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My Father’s Getting Married…and I’m an Empty Nester

The liberating and frightening experience of letting go

He announced the big news one night over dinner with my brother, my sister, and her three children—our family nucleus. Quite stunned, my 47-year-old sister glanced up at me and quipped: “Does that mean we’re going to have step-brothers?” A hilarious thought at age 50, I agreed.

That night I joined my siblings in giving him our blessing. But as days passed, I felt unsettled and a little nervous. Would he be okay out there in a new world? Since my mother’s death, I had worked hard to maintain a semblance of the quality of life she had given him. Although I was away at work most of the week, I planned meals and shopped strategically. I cooked in my mother’s old pots, attempting to channel her secret recipes. I served Sunday dinners on her favorite tablecloth and kept the pantry full of the same labels she once favored: the canned pimentos, tomato paste, dry beans, rice.

A home-cooked meal is sacred to Cuban men of older generations. This is what I always believed. But when my father fell in love with the church lady, that rule went out the window. She doesn’t cook. And he doesn’t care. He’s happy with take-out, cold leftovers, drive-thru window food, and packaged snacks. And all I can do is stand by, powerless, as he heads into a new home—with a cold kitchen.

“You’re going to be an empty nester,” joked a friend when I told him my father was getting married and moving out.

An empty nester. His words resonated in a way I had not expected. Of course, this is exactly what it must feel like to release one’s charges into the world. It is at once liberating and frightening. The empty nester comparison gave me a kind of roadmap into this new stage of my life. The most successful empty nesters realize they are powerless over the situation. They are stoic and generous. They respect new boundaries. But, most importantly, they move on. Gently, happily, and gratefully, they move on.

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Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Liz Balmaseda admits her first novel, Sweet Mary, isn’t the great American novel. Rather, she says, it’s “a funky, Florida-style ride. On a big, fat Harley.”

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