|Robert Delaney studied for the priesthood in Los Angeles and at St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park, California. He was ordained in 1957. Rose Johnigk was a Benedictine nun from 1948 until 1966. They first met in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Married in 1972, Robert and Rose lived in Germany until 1987. Rose died from cancer in 1994.
Robert and his wife Maria were married in 1999. They live in San Jose, California. Robert and Rose's daughter Miriam died suddenly in 2011. Their son Michael lives in Southern California. The text copied below is adapted from pages 287-292 of You Can't Hurry Love, published in 1992.
Rose and Robert represent a little-known population of first-time late marriers: ex-nuns and ex-priests who marry each other later in life. They first met in a small village in Mexico. Their respective religious orders ran an orphanage and a cooperative farm nearby. Both were on church assignments, she as a teacher, he as an administrator, and they became acquainted briefly. Midway through her tenure, Rose decided to leave the order. And it was Robert who, in his official capacity as priest, signed the documents releasing Rose from her duties.
Some years later, Rose went to Germany to visit relatives and found out Robert was studying at a seminary in the adjacent town. They began seeing each other as friends, catching up on old times. But the more time they spent together, the more their common values, enthusiasm for life, and "chemistry" brought them together. Robert eventually left the priesthood, and the two married. They were both forty-one.
They remained in Germany, where they were social activists in a multiethnic working-class community. During this time Rose had three miscarriages, after which they decided to adopt a baby. Rose recalls the life-changing telephone call from the adoption agency:
We were giving a big party when we got the call. There we were, at this interracial gathering, and Robert yells out, "Rose, do you mind if we have a mixed-race baby? " But of course it didn't make any difference to us.
Rose was forty-five when they adopted Michael. Nine months later the adoption agency called again, asking if they could handle another baby. Overwhelmed as she was, Rose couldn't say no. So she and Robert became the parents of two babies only eleven months apart. It was a difficult time because they had several community projects going, their tiny apartment was always full of people, and although Rose found the atmosphere stimulating, she was overwhelmed with her new responsibilities. How did an active woman in her mid-forties deal with two infants?
I had no idea what was going on, since I'd never been around babies before. We used to call it "baby shock" in Germany -- women having babies after thirty-five and being confronted with a child who makes demands on you which go far beyond any demands connected with a job. A baby doesn't go away at the end of a workday. But I had all these young mothers from the neighborhood telling me what to do, so that was a life-saver.
After years of being on her own, tending to the unending needs of two babies was a tremendous adjustment for Rose. The transformation she was called. upon to make was a profound one-and aptly labeled "baby shock" by her German friends. As dedicated and involved as she'd been in her professional life, Rose was. indeed shocked to discover that motherhood was a career that left her little time for "R-and-R." And while mothers (and fathers) of all ages cope with this reality, late-marrying parents often find it even more jarring-since they've lived independently for that many more of their adult years.
Energy, or the lack of it, didn't initially seem to be as big a problem for Rose and Robert as it was for other late-marrying parents of young children. They'd both led very active lives, lived in rugged conditions at times, and were extremely athletic. So chasing around after two tiny children was something they both took in stride. But as the years went on, they began to feel their age. Rose recounted how their endurance was tested as their children became teenagers:
When I look at pictures of the kids when they were babies, I look like I'm about twenty-five -- and I felt that young, too. No big deal, I just had to do the work and keep everything going. But as we got into it-because we were already forty-five when we got the babies, and that's already a whole hunk into forty-I found that parenting required more and more exertion and energy.
As teenagers, our kids are especially active. They constantly want to get out and do things, and I'm really not into such high-powered activity anymore. So when they say they want to go skiing, I tell them to go ahead -- without me. Ten or fifteen years ago, I would have said, "Oh, great, let's go!"
Robert agreed with his wife on the subject of declining energy levels. For example, he enjoys taking his sports-minded son to the track, but he doesn't run with him. Still, if Robert and Rose have slowed down a bit over the years, their devotion to their kids hasn't diminished one iota. They do their best to provide their children, now aged thirteen and fourteen, with a vigorous and interesting lifestyle. Rose explains:
While we can't do everything with them that we once could have, we don't want to deny the kids any worthwhile experiences. So, for example, last year we went camping in Yosemite. We did it for them. Whereas younger parents might want the experience for themselves and might go into it with an altogether different spirit, Robert and I have passed that stage. But we make sure the kids have a full life. When there's some activity that's too much for us, we try to come up with an alternative solution. For instance, we'll go to the park to play tennis and we suggest that Michael and Miriam bring two of their friends along. That way Robert and I will be well matched, and the kids will get to play with someone their own speed.
Like most parents of young teenagers, Rose and Robert have recently experienced their children's desire to become more independent. Whereas the family used to set aside Friday night for "game night," Michael and Miriam now prefer to hang out with their friends. Unlike younger parents, who might be worried or hurt by their teenagers' emerging emotional distance, Rose and Robert feel somewhat relieved to be off the hook. Robert confesses:
Even as recently as a few years ago I was much better at relating to teenagers than I am now. Energy is one factor, but it's also that the things teenagers are interested in don't have any appeal for me. Rose and I often look at one another and joke, "Can't we make them skip a grade or something?"
If Robert doesn't find the latest rock video or junior-high gossip as fascinating as some younger parents might, he also has the wisdom to know that each stage in a child's life is only temporary. He acknowledges that it won't be too much longer before he'll have more in common with his fast-maturing teenage children.
Both Robert and Rose are very young and healthy-looking fifty-nine-year-olds. Rose is a natural beauty who doesn't need blush to make her cheeks rosy, and Robert is trim and attractive. Yet one of the key issues Rose raised in connection with being an older parent of a teenager had to do with her daughter's anxiety about having older parents. It seems Miriam is quite concerned about her mother's appearance:
It's especially important for Miriam to have young-looking parents. She doesn't like us being or looking old. Since I don't wear any makeup at all, and she's very into it, for my birthday she gave me a tube of lipstick and some mascara. I was touched by that. I also knew she was upset about my gray hair, so I used a little hair coloring to brown it up a bit. Now, whenever I use makeup, Miriam will come to me and say, "Oh, Mom, it makes you look so much younger!" I don't place much importance on things like that, but she definitely does.
Rose's son, Michael, is less concerned than his sister about physical appearance and the whole age question. Perhaps it's because our culture still teaches girls that beauty and looks are essential to a woman's worth. On this count, our society's unspoken message remains virtually unchanged: when women age, they become less beautiful, less lovable, and less powerful. Looking to their mothers for a glimpse into their own futures, teenage girls hope to see an image that in some way resembles what the media validates. And that image is always a youthful one.
The stigma of having an older parent doesn't apply solely to mothers, however. A teenage daughter may dread showing up at a father-daughter dance with her sixty-year-old father, and a ten-year-old Boy Scout might feel embarrassed that his fifty-five-year-old dad is so much older than the other fathers on the camping trip. As the trend of older parenting grows, children of older mothers and fathers may find they feel less stigmatized. But among today's preteens and teenagers, having older parents is simply not the norm.
Miriam and Michael have had to field questions from their friends about why their parents are so old. Coming up with the answers can be a burden or an embarrassment, but being part of a "different" family is also a learning experience. You learn who your real friends are, for one thing. And as a child of older parents you're the recipient of the wisdom of their additional years. Rose and Robert have led rich lives and share that experience with their son and daughter.
From their point of view, though, Rose and Robert have learned at least as much as their children. Even all their years in humanitarian professions didn't yield the same lessons parenthood has. The day-to-day trials and rewards have taught them what it means to truly share yourself with another human being. And this process has helped them both grow as individuals. Robert summed up his feelings about becoming a parent later in life:
We would have been happy without the children; we were both very involved in our community work and with each other. But the children bring such a different dimension, such a demand to continue growing. And that would have been lost to us. Without them, we wouldn't have been challenged from crisis to crisis and from each sorrow to each joy.