Notes from an Older Dad
Becoming a Father at Any Age is a Transformative Experience.
Posted March 13, 2015
My journey to being a mostly full-time dad demonstrates how having a child can alter one’s personal identity and sense of masculinity, especially when one is older. A confirmed bachelor, I had no intention of ever becoming a father, seeing parenting as more of a burden than anything else. Well into my fifties, I cherished my freedom and viewed any kind of long-term commitment and responsibilities as things to avoid at all costs. But a few years after meeting “the one,” who was significantly younger than I and was keen on having a baby, the idea of being a father began to seem not entirely terrible. How many times can one go out to dinner? I asked myself, with a growing sense that there was something missing in my life. In fact, embarking on something new and different for the third and final act of my life sounded rather appealing, my last chance to be part of something larger than myself. We decided to try to have a baby and within two months my then girlfriend was pregnant. My voyage to fatherhood had begun.
Just as many other dads-to-be have reported, the reality that I would likely soon be a father was simultaneously thrilling and terrifying. I had spent little time with kids, and was never especially comfortable around them. I did not even understand why so many adults chose to have children, thinking the latter to be basically short, not very smart people. Learning my child was going to be a girl was a real shock, as the kids in both my immediate and extended family were almost all male, so I rather foolishly just assumed it would be a boy. Given that I was going to be a complete novice, however, I came to like the fact that a girl was on the way, as having a daughter would make parenthood even more of a foreign and, hopefully, interesting experience. I began to study children and their parents wherever I might see them, trying to get some sense of what it would be like to be a dad. Over time, I warmed up to the prospect of joining the paternal club, and became increasing enthused (and anxious) as the big day approached.
My future daughter was less than enamored of leaving her dark, warm place and entering this world even as my girlfriend reached full term, however, so the doctors decided to pluck her out on the very last day possible. In January 2012, I became a first-time father at age 55, my third act of life now in play. It takes time for some men to warm up to their babies but I was in love my daughter the second I laid eyes on and held her in the OR. She looked like both my mom and dad, for one thing, making our relationship love at first sight, at least for me. She, on the other hand, cried and cried for hours after being taken out of her safe cocoon, not at all happy to be brought to this brightly lit and loud place. We left the hospital in a couple of days, beginning our new life together as a family.
It is difficult now to remember much of anything for the first six months of having my child, nature’s way perhaps of protecting new parents from any long-term trauma. I did night feedings as mom initially needed to recover from the delivery and, in a couple of months, return to work as her maternity leave ended. (As a writer, I could sleep when the baby slept.) I do recall bonding with my daughter over this period, however, as little can compare with holding and feeding an infant in the wee hours of the morning while the rest of the world (except other new parents!) slept. All the usual things—a smile, a laugh, or simply direct eye contact- worked their neurochemical magic, and I was even more hooked.
Over the next few years, she and I became partners-in-crime, often engaging in the rough and tumble sort of play that makes moms very nervous. It’s immensely fun to watch her grow up and develop a real personality, much more so in fact than when she was a baby and could not walk or talk. (A typical guy thing.) I find my daughter genuinely hilarious, and am continually amazed at her observational skills and how perceptive she is, often more than me. Sharing what are for her first time sensory experiences- seeing her own shadow, smelling rain, tasting chocolate—serve as welcome reminders of the wonders of the natural world. An unprompted, matter-of-fact “I love you, dad” is the highlight of my day, as annoying as that may sound to those who have not experienced such a thing. The reluctant father had morphed into an avid one, enjoying every minute (well not quite every minute, given the sheer determination of any three-year-old) spent with this precious thing. I may not possess the childcare abilities of my now wife, but I am certain I contribute in important, unique ways that will help my daughter grow up to be a confident adult. Guiding her through what is a brand new world to her has allowed me to see many things with fresh eyes, a wonderful gift. I have no doubt that my own father loved me, but he was a product of his generation; I am far more ready, willing, and able to express my emotions with my child, a good thing I think for each of us.
I freely admit my experience as a parent so far reads precisely like the cloying cliché I despised when I was living the high life. While I do not have the energy I used to, being an older dad has allowed me to relish the time I spend with my daughter. Bestowing as much love to her as possible is clearly my number one priority, with my career and social life mostly distant, happy memories at this point. The ability to scribble a few lines every day or go out for the occasional beer is actually infinitely more pleasurable now that each has become somewhat of a luxury. I could go out more but I’d simply rather be with her (and am too exhausted to do anything after she goes to sleep.) Don’t get me wrong: I miss the adrenaline rush that comes with making a mark in the world through work, and I definitely miss the parties and mayhem that came with being single. But the love one feels for a child simply outweighs and overpowers everything else in its path, again likely a trick of nature designed to protect and benefit a completely dependent human being. More than that, the love that comes from and is given to a child is pure and unrequited, unlike any other kind I believe a person can experience (including that to or from a spouse).
It is safe to say that fatherhood has, without too much exaggeration, turned me into a new person. All my previous passions have faded, overshadowed by the mysterious power this little girl has over me. And just like millions of other new dads, I feel like I am somehow more “complete,” a bigger and better person than I used to be. In short, I think of myself as more of a man, whatever that might mean, after being reinvented as a father. The pressures that come with being a parent are sometimes overwhelming, the sacrifices one has to make truly astounding, and the patience required for the whole thing unbelievable, but I would not trade them for anything else in the world. Knowing that my daughter will perhaps read this in a decade or so, whether I’ll be around or otherwise, makes me very happy.