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At This Stage: What We Regret

One woman and one man, both in their late '50s, reflect on what they wish had gone differently in their lives  

By Barbara Thau

In our "At This Stage" series, Next Avenue is talking with people in their 50s and 60s around the country to find out what drives them, excites them, delights them and worries them at this moment of their lives. We’re especially interested in learning how boomers see things today, compared with when they were younger. We recently wrote about what two midlifers are passionate about now. This installment deals with regrets.
No regrets: It’s a phrase that speaks to the very American notion that a life well-lived means you won’t look back wistfully on what never came to pass.
But the fact of the matter is, many of us would agree with the lyrics Frank Sinatra sang in "My Way": "Regrets, I’ve had a few ... "
Denise Bowyer and Nathan Rush shared their biggest regrets with NextAvenue, along with the ways they seek peace and fulfillment in spite of the road not taken.
(MORE: At This Stage: What We’re Passionate About Now)
Denise Bowyer: Forgoing Traditional Motherhood
Ever since she was a little girl, Denise Bowyer, 57, wanted to be a mom. But Bowyer, who lives in North Beach, Md., with her partner, Amy Gifford, a health care professional, never fulfilled that dream – at least not the way she imagined it. Here’s Bowyer, vice president and secretary of the Labor Advisory Board of American Income Life Insurance, speaking about what she regrets:
On Saturdays, when I was 7 or 8 growing up in Omaha, Neb., it was a family ritual to go to the library. My favorite thing was to find books on baby names.
I would daydream for hours about what I was going to name my kids and what my babies were going to look like.
I wanted five kids because, I think, I came from an Irish tribe of five siblings.
When I came out at 18, I realized that the family I hoped I was going to have wasn’t going to look like I originally thought it would.
For a while, I believed I had to forgo having a family altogether. That made me feel really kind of lost.
I initially found myself trying to create a family without kids, but instead with girlfriends and the gay and lesbian community. I kind of pushed my own family out of my life.
(MORE: 5 Ways to Push Past Your Regrets)
In my 30s, I had a partner who had a 6-year-old boy. I loved co-parenting.
At that point I realized how much I needed kids in my life. Kids remind us of what it means to truly play. They have a sense of wonder and they’re brutally honest.
Today, I have a different partner and have nine nephews and nieces and five grandnephews and grandnieces, ages 1 to 32. For the last 10 years, I’ve traveled regularly to Kansas City or Omaha to see them.
I’m not about buying them things. I’m about creating experiences and opportunities that are meaningful for them — and that I get to share. I want to impact their lives in a positive way.
Every year, we go on family vacations. We’ve been to Cancun, Disney World, Ireland and France. Next Christmas, we’re going to New Zealand.
I’m also contributing to their education and making sure they have money for college and other training so they can pursue their dreams, whether that’s helping my niece Noel through nursing school or taking my grandnephew Kylan to Michael Jordan basketball camp.   
The biggest thing I can give to my “kids” is helping them see how valuable they are.
At different periods in my life, I’ve wondered about adopting.
About four years ago. I wanted to adopt a little African boy and name him Vandric. At age 53, I was still researching baby names.
But I decided that I didn’t have the energy that full-time parenting would require. That’s when I put the dream of raising my own child to rest. It was a final letting go.
Amy has this philosophy about kids: "I love being an aunt; that's really been enough for me."
As for me, my siblings’ kids and their children will always be in my care, just not in my full-time care. 
When people ask me, "Do you regret not having kids?" I say, "But I do have kids!"
Nathan Rush: Living With the Fallout of Addiction
Nathan Rush, 58, has reason to rejoice. The former heroin addict beat drugs and homelessness and is now executive director of the nonprofit Bethlehem House in Indianapolis, where he helps others who’ve struggled with substance abuse and are living with HIV. But his success story has been shadowed by a lifelong regret of never knowing his daughter. Giving back helps him cope. Here’s Rush on his regret:
I started using marijuana and alcohol at 11. In high school, I was a pretty good football player, but I was also into partying. I started shooting heroin at 17; that went on for 20 years.
I was a plumber apprentice, then I was a pipe insulator and after that I studied to become an insurance agent. But in the end I always ended up getting fired due to my addiction.
When my daughter, Etolia Monique, was born, I was 20. I joined the Army to get some discipline and get myself together to be part of my child’s life. I made sergeant but lost that ranking due to my addiction.
I had no relationship with my daughter because of my addiction. I never even met her.
When I came back home, after being stationed in Kentucky, Georgia, Texas and Germany, I ended up being homeless for five years.
In 1991, a guy gave me money to buy him drugs, but I never went back to him. I knew if he caught me, he would kill me so I went to the Salvation Army’s detox center to hide out.
I’ve been clean ever since.

At the Salvation Army detox center, I got a job as a janitor and then worked my way up to case manager. After that, I started running a statewide program for people with AIDS and addiction. That's when I realized I needed more tools and more skills to get better at what I was doing and to better my opportunities. So I went back to college and got my bachelor's in psychology. That led me to get recruited for the job I have as executive director at Bethlehem House.
But for 20 years, my daughter only knew my legacy as a drug addict.
In early 2011, she friended me on Facebook and I was looking forward to getting to meet her. She was a schoolteacher.
(MORE: How Addiction Happens: It’s Not Just Poor Life Decisions)
I was going through a third divorce at the time, though, and didn’t want to start a relationship until I got solid.
I should have acted more quickly. She died of pneumonia on Dec. 18, 2011, at age 36. 
That’s a huge regret, not getting to know her. I regret the heck out of not stepping up and being responsible.
I’m very fortunate to have an 8-year-old goddaughter named Meghan, so I get a chance to provide resources to her. I wish I could have given that to my daughter.
Working with people with addiction and HIV at Bethlehem House, I’ve got a lot of rich relationships with folks who listen to my counsel and who I’m able to influence. I’m like a father figure to a lot of men and women who come to our program. I give back that way.
But I still wake up some mornings thinking about not being there for my daughter.
Barbara Thau writes the “At This Stage” series for Next Avenue and is a contributor to She has written for websites and publications from to Parade magazine.

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