No one plans on it happening quite this way. There is never a time in childhood when a boy decides he'll start a family twenty or more years behind the rest of his classmates. And yet, one day during the season of life known as middle age, there he is, cradling his spitting image in the body of a new born baby.
There seems to be two versions of the saga of the older father: I belong to the late-bloomers group, having entered paternity as much a neophyte as my firstborn child. I had long since resigned myself to the conclusion that the closest I'd ever get to approximating a Dad was the relationships I enjoyed with nieces, nephews and a Maltese puppy. But for many other older fathers, this is the second time around the block. You know his story: Many years earlier he created a family with a woman his equal in years, and then, for whatever reason, the marriage didn't last. Later, in an effort to rebuild his life (if not recapture his youth) he played his hand at love another time with a woman not much older than his eldest child. Soon afterwards, he was reacquainting himself with the likes of Babies R Us, Disney Junior and poopy diapers.
Until recently, medical research made it disturbingly clear that Middle-aged women faced significant risks when venturing into the domain of childbirth. Specifically, their offspring were exposed to a myriad medical, neurological and psychiatric illnesses and diagnoses, merely because of their aging bodies. But when it came to age, males, we assumed, were exempt from scrutiny. A Middle-Aged Stud could launch his DNA into youthful reproductivity, without so much of a care about genetic abnormalities. The only fear facing the older dad was fielding the ubiquitous and sobering question: " How old is your grandchild?"
Or so we thought. Today, we know more and it's not good. The children of older Dads (40 and up) must come face to face with the realities of what is now called "Paternal Age Effect". The bottom line is this: the older the dad, the more potential for disaster. Why? According to the experts at the University of California, "Sperm count decreases with age and sperm get sluggish and lose their ability to approach an egg." (Ironically, I had that same issue in my teens, which may explain why I am only now having a family.) These slow-moving sperm may reek havoc upon the genetic blueprint of the unborn children and expose them to a greater likelihood of impaired neurocognitive outcomes, including dyslexia and lower intelligence. (Saha and Barnett, 2009)
Psychology Today noted that children of dads over 50 had a nine times greater chance of succumbing to autism than younger fathers. To add insult to injury, it is now commonly cited that children of older fathers experience significantly higher rates of bipolar disorder, Down's Syndrome, schizophrenia and birth defects. Further, to state the obvious, older dads tend to die when their children are ill-prepared to say goodbye to a parent.
But is there anything uplifting to offer the Larry Kings and Harrison Fords of the world and their young children? Gratefully, yes. According to a recent study conducted at Northwestern University, the longer fathers and grandfathers want to have children, the longer and healthier lives their children seem to enjoy. (Schmidt, et. al, 2011) discovered more promising data: older fathers were more likely to afford their children a good, stable family environment with higher socioeconomic status, including higher incomes, better living facilities and superior parenting practices. In other words, we might not be able to play catch with Junior without the back going out, but we can at least drive him and his friends to practice in a new Mercedes.
Even the animal kingdom offers encouraging data: a study at the University of Exeter determined that older male burying beetles took better care of their offspring than their younger counterparts. That is, they afforded a more complex parental care, similar to robins and blackbirds. Hence, when the beetle children would touch their parents, the older dads would respond by regurgitating partially digested food and feeding their children. Now, I don't claim to be an expert on Beetles (although I did enjoy the Abbey Road album), but the implications from mother nature are quite clear: only older dads cared enough about their young ones to vomit into their open mouths. So when offering that same opportunity to Melina, my 5 year old daughter, she refused, stating only, "Dada, that's gross."
Perhaps. But according to Robert Morton, a Bowling Green professor, older fathers have a better handle on financial security, a clear understanding
of the diverse roles of fatherhood and a mature commitment to their children. And, to borrow a quote from one blogging father: "I am a better father at 52 than I was at 26."
Most of us are. You see, we understand how short life is, what's important and what is merely small stuff. We laugh rather than explode when our little one wakes us at 3:18 A.M. because his Band-Aid came off. Most of all, we are completely aware of how precious our children are and how fortunate we are to have them.