The Decade Gap
My mother, in her most wistful moments, used to talk of me as a boy.
I was her “little man”, blessed with sufficient nous to keep a necklace bought from a primary school fete hidden away until Mothers’ Day; imaginative enough to pretend I was America’s Greatest Hero every Tuesday night in the early 1980s, flying around the house in the Ralph Hinkley costume she designed.
While the necklace gave her a rash and the blood-red Hinkley costume caused more than a few bumps and bruises, I didn’t give her – or dad – much trouble. In fact, I’m told I was a little too good at times during my earliest years if the hours I spent cross-legged on the lounge room floor reading dictionaries – instead of playing matchbox cars or riding training-wheeled BMX bikes like the rest of my peers – were anything to go by.
But when pressed for memories of me as a baby, Mum’s stories are less vivid. She says the first years of each of her four babies were all a bit of a blur, particularly with her first three, my two sisters and I, all born within four years – and especially with me, her eldest.
The three decades that passed between then and the birth of my first child in 2009 may have further clouded any recollections, but it got me pondering how my parents – 23 and 21 when I came kicking and screaming into the world – coped. It must have been a crazy, bewildering time: next to no money; their high school days not long behind them; their peak years spent in a selfless daze.
In the lead-up to Edie being born I sometimes thought of my old man becoming a father at 23, and then I’d think about myself at the same age: living in Ireland, pissing and puking away my pay onto the cobbled steps of Dublin’s Temple Bar or the muck water of the River Liffey, nary a care in the world aside from my then-girlfriend and where my next pint of Guinness was coming from.
At 32, almost 33, I was a decade older than my dad was when he became a father. I wondered if my baby’s childhood would be different because of this.
Of course, the early-adulthood whirlwind of marriage and children was as normal back then as the people of today partying away their twenties and living by the “30-is-the-new-20” adage. As my folks and many of their peers (including my partner’s parents, who were even younger than mine when they started out, and they had three children in two years) point out, the youth of their era had significantly fewer options.
There was no easy credit at banks.
People just didn’t jet off travelling for years at a time.
A job for life was something to be treasured.
My old man didn’t miss out on living the high life in his twenties – drinking and smoking to his heart’s content – he didn’t know any different. As far as he was concerned he’d done the responsible thing, the noble thing, the right thing.
At 32, almost 33, I was a decade older than my dad was when he became a father. I wondered if my baby’s childhood would be different because of this. Dad was always running around with us, as well as running us around; a fit young man, even with the smoking.
Still, while 32 wasn’t old to be a dad – judging by my neighbourhood peers, it seemed to be around the mark – I wasn’t in the best shape in the year Edie was born. I needed to cut down my drinking and wipe out smoking altogether. To be short of breath while chasing my son or daughter around the park in a few years’ time wouldn’t be cool.
Neither would the possibility of leaving him or her early.
If I kept up this caper until Edie was 10 I’d be an old 42.
So, I gave the cancer-sticks the flick. Aside from the odd lapse here and there the process was relatively painless. I took up running, gradually getting faster, progressing from five to 10 kilometres and then the half marathon. Within two years I’d run my first marathon.
And I’m still at it, six years after incorporating running into an increasingly packed schedule. Long gone is shortness of breath and wheezing, and I’m hardly ever sick, which, as most dads can vouch for, is a super bonus.
I feel I’ve made up the decade gap between myself and my dad. Forty is, indeed, the new 30.