Issue 04 (January 2005)
My great-grandfather was born in 1764. He begat my grandfather in 1822, who begat my father in 1870, who sired me at the age of 63. So I spring from a legacy of late parenting. If my son respects the family tradition and has a child in 2064, we could try for Guinness, having covered five generations in 300 years.
My forebears were strong, self-reliant New England stock—farmers, doctors and ministers. Or, as a Mensa woman remarked to me once, maybe they were just a bunch of dirty old men. Either way, they propagated their kind only when they were good and ready. So it seemed natural to me to wait until I was 52 to start a family. Thus I became a Late Parent.
But America cherishes the icon of the vigorous young father, who plays touch-tackle with his son and jogs with his daughter. In this I was going against the grain. When I became a Late Parent certain acquaintances wondered obliquely if my kids might grow up deprived. Never to know the joys of shooting hoops with Dad? It sounded like a case for Child Protective Services. In the event, of course, nobody lost anything. My son got his share of soccer trophies and my older daughter made the sixth-grade basketball team, just as I knew they would. My main contribution was driving them to practice and cheering them on at games.
At the beginning, the same thing always happened when I took my preschool kids to the playground. A Friendly Lady would come up and say, “What lovely grandchildren!” My kids needed no prompting; they always spontaneously countered “He’s not my granddad, he’s my Daddy.” Score one for the Late Parent, whose kids know the difference between maturity and senescence.
I grew up the youngest of four. My father, a Late Parent if there ever was one, reigned at the dinner table. He would recap the news of the day and then relate it to events in Roman history. Did this leave me with an unbearably fusty childhood? No, I soaked it all up. Moreover, it made it possible for me to explain to my buddies at school what a marathon really was. So I don’t hesitate to lay advanced facts on my kids. They love even the parts they don’t understand, and most of it is stuff they’ll never hear from Dick and Jane.
Nearly half the kids that play with mine have been through at least one divorce. But all the Late Parents that my wife and I know keep stable homes. When you decide to have a family—and at my age it’s usually a conscious decision—you know what you’re getting into. You don’t suddenly wake up saying to yourself, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
In general, the Late Parent is typically more laid back and better off financially than the frantic Young Married. What you might lose in resiliency you more than make back in skill and resources. If my kids had come along during my greener years, when my instinct was to wander the world, they would have held me down. Today, I have plenty of time and there’s not that many other things I’d rather do. And I still wander a bit; for example, my wife and I helped my daughter celebrate her 11th birthday on an elephant safari in southern Nepal.
At this point you may be thinking, “Late parenting is no problem for a man, but women have to mind their biological clocks.” That’s true, and maybe it’s something that the bioengineers should address. But many women in their 30s actually enjoy grown-up company. Kids and an older husband are not a bad mix. There’s a theory that every family has a group mental age, which you can calculate as the average of the mental ages of the parents and all the children. In those terms, late parenting improves the environment for everybody. Who knows? More late parenting might inject a bit of civility into a crazy age.
So I’m happy to be a Late Parent. My kids are looking good and I have the means to see them through college. They do what kids do and I do what a parent does. I may look like a grandpa to the lady in the park, but I’m just Dad to them. The old Yankee patriarchs from whom I descended would surely have approved.
George Towner was born in Reno and grew up near Berkeley. As a teenager he began making gangster movies using an old 8mm camera, one of which featured a car being pushed over a cliff off State Highway 1. He has started and sold two successful technology firms, and currently works for Apple Computer, where he is the most senior in age. He lives with his wife in Sunnyvale. They have two daughters and a son.