

My only son is a wholly different animal. On one hand, he’s easier: he can get out the door in about 90 seconds, flip-flops on feet, and Pokémon hat on head. On the other hand, he’s much more sensitive than his sisters. He’s even a little shy, which is a surprise since he sprung partially from the loins of his hammy dad.

When I saw the expression on his face when I finally gained footing after getting manhandled by those waves at 15th Street, all the sweetness in his big, scared blue eyes, it was apparent my parenting needed adjustment. I wasn’t ever again going to be the Warrior of the Sea. I’m just his geezer dad. And that’s fine with me.