There was a time when my kids never made a move without discussing things with me.
Now, I don’t mean they were afraid to try things, because I spent their entire childhoods saying things like, “Well, what do YOU think?”
I tried not to solve their problems for them; rather, I presented options and helped them walk through the solutions.
But they’re older now and they have families of their own. The three girls all have husbands, and their husbands are the ones they should be discussing things with, so it is right for me to be less counted on than before.
I still get a call from those husbands, who say their wives (my daughters) mentioned that they might want to “touch base” with me about an investment, repair or situation, but as the years go by they are more and more prone to move independently.
I even overhear a situation or two now and then where I was deliberately NOT told because they knew what I would say and perhaps didn’t want to take that approach.
Again–I think this is all healthy. I mean, my mom always said the greatest gift a child can give his/her parents is their independence. It proves you raised them instead of just babysat.
And I do sleep better as I watch them make better and more solid decisions as the years compile.
But where could that increasing lack of involvement lead me?
As I observe those in the age group ahead of me, there is one thing I know I don’t want to experience: what they seem to embrace as the “inevitability of irrelevance.”
There are signs of this I have noted in the past–and now am fully on the lookout for–as my time in the more “senior section” draws near.
I’ve seen families ignoring the grandparent or elderly family member among them as they make decisions for them.
“Grandma may not like this nursing home as much as the other, but it’s closer to our house and less of a drive when we have to go visit.” Yikes!
Or maybe one like this: “Dad, I’ll be over to shovel the driveway later. What’s your hurry anyway, you’re not going anywhere?” Hmm–sounds a little more than irrelevant–it becomes almost disrespectful.
It shows up in the workplace too. “Once the old man retires we’ll upgrade all this technology and get things on track.”
Wow–chances are that “old man” probably built the department that caused you to have a job. Maybe he knows things you don’t, including the best timing to implement new technology. Maybe you shouldn’t discount his opinion too quickly.
But how do you reach a ramped-up newcomer? They often have no appreciation for history, as they are so focused on the future.
In any event, how can one remedy this growing irrelevance as they age and the rest of the world casts a light on them like they are suddenly limping to the finish line?
The answer is really quite simple. It is our own responsibility to maintain our dignity, and that very dignity will save us from a senior life filled with people making decisions for us.
As I used to tell the boys I coached in Little League while we were losing by 10 runs and the game was to be called by the “mercy rule”–“I don’t care what happened before now and I don’t care to figure out who, why or where we went wrong. It’s time to suck it up and finish strong!”
Oftentimes this little motivating speech was enough to drive in a run or two and move the score to a respectable 10-2 or something that meant it would not be ended early out of “pity.” Mercy rule-Schmercy rule–we came to play and we will finish strong.
So how does a man who has been super involved in his children’s lives suddenly become completely useful again after they move on?
Simple. Stop looking on the ground for fallen apples and reach into the limbs to pick one fresh off the tree.
Grandchildren, orphan homes, big brothers programs, foster parents–the world is full of opportunities that need steady, capable people to step up and lend their leadership skills.
At work? Take an intern to lunch and befriend them. They are always broke, always hungry and usually quite appreciative of career advice and guidance.
Maintain and exhibit the notion that you have something to offer and that it could be very useful to the right listener.
The answer is dignity, my friends. You have amassed a career and a home life conjured out of respect for your trade and your life needs.
Finish strong, maintain your dignity and find an audience for that which is still good, strong, sage advice and experience.
Anything else would be a waste of good history; find a new audience for your precious memories. I’ll bet they find a pearl or two…as will you.
Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.