Past a certain age in life, is it irresponsible or selfish even to be bringing a child into the world?
There is nothing more tortuous, more insidious nor more cruel than the process of ageing. It is, in fact, like someone stabbing you so slowly that you barely even register the knife going in.
Realistically, and despite vain celebrity efforts to the contrary, there’s nothing you can do to stop it, but there is one thing you can do to make it more pronounced, and that is to have children.
It could be argued that having kids makes you age faster, but this seems as obvious as arguing that having Big Macs and beer for breakfast will make you fatter.
What having children will definitely make you do is feel older, particularly if you are possessed, as I am, of grey hair, and a face that looks forlornly weather-beaten, like the side of an old house.
Two of the most humiliating moments of my adult life were when complete strangers asked me, straight-faced, whether my beloved daughter was mine… or whether I was, in fact, her grandfather.
Sure, I had pains in my hands from imagining punching those poor, ignorant nobodies right in their faces… but what hurt me more was the increase in the guilt that I carry around every day, because I have long felt ashamed that I waited so long, and so selfishly, to have my children, a decision that both actuary tables and simple mathematics suggests they will come to regret in later life.
I feel the sting of this shame more painfully because I grew up with a young Mum, who was just 18 when she had me, and is thus still young enough to enjoy her grandchildren, despite probably having given up on ever having any (I’m an only child; hence the selfishness).
“Complete strangers asked whether my daughter was mine… or whether I was, in fact, her grandfather?”
I don’t need to be a mathematical genius to realise that if my children wait as long as I did (I was 36 for my first, 40 for the second) to reproduce, the joy of grandparenting will probably be lost in a fog of wafting urine from my incontinence pants, if I get to experience it at all.
It’s the kind of maths that no man can avoid doing when their child is born; how old will I be when they’re 18 (and we can legally have a beer together) when they’re 21, or 30, or even 40? Will I get to see some of those, and will I remember any?
Men, unlike women, of course, can go on making babies forever, should we want to…
World’s oldest new dad, India’s Ramjit Raqhav (“Roger” Ramjit to his mates), born in 1916, had his first child at age 94, and a second at 96, which represents the kind of selfishness that makes me feel slightly better about myself.
He’s roughly zero chance to be giving a speech at their 21st, let alone their weddings (and even less so since his wife, aged in her early 50s, left him, just before his youngest son’s first birthday).
It’s not just freaks of nature
Celebrities seem similarly untroubled by their own mortality, of course, because they can leave their children huge wads of money with which to dry the tears at their father’s funerals.
Mick Jagger, who is 73 but acts like he’s 13, recently became a father for the eighth time, with his 29-year-old American ballerina waif wife, Melanie Hamrick.
The louche-lipped singer is already a great grandfather and has children with no less than five different women (as you should, frankly, with his ability to put it about), the oldest of his “kids” being 45-year-old Karis Hunt.
What Jagger, and obviously plenty of other old Dads, blithely ignore are the simple yet less-discussed facts about sperm quality as you age.
While it’s well known that a woman’s chance of producing a baby with defective DNA, or Down’s Syndrome, increase once she reaches 30, the fact is that the quality of a man’s sperm decreases once he reaches 40 (both the volume of your semen and your sperm’s motility decrease continually from the age of 20 to 80… unless, of course, you’re Mick Jagger).
According to yourfertility.org.au, as a man ages, it also takes longer for his partner to get pregnant, and there’s an associated risk of not conceiving at all (the average time to pregnancy if a man is under 25 is just over 4.5 months, but nearly two years if a man is over 40).
No matter what the age of the mother, the risk of miscarriage is also higher, due to those slightly dud sperm, once the man is over 45.
The risk of miscarriage is, shockingly, twice as high for women whose partner is aged over 45, compared to those with partners under 25.
Children who are born to older fathers also have a greater risk of autism, mental-health problems and learning difficulties. In fact, kids born to men over 40 are more than 5 times more likely to have autism than those fathered by men under 30. Shit!
“Kids born to men over 40 are 5 times more likely to have autism than those fathered by men under 30.”
These, along with my general state of exhaustion, are all good reasons why I won’t be having a third child, but also statistics we don’t hear discussed very much, despite the fact that 40 seems to be the new 20 when it comes having your first kid.
My big regret…
My regret, essentially, is that I will never be as close to my children, both in age and mindset, as my mother was to me.
She was always the cool Mum, the one who went to AC/DC while I still thought they were the devil’s music, the one who smoked pot when I thought the police would surely come and drag her away (and was thus unable to argue with me when I started doing the same).
She has been as much an older friend to me as a mother, which is not something I can expect to be to a daughter to whom I will surely seem ancient and boring when she is 20 and I am 60.
Honestly, just writing those numbers makes my heart ache a little.
Of course, as my favourite philosopher Billy Connolly says, “growing old is compulsory, growing up is optional”. And I try, every day, to keep my mind, and my attitudes, younger than my body.
For the sake of both my kids, I also push myself to stay fit enough to be able to run around the park with them, and beat them at every sport going, for as long as possible.
I often catch myself saying that I wished I’d had children younger, and advising my more fortunate friends, in their early 30s, not to wait too long, but in my heart I know it’s all bollocks.
The reality of the situation
For many years, I didn’t think, or realise, that I wanted kids, but sneakily, I always suspected I might, one day, and it was only when that singular, incredible woman who is now my wife came along that I knew it was time. And it would work (it helps, a lot, that she is seven years younger, and thus just 20 years more mature, than me).
But in all honesty, would I swap the wild, carefree, world-roaming years of my youth for my kids, or for anything? Probably not.
And the fact is that these are the children, the little miracles, the daily joy machines, that fate has delivered me, and if I’d had them any earlier they would not be the same, staggeringly wonderful little people.
Nor would I be able to cope as well, or as wisely, as I do now with being their Dad.
So yes, perhaps 45 is too old – science would certainly suggest so – and 73 certainly is, but what I’m truly happy about is not that I waited, but that I made the right call, in the end, and after much prevaricating, to have children at all.
I just hope they can forgive me when I’m as deaf as a post and as boring as a pre-iPad world at their 21st birthday parties.