My wife, Amy, quickly pointed out to Maggie that if I were 20, she would not be born. To that, Maggie looked up at me, put a hand to the side of her mouth and said, "I wish you were — 29."
A tiny knot tightened in my stomach like a hard punch from a small child. I scanned the foyer of the church and noticed the fathers with children the same age as mine. None of them had gray hair, bifocals, crow's feet or a middle-age paunch.
The other fathers seemed to have well-sculpted biceps and flat bellies as if they spend hours at the gym each week, and eat salads with baby spinach leaves and sprouts for lunch every day. I imagined those fathers wrestling roughly with their boys, and taking long hikes on warm fall evenings with their families, and carrying their little girls on their backs when their tiny legs get tired.
I asked Maggie, "Why do want me to be younger?"
She just stared at a spot on the floor between her shoes. I didn't pressure her for an answer.
I never thought that being an older parent mattered to my children. In fact, I didn't know that they even realized I was middle-age. I started taking inventory of myself and began realizing my shortcomings.
I eat plenty of fiber and take fiber supplements just to make sure everything slides around the corners smoothly. I take an Omega 3 tablet every evening for my heart and a male vitamin every morning to keep up the old testosterone levels.
Most fathers with children my age don't even know what AARP is. I, on the other hand, am dangerously close to being able the join that organization and taking advantage of the many senior discounts it offers.
Each night, I make sure my children brush their teeth and do their homework. After I read them a story and say a goodnight prayer, I slip into bed and fall asleep watching baseball, and my wife lays there wondering why I bother bolstering my testosterone.
I have to admit that sometimes I feel old. I can sense that my energy levels aren't what they used to be — and, apparently, my kids can, too.
Suddenly, I felt like I was depriving my children of having a young dad. I thought my kids deserved a more energetic, enthusiastic father. Therefore, I dedicated myself to getting young.
On Monday, I did three sit-ups and a pushup. After stretching extensively, I was ready to sit down and watch baseball for awhile.
On Tuesday, I went jogging. My knees were burning so badly by the time I reached the end of my driveway that I nearly had to be carted back.
On Wednesday, I took a bike ride and got such a severe wedgie, I was grateful for all the fiber I'd been taking.
On Thursday, I played catch with my daughters. I had to chase a football all over my yard because I'd never taught them how to throw.
On Friday, I called in sick.
By Sunday morning, it became painfully apparent that my young children were stuck with an old dad. I wished I could turn back the clock and get younger. I hoped and prayed that my children would not grow up resenting the fact that they had an old father.
As my family walked into church the following Sunday morning, I asked Maggie why she wants me to be 20. She looked at the ground and said from the side of her mouth, "I want you to be 20 so you won't die so soon."
Then it struck me: Maggie doesn't care if I have gray hair, glasses, wrinkles or a belly — she just wants me around.
At 7, Maggie is old enough to know that the older a person gets, the closer they are to death. She doesn't care if my knees burn when I run, or if I get hemorrhoids from riding a bike, or that her bedtime and mine are almost the same. Maggie just wants me around — shortcomings and all.
I reached down, lifted Maggie's chin and looked her in the eye. "Honey, I'm going to be around for a long time," I said.
"OK," Maggie said, "because I don't want you to die."
"I'm not going to die anytime soon," I said.
I gave Maggie a hug, and then she ran ahead to catch up the her mom and sister. I watched her as her hair bobbed and her dress flowed behind her and I thought, "I'm one lucky old guy."