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Why I’m Glad I Waited to Become a Dad

I’ve got a house full of teenagers at an age when most guys are empty nesters—and I love it

Father with teen children in the park
Alamy Stock Photo

There’s an illustration tacked to the wall of my office, drawn by my daughter Josephine. It’s a hand-drawn sketch of a walking stick, with the following caption: “In the corner the cane waits, ominously.”

I was 50 when I received this gift. Josie was 10.

I wish I could say that Jos, who is now 17, is my youngest child. She is my eldest. I also have a 15-year-old son, and another who just turned 10. Thus, I am part of that ambivalent and expanding demographic: AARP members with children still in grade school.

When I was in my 20s, I was certain I would become a dad in my 30s. I was 41 when Jude was born, and 46 when Irvo came along.

I’ve spent plenty of time lamenting that I didn’t start a family earlier. But it was probably for the best. Younger parents have more energy, and are better able to withstand the sleepless nights. But those of us who waited have a bit more perspective on life. In general, we’ve figured out our professional identities, or at least surrendered any delusions of grandeur.

Perhaps most important, we are quicker to recognize the basic absurdity of the parent-kid dynamic. It took me very little time to discern, for instance, that I was going to teach my child almost nothing by talking at them. No, they were going to learn, tragically, from how I behaved. 

This dawned on me right about the first time one of my kids yelled “Hell, yeah!” as I barreled through a yellow light.

Being an older parent has also allowed me to accept that children are designed (again, rather tragically) to tell you truth, mostly about how old you are.

At age 7, Josie looked at me for a good 20 seconds and then issued the following appraisal: “You look like a dried up old drumstick.” After staring into the mirror for a disappointing length of time, I was forced to conclude that she was right.

My children are not the only ones to notice. Some years ago, while on a flight to Florida, 2-year-old Irvo stopped to yank on the shiny jewelry of another passenger.

“What a darling little boy,” the woman said. “You must be a very proud grandpa.”

I did not correct her. I just nodded vaguely, then plucked up Irvo and staggered to the bathroom, where I attempted to change his diaper while pondering when, precisely, my back would go into spasm.

Being an older parent has its upsides. I am in better shape than most men my age, because chasing after children winds up being far more effective than Peloton.

By far the best aspect of being an older parent is that my quality-control standards have steadily plummeted. It’s not that I don’t worry about my children. I do. But I am simply too tired to operate as a helicopter parent. I’m something more like a moped, at this point.

I’ve also dispensed with the absurd notion that you can ever “parent” perfectly. Or that you can control the fate of your children. You can, for a time, throw up some guardrails. But the journey belongs to them. The more credit you try to take, the more blame you’re going to absorb.

I recognize that this statement, viewed from certain angles, sounds dangerously close to negligence. But the central dividend of passing the half century mark as a father is a certain strain of exhaustion that can, when mixed with the proper cocktail, shade into something approaching a Zen state.

And by “Zen state,” of course, I mean nap time.

Follow Article Topics: Family-&-Fatherhood