Time magazine's recent article "Too Old To Be A Dad?" discusses studies finding that older men face increased risks of fathering children with autism or schizophrenia, and warns older dads that the biological clock ticks for both sexes.
I was interviewed for this article by Time reporter Tara Thean, who contributed to the piece, but my comments did not make it into the story. That's OK, I'm not crying over spilled ink. Perhaps my views and articulations were not up to Time's standards. I'm not a doctor or trained academic researcher in this field.
While the Time story provides important information, from my perspective, it paints a rather doom and gloom portrait of later-in-life fatherhood. My experiences since becoming a first-time father at the age of 49 are enthusiastically positive. I relish parenting my healthy and thriving 13-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter, and my book, Prime Time Dads, about the benefits of midlife fatherhood, comes out next month.
Here's what I told Time magazine, and what its piece on older fathers did not report.
Conception does not guarantee perfection, regardless of the age of the parents. Having and raising children is serious business, and the job is so weighty that potential parents of any age must consider all the science, all the latest medical data and all its aspects before diving in.
What absolutely amazed me as a late-blooming dad was how well my maturity equipped me for the new role. I had already successfully handled more of life's tougher demands, was a more accomplished problem solver and knew what it took to get things done. I remain more patient and more understanding, and can laugh at myself more easily, maybe because I've lived through more of life's absurdities.
Since I have more living under my belt, I am more stable now, more ready to settle down and be present for family life. I was further along in my career, which afforded me greater job flexibility to rearrange my work life in order to spend more time with our kids during their most formative early years. With more years at the grindstone, I had better financial sense and more cents to manage the costs of parenthood. And whenever I may cast off this mortal coil, our children will know without any doubt that their dad was present, loved them dearly and spent a great quantity of quality time with them.
You see, being a dad in midlife is not about superficial externals such as dying one's hair or getting a facelift to pass as a younger man. It's an inside job. It's about accepting the unique realities and learning to accentuate the many attributes mature men bring to the table.
This inside job process led me to a consciousness that transforms seeming negatives into positives. For example, I thought running around after a poopy toddler would tire me. In fact, these chores help keep me in shape and prod me toward better fitness, food and a philosophy of fun.
I thought younger parents would exclude me because I was older. But I learned parenthood is the great equalizer, and it's brought me closer to other human beings, the moms and dads, whatever their ages, because most of us realize we're all in this tot pot together.
I feared I would not have the energy for Boy Scouts and Little League and swim team and school plays. The truth is, these activities have become energizing joys that enrich my life in ever surprising textural twists and turns. The happier and more effective I am as a dad, the better off are my children and the family.
Yes, I may be closer to the end than many other dads, but that knowledge informs my everyday existence and spurs me to appreciate and live more fully the parade of parenting life moments that I may have postponed or ignored as a younger dad. I see the doctor routinely, hit the gym, have ambition for better nutrition and don't walk on thin ice.
Please don't misunderstand me. Later in life fatherhood is not for everyone, and it's becoming apparent there may be increased risks. But for the men and woman who choose or face this potentiality, there is rich treasure to be mined. Diamonds are created from pressure and pearls from irritation. Older dads are just a bit further along in the process of becoming true gems.