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Biology favors older men when it come to reproduction. Unlike women, older men can and do father children. Older fathers come in two categories these days. Most are those who have divorced, remarried and start a new family. Some have postponed marriage for personal or financial reasons but decide to marry and have children.
I get a fair number of questions from older men about to marry younger women who are still biologically able to have children. Examples: “What do the parenting experts think about men my age becoming fathers?” “Do you think it’s possible for a man my age to be a good father?”
“What about jealousy on the part of the older children?” “How will I keep up with a kid when I am in my 60′s”?
Fathers in their fifties and sixties share their worries about whether they will stay alive, or be able to work, or remain in good health long enough to raise a child. These fathers worry about their own adjustment to a new baby. Will I be able to get up at night? Can I stand the noise, the clutter, the confusion? Do I want to share my new wife with another person? Do I want to think about baby-sitters and schools and camps or do I want to think about retirement homes and travel? Do I want to spend vacations at Disneyland? What about my own dreams for this decade of my life?
Women in this equation have worries too. If we have a child and something happens to my husband do I have the resources to raise a child on my own?
There are some positives to fathering a child later in life. Older fathers are often able to spend more time with the baby than they could the first time around. Older men have maturity and a lifetime of experiences to draw upon and with which to enrich their marriage and child. And they often are in a good financial position (but have to calculate the effects of upcoming retirement on their income).
Older men are often more secure in their fathering role. They are more secure in themselves, of course, but also men today feel comfortable in the fathering role. Some say this started with the increase in maternal employment which forced fathers to spend more time with their children. I think it started with changes in the childbirth experience. Fathers now take part in childbirth classes, are present in the delivery room, and get to hold the newborn–sometimes before the mother does. It’s hard to keep such fathers away from the baby!
And fortunately our culture no longer devalues things men do around the house like child care. Men once had to hide their nurturant feelings lest they be considered unmanly. Today society accepts the fact that men care for children.
How grown children react to a second family depends on how they feel about the end of the first marriage as well as how secure they feel in their own adulthood. Sometimes such children are angry at their father for taking up with a woman their age. Sometimes they worry about how their friends will feel about their father’s “foolishness”. Sometimes they are jealous that resources they need–for education or a loan to start a business–won’t be forthcoming because of their father’s new family.
One thing you won’t have to worry about is the ordinary variety of sibling rivalry. My two little ones fought and the two older boys fought. But there was no fighting between the two cohorts. The older boys were intensely protective of their younger siblings and loved to care for them and do special things for them. My daughter may have been the only five year old in the world whose older brother took her to a Beatles concert!
My advice: If you are a man of a certain age who decides to become a father, be an up-to-date one. Go to childbirth and parenting classes, be present in the delivery room, have those discussions about how you will raise the child, participate in the early care of your baby.
Children keep us young. But meet your child halfway and keep yourself in good shape. Remember your sense of humor. If somebody asks whether you’re the child’s grandfather, answer “I’m the father, but I’m looking forward to becoming a grandfather in 25 years!” And go for it!
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