I was sitting in the beer garden at my local pub the other day, watching a little girl run riot. An older man was sitting on a bench watching her too. From the look of disfavour on his face I assumed that he, like me, was thinking “where are her parents?”. Then, after she clattered down the steps for the fifth time, almost upsetting someone else’s drink and virtually precipitating herself out into the road, he barked “Lucy! Stop that!”
And she said: “I don’t want to, Daddy.”
So my question is this. Is the older man really suited to becoming a dad?
Anecdotally it seems fairly obvious that the older man – who, be he ever so active for his age, has nothing on the hurtling bundle of fun that is a newly mobile kid – doesn’t like running around after a child. More disturbingly there’s plenty of research evidence suggesting that fathering a child when you’re older than 45 could have sinister effects on the baby.
Studies have found that cases of schizophrenia and psychotic disorders may increase fourfold or fivefold when the male parent is older than 50. They also point to increased chances of autism in children born to late fathers – also Downs Syndrome and dwarfism.
Against this is has to be said that many of the conditions apparently more likely to occur in children born to older fathers, are still extremely rare.
In my younger days I was, among other things, a Philosophy major with a specialty in evolutionary biology. So a few little notes to the preceding before I move on:
The ageing process in general is thought to be caused by the action of rogue genes. That is bits of genetic material actively programmed to start messing up your body.
The reason this kind of material is able to get through the reproductive net is because on average we procreate at a younger age, when everything still works properly. Babies born to parents within the average age of procreation tend to be healthier because genetic material doesn’t start turning on its owner until later in life.
We have a popular name for this. We call it the “biological clock”.
Ticking clocks aside though, more and more of us are becoming fathers later in life. Career pressures, life pressures and simple accidents of fate turn men of 50 suddenly into men of 35.
When I think back to the old boy I saw manifestly failing to keep up with the energy of his child, I’m left to wonder. There’s no point in worrying too much about the biology of childbirth where older men are concerned.
As I say the chances of defects are so infinitesimal as to be vanishing anyway. And if we all worried about potential disasters before we conceived, no-one ever would.
No, the thing to worry about is whether you’ll have enough in the fuel tank to keep up with the nuclear missile that is a young child. Or whether you’ll live long enough to see your grandchildren. I’m not saying no, mind – I’m just saying it’s something to think seriously about before you go ahead.
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