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Lee Siegel
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Life cicles

NEW JERSEY - I had my children late in life. So I listened intensely to a story a friend of mine told me the other night over a drink. My friend is 46, almost ten years younger than I. He and his wife have two sons, aged 15 and 11. He told me that he recently got himself a personal trainer and has been working out with weights several times a week. He did this because what used to be playful wrestling with his sons when they were young now sometimes gets so serious that finds himself straining to hold his own. There are times, he told me, when-especially with his oldest son-they are actually engaged in a desperate physical struggle and my friend has to use all his strength to maintain his dignity and keep from being pinned to the ground.

Lee Siegel,

14 de abril de 2013 | 03h00

Suddenly I was overwhelmed by a feeling of mortal dread. When my son is 15, I’ll be nearly 65. I won’t be able to wrestle with him in any kind of serious way at all. Will he regard me with pity? With contempt? Will he love me desperately, his love mixed with fear that I might be gone from his life before he comes into his own? When my daughter is 15, I’ll be almost 70. Will she be proud of me? Or will she be embarrassed, when she brings her friends over, that her father is the same age as their grandparents?

I know how self-pitying this sounds, and I know that having these two precious darlings is a mid-life blessing, for which I am profoundly grateful. And I know that every mortal is vulnerable at every minute, some people far more than I am. Still, I find myself trapped between two life-cycles: middle age and the early phase of fatherhood. It is like moving forward and backward in time, all at once. There are moments when a mood of rueful brooding seizes me and won’t let go.

Lately, the American media has been full of alarming reports about how increasing numbers of older parents are producing children afflicted with all sorts of difficulties, from learning disabilities to autism to schizophrenia. But large numbers of people having children at an older age is a development that is too recent for science to derive the kind of conclusions from that trend that only long-range studies can reveal. Such studies as there are yield nothing certain. In fact, the incidence of schizophrenia in the general population has declined over the past few years. And, sadly, autism strikes the children of parents of all ages.

Statistics can’t make sense of my dread. I yearn to be with my children to help them through life in the way that, as a child, I yearned for a deity who would protect me from ghosts and thunder. I would sell my soul to the devil, not for power or pleasure, but for a way to reverse the seasons of human existence in order to restore my fatherhood to its rightful place in the life cycle. At least I married a wonderful woman who is ten years younger than I. I didn’t thumb my nose at the brute facts of life entirely.

Yet it’s not too difficult to squelch the regret that I didn’t have children at a younger age. If I had, I wouldn’t have helped bring into the world these two particular adorable creatures. And what was going on when I was in my twenties? I was struggling to gain a foothold as a writer, determined to read every book written, to see every great painting made, to visit every capital of the world. I also put an inordinate amount of effort into trying to convince my girlfriend at the time to allow me to sleep with her and her Sister.

By this point in my life, I’ve settled down. My libido has turned from the darkness to the light. (For the most part.) And I’ve fulfilled at least my essential ambitions. I don’t have to go to every party, to constantly ingratiate myself with people who hold the reins of power in my world. I don’t have to vie with every guy I meet, either, unless they’re the much younger fathers of my kids’ friends or classmates, in which case I find myself unconsciously succumbing to a flash of older-father panic and asserting my status as being more comfortably established. (With the super-wealthy bankers I have to take a different tack. I hint that, as a writer, I am the master of priceless intangibles.) I feel strong in the world when I am beside my son, who I want to believe is old enough to sense his father’s strength.

Yet he is also old enough to be aware of the fact of aging and death. Soon he will begin to realize that some of his friends’ fathers are young enough to be my sons, too. It probably doesn’t help that sometimes I project my sense of my own vexed mortality onto him, telling him to be careful when I should trust to his instincts and keep my mouth shut.

But here I am, indulging my self-pity again, when I should be counting my blessings. After all, people are living longer and healthier lives than ever before. As for the risks of being an older father, no one is vouchsafed any kind of dispensation from mercurial human circumstances.

And most of us have managed to wrest our own special bounty from whatever fate has given us. For me, it is the heedless, self-delighted laughter rising from my children through the house even as I write this. In Jean-Luc Godard’s "Breathless," a journalist asks a famous poet what he wants most. "To become immortal," the poet says, "and then die." The way I finally figure it is that if I can strive successfully to embed the best of my nature in my children’s hearts and souls, in their memories and their characters, then my immortality is guaranteed, life cycles be damned.

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