Twenty-eight years ago, Kathy and I were married in Michigan. The ceremony was witnessed by some 400 assembled family and friends in the church Kathy’s father had helped to start. Having been graduated from college just two weeks prior, we excitedly embarked on our career as a married couple. Blessed with a pregnancy in less than a year, we welcomed our first-born to the planet before we had been married 17 months.
It has been a pretty good ride since then. Joshua was soon followed by Rachel, then Daniel, all pretty close together. A four year gap was broken by David, with Sarah closely on his heels. I think we both thought that five kids was a pretty good return on ten years of wedded bliss.
In many ways, being parents of five children has defined the two of us for the last several decades, especially as we chose to home-school each of them through early high school. I think the ‘achievement’ I am proudest of in my life so far has been to be the Dad of these five fun, mature, godly and rather quirky humans.
So now what? All five are grown. All five are out of the house, making their way with the gifts and opportunities that God has granted. All five are walking with the Lord, honoring Him with their choices and with their hearts. I feel diminished, as if I was a DVD player — still occasionally needed and useful, but only when people still watch DVDs in this world of streaming services.
About four months after Sarah was born, my boss called me to his office. Sitting with him was a grim-faced woman from Human Resources, who slid a large folder across the desk toward me, as though she didn’t want to contract whatever disease I was carrying.
“Tim,” my boss told me, “I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to let you go.” He had the grace to look as though he actually was sorry.
I was devastated. I had known our division was facing a 25% cut in personnel, but I had confidently estimated my position on the team as reasonably safe. I felt as though I had been punched in the solar plexus, all the air knocked out of me. I numbly accepted my severance packet and scurried back to my office, where I closed the door and sobbed.
In some ways, becoming an empty-nester has been similar. Even though I saw it coming, I somehow didn’t expect it to touch me. I feel as though I was laid off from my position of being a Dad.
Sure, my kids still need me in their lives. Sure, I have love and wisdom and comfort and provision to lavish on them as they move into their early adult years, finishing college, getting married, starting careers, and building families of their own. But it isn’t the same.
Yesterday, Kathy and I made a list of our goals, as we look to re-inventing ourselves in the vacuum of an absent family. We created a daily/weekly checklist and started a gentle competition to see which of us can be more purposeful as we take advantage of this new phase of our lives. We are hopeful that we can (even at this near-geriatric age) make a new start in becoming the disciplined, godly people we have always wanted to be.
This morning, I met with my ‘boys’ (the ones I’ve prayed with on Wednesdays for the past 15 years or so) and I told them how I felt about being an empty-nester.
“You could always try foster care,” one of them suggested, pointedly.
This evening, as we were praying for our children, Kathy made a comment to the Lord that I was apparently supposed to overhear: “Lord, please let us know if you want us to foster kittens, like Rachel and Tim.” (Rachel and Tim are the foster-humans for a seemingly unending stream of kittens who reside in their home while they wait to be placed in their permanent homes.)
Interestingly, the name of my middle school was Stephen Foster. It is clearly a sign.
In the meantime, the competition rages on. I’m winning at the moment, 20 to 16. But Kathy says, “There’s still time. It isn’t midnight!”