Changing diapers at 59 -- and loving it!


JOSHUA L., a teen-aged Californian with a thorough grasp of space technology and a wicked batting average, came to visit. He is my only grandchild. Joshua found it highly amusing to see me diapering his Aunt Sonya, but I had already grown used to his smirk and snicker: Just two years earlier I began diapering his Aunt Julia.

Have no fear -- this is still a family newspaper and the riddle is easily solved. On the verge of age 60, I am at fathering again. That might be amusing, but it isn't perverse.

In 1955 I was the youngest new father on the block. Today I may be the oldest one to be found in an entire ZIP code. Then, I had unlimited energy but wavering patience. The crying call of a helpless infant quickly grated on the nerves. Now, it sounds like a kind of music. Then, an ambitious urging dwarfed the capacity to express love. This, too, has blessedly changed. Fathering is so much a finer thing in 1992.

My little girls have taught me that the greatest miracles are made of ordinary events and that they happen for all of us. Reaching for a toe. Catching it. Climbing stairs. Songs in the night. Discovering the moon. I am now convinced that each child, in first recognizing her parents and laughing with pleasure at that knowledge, moves the world further along than Richard Nixon did in recognizing Red China.

The experience of work has also been changed. Recently, I noticed a 10-year-old boy waiting to audition for the preparatory music program at Essex Community College. He clutched a shiny instrument in his hands. His mother was jerking at his tie, pulling it straighter and tighter. He looked the other way. Her muscles were tense, his knuckles were white.

It was a dreadful moment. Drawing from a source of wisdom unknown to me in earlier years, I gave him this piece of advice right out of "Sesame Street": "You've got to put down the ducky if you want to play the saxophone."

The spell was broken, and he sailed through the ordeal with a smile on his face.

My old friend Willie and I got together for a drink last week. (Such occasions are not as frequent as they used to be.) We have known each other for thirty years and there is no domestic battlefield left unexplored between us. Willie has been at a loss for the last three years, trying to understand the decisions I have made. He knew and liked Beth, my lovely bride, but felt that I would have been better off remaining single. When I told him about the first baby, he threw up his hands. News of the second one convinced Willie that I had truly gone insane.

Now we sat together in a quiet room and he spoke.

"I know a bunch of guys like you and me, who have seen their share of it, up and down, and I've been trying to figure out what you were doing with your life. It suddenly came to me, yesterday, in the middle of the night. My God, I thought, Saul's the one who's got a second chance!"

"That's right," I said.

Saul Lillienstein writes from Baltimore. He is the proud father of four children: Daniel, 36; Eric, 31; Julie, 2; and Sonya, almost eight months.

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