Realizing My Mid-Life Mission
/ Categories: Life Stages, Empty Nesters

Realizing My Mid-Life Mission

By Neil Gorosh

By any measure, my life is boring. I married my high school sweetheart, Marla.  We actually went to two proms, one as ‘just friends’ and one as boyfriend and girlfriend. We both attended college in Ann Arbor where we lost our shared virginity in Room 248 of Prescott Hall in East Quad. Marla was also smart enough to break up with me for a good part of my junior year to allow me time to sow some wild oats. In truth, the crop of oats was fairly mediocre that year. We got engaged at the Hash Bash my senior year, at least I think that’s how I remember it.

More than forty years later, Marla and I remain happily together, content and appreciative.  Yet all that happiness hasn’t prevented me from constantly contemplating what form my mid-life crisis might take. I just haven’t been able to bring myself to act on anything…yet. I thought about a sports car but just couldn’t pull the trigger. I can’t get in or out of them. I don’t covet a fancy road or mountain bike. I’ve got all I can handle with my modest “cruiser” bicycle.

Call me Old School but I still like reading the news from an actual newspaper. Back in the day, I was never interested in the Death Notices.  Now, I can’t pass the obituaries without looking for familiar names, noting anyone younger than me and wondering what did them in. Although I haven’t begun any new hobbies, I did start playing a musical instrument for the first time in my adult life. Still, it’s only a ukulele so a lot of people might think that doesn’t really count. And I’m fairly certain that having this piece published qualifies as my fifteen minutes of fame.

Some spend their midlife igniting old flames—literally or virtually.  My problem is that while I’m fairly certain Facebook was invented to search for old girlfriends and perhaps make them jealous, I have precious few to find. I think about the possibility of having an affair from time to time—“think” being the operative word. In the calculus of life, momentary pleasure seems too trite a reason to risk losing all that I have. The classic Mid-Life Crisis Affair may not be as worn and tired as a 60-year old man who suddenly decides to purchase a supercharged, Torch Red, Corvette ZR1 convertible but, ultimately, it is much more expensive. At some point I realized it wasn’t the physical act that I craved. Neither was it a lack of love. I love my wife, my children and their wives and they love me. Then it struck me.  It wasn’t love that I desired--it was everything associated with falling in love. 

Now I was truly playing with fire. Any extramarital affair is a betrayal. I would imagine though that, often times, the men and women who engage in such behavior still love their partners. But falling in love with someone else is the ultimate betrayal.  Sex is fun and physical intimacy is, by its nature, very personal but love is a quantum leap beyond all the friction and fluids. As dangerous as the prospect seemed, I wanted to fall in love.

I wanted to swoon with delight. I wanted to fall head over heels for somebody new, something new. I wanted to be swept away. I wanted the rational side of my brain to take a seat and let the emotional side steer the boat, at least for a little while.  And then it happened. I experienced that feeling again--the helplessness, the newness of it all. I rediscovered the knowledge that love is an involuntary reaction—something that cannot be willed into or out of existence and over which we have no control.

I became a grandfather.

As a matter of biology, I could have become a grandfather 25 years ago. But our Millennial children, mine included, are getting married at a much later age these days. Moreover, whether by necessity or choice, young adults are prioritizing jobs and careers over starting a family. Far too many simply don’t have the option. So I had to wait for my turn to join the Grandparents Club. I’ve never been much of a ‘joiner’ but I parade my membership in this club loudly. 

From the instant that I held my days old granddaughter, I felt the rush of the many emotions that add up to love. I wanted her to know that she was loved. I wanted to protect her from all harm. I wanted to show her off to the world. But most of all, I just wanted to experience the sweetness of her smell and keep staring at the delicate features of her face, the baby fat in her arms and legs and nibble on her tiny fingers and toes. 

Love changes everything. When you’re in love, you can sit and watch your precious one asleep in a crib for hours with rapt attention. Every sound she emits is somehow musical. A yawn becomes a fully formed statement.  Words are just not necessary when our eyes meet.  I know we are making a connection and that my granddaughter must feel the waves of love coursing through my body.

My new love is empirically, demonstrably and factually beautiful.  Oh sure, I know that every heathy newborn is beautiful and perfect in their own way. Parents and grandparents see only the beauty and perfection. But we’ve all seen babies who look a lot more like Mel Brooks than the Gerber baby. In truth, while all babies may not be ‘breathtaking’, they are all cute and most will grow into (or out of) their sometimes troubling facial features. But my granddaughter is …perfect.  Then again, maybe I’m just in love.

My children are 36 and 33 and while much about the 1980’s remains forgettable, I believe I remember the birth of my boys quite well. I’m sure I fell in love with them also but I suppose it just didn’t register in quite the same way. There was so much work to be done. Everything was brand new.  Life was complete. There was no time for the luxury of reflection. Perhaps more importantly, there was no void to be filled.

Our nest has been empty for many years now, too many to ponder. These have been years which brought us many gifts, a treasure trove of memories and experiences. But there have been voids as well. I miss being young and naïve. I miss the optimism that my ignorance allowed me, the belief that everything was still possible. I miss making love to my wife effortlessly (and painlessly) and the exquisite feeling that somehow our bodies seemed to fit together so perfectly. Today, two knee replacements, a hip replacement and three spinal surgeries later, nothing is easy.   

But I can honestly say that my mid-life crisis, if it ever really rose to that, is over. More importantly, I have been able to navigate these years without alienating my wife while still falling truly, deeply, proudly in love. I found the crush I so longed for. I check my granddaughter’s Instagram account daily for any new posts. It takes all of my willpower to resist reposting or otherwise sharing every adorable picture taken of her on my Facebook wall. When I hear the chime that denotes new pictures having been uploaded to the cloud, I salivate enough to make Pavlov‘s dog envious. I live for the next opportunity to Facetime with a child too young to grasp the concept of object permanence, let alone understand my rusty attempts at baby talk. I count the days until our next trip across the continent when I can, once again, hold my granddaughter in my arms, smother her with kisses and bask in that indescribably intoxicating smell of infants.    

Happily, I’ve added the impracticality of using child car seats to the reasons not to buy a sports car. I do seem to ride my clunky bicycle with a bit more determination today. I want to be around to watch my grandchildren grow and blossom. I still probably spend too much time on Facebook but I’m not stalking anyone. I’m marveling at how beautiful my granddaughter is compared to universe of grandchildren generally whose only crime is that I have not fallen in love with them. I haven’t kicked the habit of reading obituaries but I have started reading birth announcements once again. And I keep practicing my ukulele and imagining the day when we might be able to perform something together.

After all, I’ve only accomplished the easy part, the involuntary part, the falling-in-love part. I’ve got to make sure my love is reciprocated. I’ve got to forge my own personal bond that transcends distance, time and the generations. It’s coming back to me now:  the worry and uncertainty, the mistakes and second guessing; the constant anxiety that accompanies the strongest of human emotions. Love is hard.  I couldn’t be happier.

-Neil Gorosh

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