Big Life

I’m an Empty Nester: Has My Role as a Dad Changed?

My Kids Have Left the Nest, but Has My Role as a Dad Changed? 

Originally Published on The Good Men Project 1/23/2016

The year was 1996, and I was terrified. The mother of my 5 little children had just left, never to return. I was suddenly thrust into the role of being the sole parent to my kids, a 20 year jail sentence of having to care for them myself. I felt utterly responsible for the mess my family was in. I thought about running away, but that idea was short lived. I loved my kids way too much to run.

So I spent the next 20 years doing what any respectable parent, dad or mom, would do – raise my kids in the best way I knew how. It was tough, and at times, I didn’t always know how I would make it. But as my kids started to grow I started to formulate a plan, no, call it a fantasy, for what my life would look like decades down the road when the kids were out of the house. Those thoughts really helped me get through it all.

My seven-day-a-week retail business was in New Jersey and all of my kids were enrolled in the school system there. We were strapped financially from the divorce judgement and traveling with 5 under the circumstances was difficult. I remember looking at them back then and imagining a future when all of them had graduated from college. They would all be on their own, financially independent, married and with children. I thought of them scattered across the country in cities such as: Chicago, Miami, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Montreal. I pictured myself visiting them, one by one, taking them out for family dinners, and playing with my grandchildren.

Today my kids are all in their twenties. Two have graduated college, two are almost done with college, one manages a large retail store, and one has so far carved out a successful career and marriage. They live in Washington, D.C., Milwaukee, Manhattan and New Jersey. Just like I had dreamt years ago, I go and visit them relatively often, even sometimes by surprise. It seems I am well on my way to fulfilling the fantasy I had when they were little.

What I now realize is that I was also foreshadowing the role I would play in my kids lives as adults. When they were little they needed me all of the time. With each passing year that need wanes. However, what they need from me hasn’t changed very much at all. My kids still need to know that their dad will be there in the case of an emergency, my daughters need to hear me tell them that they are beautiful and my boys need to know how proud I am of them. They all need to know that I respect, admire, and love them no matter what.

While the amount of time a dad needs to spend with his kids may lessen over time, his role with his kids remains the same. You can offer to get them an ice cream cone at any age: 5, 10, 15, 20 or 25 years old and they’ll gladly accept. And with each passing year and ice cream cone, they’ll appreciate all you have done for them more and more and begin to realize how tremendously important you still are in their lives.

The long-awaited future is finally arriving and its offerings will far surpass even my previous expectations. I know they will because I am not through being a dad, and surpassing expectations is what we do.

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