On Being an Older Dad

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"See this line on her pinky?" the nurse said to us. "That's where she keeps her daddy."
“See this line on her pinky?”the nurse said to us. “That’s where she keeps her daddy.” – Photo: Derrick Schneider

I had just turned 42 when our daughter was born.

I’m an old dad. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the median age for a father when his first child is born is 25.4. If I’d had my first child then, it would be driving, not diapers, that I’d be thinking about right now. I know some dads who are older, but not many.

I think of my age all the time. My shoulders and spine yell in protest when I lean in to my daughter’s crib to pick her up. I inflict days of pain, sometimes, simply by picking her up the wrong way. Sleep deprivation grinds me down far more now than it did when I pulled all-nighters in my youth.

But the aches and pains of middle age are mere gnats next to the grim calculus always hovering in my thoughts. When she’s a teenager, I’ll be in my mid-fifties. When she graduates college, I’ll just be at retirement age. If she has children, they probably won’t remember me. When she has her fortieth birthday party, there’s a good chance I won’t be there.

Those years seem far away, even now. But it’s hard not to do the math. Every time I see her. I remain apathetic about most children, but I am madly in love with this particular one. Everyone knows that a day away from their children is a day they’ll never get back, but starting 6,000 days in the hole relative to my counterpart at the median gives each missed day extra poignancy.

Do I wish I had started earlier? Well, the grass is always greener, isn’t it? There are many moments when I think of the time she and I won’t have. But there are also many moments when I think of my life so far.

As an adult, I’ve been to Tokyo, Australia, and New Zealand. I’ve been to Europe more times than I can count. My wife and I have been to some of the world’s best restaurants. We’ve gone to plays and movies on a whim, sat quietly for hours reading books together, and taken long road trips. I’ve spent hours poring over random programming projects just because I could.

But when I phrase it like that, it sounds selfish, at least as society views childless families: “I wanted a full life with my wife. We didn’t need a kid. We could do whatever we wanted.” It’s not just that, though.

An extra seventeen years over the median male hasn’t just given me more topics to talk about with my middle-class Berkeley friends. I can teach my daughter so much more now than I could have then.

At twenty-five, I could follow recipes well. At forty-two, I’ve read On Food and Cooking cover to cover and talk about cooking to my daughter in terms of science, in terms of technique, in terms of flavor and balance. At thirty, I barely drank wine. At forty-four, I’ve taught wine classes and written wine articles. At thirty, I knew Java. At forty-four, I’m comfortable with any programming language she’s likely to learn in school. I’ve learned how to combat my chronic insomnia, the value of flow, and countless other little things. In the last decade, my ability to do research has improved, my writing has improved, and my knowledge of visualizing data has improved: My daughter’s going to kick ass when she has to write reports.

These are skills I didn’t have when I was of median age. These are things I couldn’t have taught her because I didn’t know them myself.

I also didn’t know myself. At forty-four, I can look back and realize that my beliefs weren’t fully formed at twenty-five. I didn’t really know what my ambitions were. I barely knew what I wanted to do with my career. Or what I wanted from life. I have a better idea now.

These are things I can now — only now — share with my daughter as she gets older. I can offer her years more experience and wisdom than I could have in my early twenties. So I do my best to focus on that.

But a part of me will always yearn for another decade or more with her.

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18 thoughts on “On Being an Older Dad

  1. as a 38 year old dad to 3 (5, 3 & 3) I know what you mean, and you hit the nail on the head. Right now it isn’t too bad, but when you “do the math” I’ll be 50 when my oldest is starting to drive & getting his first job. I’ll be 60 when they are finishing college.. But I just have to realize that there is no “right or wrong” way to do it. Sure I’m outside of the norm, but that might give me a different, and maybe even better perspective on how to raise them.

  2. My 4 year old is asleep… as I soon will be.
    And at 6 am he will wake and wake us for a cuddle. Miss 7 will follow soon after.
    I’m 51 and THIS make me feel young.
    Thanks for your article… none of us are alone anymore.

  3. 45 when first was born, 47 when second (55 now). Something for you to do is get into a regular exercise regimen so you maintain your fitness level and muscle mass.

  4. This is something I delt with when my son was born just shy of my 41st birthday. Will I be able to coach is soccer team, take home white water rafting but I know I will be able to provide more meaningfull life lessons then if I was in my 20s or even early 30s.

  5. Became a dad at 33, so I can relate to a lot of what you say. I just wanted to toss out there that it can be very emotionally draining when your kid(s) gets to parts of their development where they don’t want to listen to the many things you can teach them. It is a balancing act to give them all the info they want and enough of a taste of the rest so they know there is more, waiting for them, when they are ready.

    I can also say with certainty that if you are a gamer, you’ll be waiting with baited breath for each milestone where they are mature enough to play a new game.

    My 7 and 9 year old were playing new games I just brought home from GenCon, and they were having a spirited discussion about the age level on some of the games and why they could play a 13+ even though they weren’t there.

    That is definitely a bonus for an older Geek Dad. 🙂

  6. Thank you for the insight. I was merely 24 when my first born arrived, the most amazing thing to ever happen to me. My second arrived 5 months ago and I’m 33 now.

    It definitely is much harder to deal now than it was then, the late nights, the early mornings, the worries i’ve had to go through for his operation due to a hernia.

    Its all so much and I respect you all for still being strong enough to do it at such a late age. I can however say that I’m happy I had my first at such a young age, myself and my daughter were able to “grow together” if that would be a good way to put it.

    Once again, thank you for the insight. Great post.

  7. Hey!!!! How do you even know me? I’m at 40 now with a 2.5 year old, and I could swear it was me who wrote all this in an astro experience. Thank you Old Dad. I’m glad you wrote this. I can now share this with people wondering what my current coordinates are.

  8. I have a lot of the same thoughts and fears. I’m 38 and my son is two and we are working on one more in the near future. It does seem to increase the fear factor of having kids thinking about this stuff but on the flip side it is one of the reason I focus a lot on nutrition and fitness. I want to be as healthy as I can for as long as I can for my kids so I don’t have to feel like I’m missing out on anything.

  9. I am 37 and my daughter is almost 2 years old. I can really sympathize with what you are saying. The fear of not knowing my grandchildren or wondering when it’s right to try for a second child weighs heavy on me. I’ve found I’ve become a lot more health conscious of late as a result, and my desire to finish school so I can provide a good house and a solid future for my child(ren) drives me every day.

  10. It helps to know there are other ‘old’ dads like me out there. I’m 42 and my first child will be born in October.

  11. Thanks for the comments, everyone. It’s nice to hear thoughts from all of you about where you are in your life and relationships with your kids.

    Fitness, etc. are definitely in my mind of late. I like eating, but I’m trying to shift to healthier food more often, and I’m trying to figure out how to get gym time back into my schedule.

  12. Thanks for the wonderful article and helping to put some perspective into having a child later. I was 40 when my son was born and he is a roaring 4 now. I look back and sometimes wish for the athleticism of my youth, but like you said, I am glad he didn’t have to learn the pains of my “growing up” in my position, I am a pastor.

  13. Thanks for the great post. I was 38 when my son was born last year, and I can totally relate. I agree that all the experiences you were able to have are not the point. I generally never indulged in empty selfish leisure.. but I AM a slow learner, and yes… it took me a while before I was comfortable in my own skin. Now, I’m finally confident with who I am as a person, and I hope to instill some of that confidence to him.

    When I was 25, I was probably crying in my closet about my lack of career, love life, and finances. At near 40, none of that phases me anymore. I like who I am, and my attitude is “We can figure the rest out.”

  14. I was the average age when my wife and I had our first child. We had a second 4 years later.

    Our 3rd child came after I turned 40. I’ve never had an issue with getting older until that birthday. I think the main reason was our oldest was getting close to going off to college, and now I was starting all over again. I was going from possibly being a young Grandparent to also being an older parent.

    Now, 19 months since her birth, it’s been amazing. I wasn’t considering what it would be like to raise a child with 2 teenagers. Watching the 3 of them bond has been incredible. And the practice they are getting for when they have babies of their own is also good. They have been an integral part of it all. I actually can’t imagine how we managed when they were young, we rely on their assistance so much ☺.

  15. Great post, Derrick.

    I was 38 when my first boy came along… 41 when second boy arrived. I distinctly remember doing the math at the hospital when my second was sleeping and it hit me like a brick that I’d be approaching 60 a few months before his high school graduation. It’s an eye-opener.

    But as you said… there are benefits. My wife and I were much more financially stable in our 30s and able to do much more for our children than we would have in our 20s. Our careers were solid, and my wife’s employer was very generous with maternity leave — basically “we’ll see you when you’re ready to come back.”

    I can’t stay up as late as I like anymore, but I’m definitely an early riser. This helps with school wakeups. I’m also a little more in-tune with my health and I think I’m actually in better shape now than I was in my mid 30s. Hitting the gym definitely has a positive effect, and while I’m not benching what I did in my 20s, my heart is benefiting no matter the weights.

    For me, the worst part about being in my late 30s and having my first child is simply the sensation of how fast time is passing. The older I get, the more time seems to fly, and my kids are growing so fast. I’d give anything to have one or two weeks of just rocking them to sleep again.

    Thanks for such a great post to ponder.

  16. I am 47, almost 48 and we have 2 five year old’s that we adopted.

    Like the others I can relate. Financial stability as older parents definitely helps, we are saving a tidy amount for their college and we will be able to travel more with the kids and send them to camps. I actually know more about house maintenance now that we’ve owned a house for a while which we will be able to teach the kids as we get them involved. I know more about the scientific method and science in general having attended graduate school in my 30’s. I also know more about goal setting, people skills, etc.

    On the flip side, I’m exhausted all the time, I really feel it if I don’t get my sleep. I won’t be around for nearly as long. Heck, we’re sending our kids to kindergarten and we should be sending them to their senior year in college. If I see grand kids, I won’t see them for very long before I’m gone.

    But I still wouldn’t give it up for anything.

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