Instead of slowing down, playing golf, sitting in the rocking chair, or periodically doting on grandchildren, many older dads are rising to the challenge of being a great father to their young and school age children. Valuing the joys of their children’s day to day activities, the pursuit of meaningful family relationships, and even the freedom from overwork in their former careers, these seasoned men are making the most of the vocation of fatherhood in their fifties, sixties, and seventies. Christopher Parkening is one example of a father who has stepped back from a fruitful career to focus on tending his “garden” closer to home and on growing a strong relationship with his child.
Parkening is one of the world’s preeminent virtuosos of the classical guitar. In a concert career that spanned 50 years, he performed around the world, receiving numerous awards including two Grammy nominations. In 2012, he retired from the concert stage, although he is training a new generation of musicians in his position as Distinguished Professor of Music and Chair of the Guitar Department at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.
Parkening saved fatherhood for the second half of his life, and he is relishing it. Now age 65, he remembers feeling “amazement, gratitude, blessed, and also in a bit of a daze” when his wife Theresa gave birth to their son Luke nine years ago. If Luke were born during the height of Parkening’s concert career, he says, “it would have been quite different. I was on the road touring for months at a time. I would have been an absentee father.” The wisdom gained through Parkening’s life experiences allow him to focus on what’s important in his relationship with his son. “Also, I was immature and valued material things and possessions more than what is of real value—glorifying God with my life and abilities.”
Often seen in his yard playing with his son and their dog, Parkening’s favorite things to do with him include the things Luke enjoys–attending NBA games, playing HORSE with the basketball, throwing a football, wrestling, playing handball, and fly fishing. “But I especially cherish the times we read the Bible together at night, and pray before he goes to sleep.”
Now that he is not traveling the world performing on concert stages, Parkening is able to balance his family life with his job as a guitar professor, master class instructor, and mentor. “I feel I balance them fairly well. I try to be available to both my son and my wife as much as possible. If either of them called and needed me immediately, I would drop everything to help them.”
“I think I’m a good father. I feel a real sense of responsibility in raising my son to be a man of God first of all, and second, to encourage and support him in his abilities and talents, as well as the things that he is interested in. And I try to be a good example to him. I feel the greatest gift that we can give our children is the legacy of faith.”
Discipline, a desire for personal excellence, and perseverance are traits Parkening learned from his own father that helped him grow up to be a world class musician. When his son Luke finally goes off to college, Parkening hopes he has imbued these traits along with tenets of his Christian faith. “To remember what he has learned: biblical principles like being a man of integrity, honesty, loving the Lord with all his heart, and loving his neighbor as himself—that’s Luke 10:27–and to be disciplined, to work hard, and pursue personal excellence.”
For now, Parkening wants his 9 year old son to know “God’s unconditional love” and to feel his parent’s unconditional love as well, which does not require that Luke follow his father’s footsteps. “He is very musically talented, including having perfect pitch. However, I have not pushed the guitar on him, as he seems to be more interested in the piano, which is a great foundational instrument. He currently is taking piano lessons.”
Parkening cites two books which have influenced him in his role as an older father. One is Half Time: Moving from Success to Significance by Bob Buford, which explores focusing on what really matters and finding purpose and integrity in the second half of life. Experts in lifespan psychology, which seeks to explain our behavior as we age and live through different stages of life, would agree that this goal is the key to positive aging and maintaining significant relationships. The other book Parkening enjoys is The Fulfilled Family: God’s Design for Your Home, written by his pastor, John MacArthur of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California.
One of Parkening’s favorite days of the year is Father’s Day, which although is a special day that comes only once a year, it’s a day that includes activities he normally enjoys. “Generally, there are a few presents and cards waiting for me in the morning. We attend church as a family–as we do every Sunday–then my wife and son take me out to lunch. Father’s Day is a great day for me!”