Being an Older Dad

August 10, 2011 at 5:00 pm Leave a comment

I became a Dad at age 45. That’s a wee bit past the typical age men become fathers in this country. But it is not as unusual as it was 30 years ago. Studies are showing that the average age of first time fathers is increasing, rising along with the average age of other milestones in life. People are putting off marriage, which, in turn, puts off parenting. Instead of raising kids in their 20’s and 30’s, more men are taking time to attend college, travel, pursue careers, and just enjoy the freedom of bachelorhood and casual relationships.

This is beneficial to our society in general, I believe, because it means more men are becoming fathers at a time when they are focused less on themselves and more on the world around them. They are able to bring more life experience to their roles as husbands and fathers.

Standing on Solid Ground

I am much more centered than I ever was in my 20’s and 30’s. The idea of being tied to the house with a family did not appeal to me at all during that time. I saw so many directions I could go with my life and I wanted nothing to tie me down.

But as I got older I began to let a lot of things fall away from me; became less concerned about being footloose and available for the next great opportunity. My gaze is now set farther toward the horizon and I see life on a grander scale. This perspective helps me deal with the micro-emergencies that pepper daily life with Little Hop. I’m more interested in establishing her financial future through an early saver account at my credit union and less in the sticky kitchen floors. I don’t mind missing Game 5 of the World Series to spend the evening reading to her the same book she’s heard 100,000 times already. I don’t feel silly singing my ABCs because I am less concerned with how I appear and more concerned with engaging my daughter in activities that help her grow.

Being Young Again

I recall when a friend of mine become a mother for the first time at age 25. When talking of her new experiences with parenthood she said, “I get to be a kid again!”. In response I thought to myself, “You’re only 25! You still are a kid!.” Try it when you’re 45. For the first time in nearly 40 years I’m watching Sesame Street again. Who is this Elmo guy?

It’s startling to see all of the toys, gadgets, and transportation options available to kids today. There is so much to discover at a toy store now compared to when I was my daughter’s age. I marvel at seeing aisle after aisle of entertainment at Toys R us as much as she does. Perhaps being away from that part of life for so very long makes it all seem new. But it can be incredibly overwhelming and seeing it all from a 40-something perspective helps a great deal.

Having a More Critical Eye

When you begin the process of parenthood you are immediately faced with the “baby industrial complex”. It’s similar to when you buy a home and become assaulted with all kinds of advertisements and pressure to buy a multitude of accessories for your new house. The same thing happens when you have a baby, but instead it’s car seats, strollers, clothing, diapering methods, pumps and bottle systems, home safety gear, and dietary options. It can be overwhelming to a young dad. If you don’t have a strong spine and a good sense of perspective on what is really necessary to raise a child you can easily drop a lot of time, money, and emotion on unnecessary stuff.

Here is where being an older dad helps. I’ve seen lot of my friends go thorough the early years of parenting; struggling with loads of baby equipment, dropping huge dollars on the latest baby technology and thinking it’s all necessary for proper parenting. Simply observing their challenges over time has taught me a lot and helped me decide what I want to do should I become a parent.

How you can approach parenting also depends on where you are in life when the little one arrives. By the time you reach middle age you may already have a lot of your resources tied up in other assets and priorities. I’m well in to the home-ownership, mid-career stage of life and I know where my family’s money really needs to go. It’s not toward a $400, four-wheel drive, twin stroller or a $25,000 SUV with a DVD player for each passenger. Most often we use a $10 umbrella stroller for our evening walks and it gets us everywhere we need to go. Our 4-door Hyundai works just fine and we own the car outright.

On a side note, however, someone needs to make an umbrella stroller for dads who are 6′ or taller. Most umbrella strollers are simply too short.

So, having resources already tied up in other priorities makes it easier for me to resist the baby consumer culture. I won’t jeopardize my family’s financial stability for the latest baby gadget or electronic device.

The Challenges

There are challenges to parenting later, though. At this point in the lives of my age group I see parents celebrating their kids’ high school graduations, sending them off to college, and preparing for a life of child-free luxury. I won’t see that kind of life again for another 20 years. That’s a tough situation to accept when you’ve spent the majority of your adult life on your own schedule. People who became parents in their 20’s often have only experienced a couple of years of solo living before their lives were dominated by marriage and kids. I had 20+ years of full control over my free time before I got married. I had more time to establish routines, get used to sleeping in and staying out as late as I liked, and seeing a bit of the world. So, the change from years of full control to no control hit me awfully hard. Those peaceful times alone I enjoyed so often are now agonizingly rare.

This difference is also reflected in a common response I see from my friends who become empty-nesters. Often they lament to me “What am I going to do now?” Facing an unscheduled future seems scary to them because they haven’t been without a kid in years and had relatively little “me time” as an adult before their kids arrived. I find that response fascinating because I know exactly what I’d do with that new found free time – more of the stuff I already did before I had kids!

Another drawback to having kids later in life is you are even further detached from your childhood icons. It’s harder for me to remember those halcyon days of stingray bikes and Quisp cereal. It’s not 1972 anymore. How can I tell my child to wear a bike helmet when they didn’t even exist when I was a kid? How can I even begin to relate to growing up in a world where elementary school students have cell phones and the television can go to channel 900?

Let’s talk about that thing called the Internet later.

Finding Peace Where I Am Now

But everything has its price and I wouldn’t change the order in which I’ve arranged events in my life. I would rather face parenthood as who I am now than who I was 20 years ago. My financial situation is the strongest it has ever been, I am less distracted by the superficial elements of life, and more interested in making the most of each day. My children are certainly better off with the 40-something version of me, too, and that’s what really matters.

Entry filed under: Being Dad. Tags: , .

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