Kennedy: American fathers getting older and older

Kennedy: American fathers getting older and older

September 10th, 2017 by Mark Kennedy in Opinion Columns

Mark Kennedy

Mark Kennedy

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

It appears I was on the cusp of a trend by fathering children in my 40s.

I was 43 years old when our now 15-year-old son was born in 2001 and 48 when my wife gave birth to our younger son, now 10 years old, in 2006.

Years of being the oldest dad at elementary school registration day and youth soccer games (and occasionally being mistaken as a grandpa) has become old hat. Meanwhile, my sense that the older-day ranks are growing has proven out.

A recent study of about 169 million live births in the United States between 1972 and 2015 showed the number of babies with dads over 40 years old more than doubled during the period, from 4.1 percent to 8.9 percent.

The study on fathering trends was conducted by researchers at Stanford University, published by the journal Human Reproduction and reported by CNN.

Interestingly, the study also showed that the average age of the father of a newborn in America is now over 30, almost 31 actually. In 1972, it was 27.4.

I feel like these are meaningful trends.

There are no doubt wonderful, loving dads in their 20s, but a few extra years of seasoning doesn't hurt when it comes to becoming a father. Older dads tend to be more financially stable, better educated and more likely to help with child-rearing, the Stanford researchers noted.

On the other hand, children of older dads are slightly more likely to experience some psychiatric and neurological illnesses, researchers say. It has to do with genetics.

But what about intangibles, like the quality of relationships between older fathers and younger children.

I've come to believe that a son's impression of his father changes drastically over time.

At 15, I thought my father was intelligent but also bossy and noncommunicative. I suspected that he loved me, but it was more by inference than evidence. He gave lots of orders but little guidance.

Now, with another four decades to reflect on my father's parenting skills, I see him as a more heroic figure. I see him as a Korean War veteran who was programmed for survival by combat and as a Christian believer who used stoicism as an anti-depressant. That doesn't mean he didn't have character flaws, but life experiences explain a lot.

I sometimes wonder what my sons think about their older dad and how those impressions will change over time — even after I am gone.

I assume that my older son is self-conscious about my age — when you are 15, lots of stuff about your family makes you uncomfortable — and my idiosyncrasies — red pants, hiking hats, etc. He may also come to question being an involuntary character in my newspaper columns; his childhood has been an open book.

Eventually, say 30 years from now, I hope he sees his dad as a flawed, late-to-the-party father who was thunderstruck by the joys of parenting. He may also see me as a bit smothering emotionally and resign to give his kids the gift of detachment — like his paternal grandfather.

My younger son — who shares my interest in automobiles — says he wants to be a car salesman. Ironically, I wrote a paper in sixth grade vowing to become a salesman in a men's clothing store because my dad was a sharp dresser. I also hear our 10-year-old practicing the snare drum upstairs. He knows I was a scholarship percussionist in college.

Thirty years from now, I suspect he will continue to be me in miniature, giving his dad the benefit of the doubt on most matters of consequence. He will also probably wonder if he measured up to his brother, a firstborn son, in my heart. (Let me put that question to rest: He does.)

So, dear reader, let's say you are a childless 40-something man wondering if your window of opportunity for fatherhood has passed.

The answer, both empirically and anecdotally, is "no, it hasn't."

Come on and join the joyful 8.9 percent of us older dads who feel honestly fulfilled and permanently blessed.

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