The start of a new year brings with it an acute awareness of the passage of time. There is no denying I am getting older as one calendar comes off the wall and a new one goes up, and there are items on my to-do list that I put off because they remind me I’m aging.
Sadly, I have shirked some important parental responsibilities because I don’t want to face my own, inevitable demise. I’m not planning on dying tomorrow, but I cannot say when that dreaded day will come.
This year’s goal, then, is to take care of all those preparations. Some are really updates. For example, when my first daughter was born, my wife and I took out some life insurance. It seemed like a lot back then, when we were both just out of grad school and moved all our possessions in a small U-Haul up and down the East Coast.
When we finally settled in Brooklyn, we did make wills, figuring this was the only way to avoid an inevitable tug-of-war among extended families over our perfect and delightful young girls.
Many calendars have come and gone on my wall since then. Now I have teenagers, one in college, one soon on her way, a mortgage, a car, and a dog. Life has become much more complicated, but I’ve never gone back and reviewed those arrangements. I’m without a healthcare proxy, a letter expressing my wishes for a funeral, or even a plot to be put in.
Facing these tasks means asking some big questions, like what do I really want to leave my children in terms of money or things? No debt seems like a good starting place. How about enough to finish college and buy a home? Or maybe just enough to cover the expenses of burying me and cleaning up my affairs is the way to go. What about letters, mementoes, candlesticks, the things that make a family history? What is my responsibility to my kids?
I have tried to bring up these issues with my girls, gently pointing out that I won’t always be around and we should talk about what that means. Always, I am met with, “I don’t want to talk about that,” or “This is creepy, change the subject.”
Letting their discomfort keep me from planning is clearly not the way to go, so this year, it is time to move ahead. I am trying to think of it like any other task of fatherhood that I wasn’t excited about — folding clothes, changing diapers, saying good night to 20 stuffed animals. My goal, as with so many other parental duties, is to make things easier for my girls, so that if it comes to pass, the papers are in order and a difficult time won’t be complicated by unfinished preparations and disorganization.
I’m writing my list on each month of my calendar so I won’t forget to get these things taken care of before the next calendar gets unwrapped and put on the wall.