A couple announces they are expecting a child. She’s thrilled. He’s worried.
“I’ll be working till I’m 70,” he complains to his friend.
It’s not that he doesn’t welcome this child. It’s just that he has two teenage children from a previous marriage and, well, he’s …tired.
OK, I hear you say, if he has the energy to perform in the bedroom then he has the energy to perform in the boardroom.
But the truth is that it was not him that was driving that particular performance – it was his younger wife. The fact is that once a woman wants a baby, not much can stand in her way, least of all a husband.
However, while there is much discussion about whether it is wise for women to delay motherhood by choice, there is less criticism of men who delay fatherhood.
Indeed, older men are more likely to be congratulated than condemned. This is highlighted by reports of celebrities who are becoming fathers at an age most people are becoming grandfathers.
Steve Martin became a first-time dad last year at the age of 67, Hugh Grant at 52, and Elton John at 62, to name a few.
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that between 1990 and 2010, the median age of fathers of nuptial births increased by almost three years, from 31.4 to 34.0 years, while the median age of fathers of ex-nuptial births who acknowledged the birth of their child also increased, from 27.3 years to 29.9 years.
This is not surprising considering the increasing number of young people now going to university. Between 2005 and 2010, the number of students in higher education rose by approximately 25% from 957,000 to 1.2 million – with a corresponding rise in HECS-HELP debts.
By the time they finish an undergraduate degree they are 21 or 22, then if they do honors or a masters, this brings them up to 25 or so when they are starting their careers. Establishing a career takes around 10 years, which brings them to 35, presuming they have found a partner who is also willing and able to have children.
While there has been some recent evidence that older fathers are more likely to pass on genetic mutations to their children, and some studies have implicated older sperm in the rise of autism and schizophrenia, by contrast there is no ticking biological clock for a man. He can keep pumping and humping literally until his last gasp.
The Guinness Book of Records reports that the oldest ever man to father a child was Australian Les Colley, born in 1898 and who died in 1998 having completed a century and fathered his ninth child with his third wife at the age of 92 and 10 months.
What is less often reported is what happens afterwards, when these geriatric fathers are likely to be tripping over toys and breaking their hips, or requiring more afternoon naps than their offspring.
As someone who had my first child at 27 and my second at 35, I can understand why a man in his 40s or 50s who already has children would be sobered rather than overjoyed by the news of another child. The second time around, I was not just older and wiser, I was older and tireder.
As much as modern technology tells us that we are invincible, we are not. We are human and raising children, even if you are young and healthy, is hard physical work.
Older parents may have money and wisdom, but they may also have arthritis, urinary incontinence and high blood pressure.
Apart from the problems of health and sleep-deprivation, and the possibility that your children may be dropping by the nursing home on the way back from creche, there is also the question of how your offspring might feel about having a geriatric mum or dad.
All teenagers find parents embarrassing, but are they even more embarrassing when they are assumed to be your grandparents?
A quick search on the net found the following anonymous responses to the question of how a spring chicken might feel about having an old boiler for a mum or dad.
One woman writes, “I clearly remember as a child not being able to run around and play because my older parents just couldn’t keep up with me. I missed out because they were old and slow.”
Another blogger confessed: “I’m 13, my dad is 56, my mum is 52. I feel so bad about being embarrassed but all of the kids my age at school have WAAAY younger parents and when they see mine I see them look them up and down and smirk at my dad’s beer belly and their greying hair.
“They’ll die early in my life I guess, so it’s also a bit of pressure to show them what I can achieve in my life in a hurry.”
While this is not statistically representative, it is something to consider when thinking about older parenthood.
The quality of the parenting and not the age of the parent that should be the main consideration, but there are consequences for the children of older parents that are seldom considered in the triumphant reports of the guys who turn fatherhood into a retirement hobby.