In anticipation of the celebration of Father’s Day, here is an optimistic and funny view of the benefits of midlife fatherhood by Palo Alto writer Len Filppu. It is for all the men (and the women who love them) who wonder what it might be like to be a mid-life father.
His website called PrimeTimeDads is now up and ready just in time for Father’s Day next Sunday.
Here is his column!
When faced with first-time fatherhood at the age of 49, I didn’t know whether to celebrate with champagne or hemlock. Would my back survive baby-proofing all the cabinets? How could I trade my leisurely latte freedom for dirty diapers? Would I live long enough to make a proper go of it? I envisioned myself dozing off at Little League games, drooling and dreaming of Woodstock. Or worst of all, would younger parents mistake me for grandpa?
But much to my surprise and life-enhancing pleasure, I’ve discovered that my middle years are actually my best time, in fact my prime time, to appreciate, excel at, and find authentic happiness in my role as a dad.
And I’m not the only one. A recent study, “A Global Perspective on Happiness and Fertility” by Rachel Margolis and Mikko Myrskyla, published in Population and Development Review, March 2011, found that parents aged 40 and above are happier than are their childless peers. Interestingly, parents aged 30 are less happy than people the same age without kids. It seems maturity may be a key factor in appreciating parenthood.
The issue of midlife parenthood is trending hotter as health consciousness, nutrition, and medical care increasingly morph today’s 50 into yesterday’s 40 or even younger, as women continue to postpone motherhood, and as many men face the prospect of fatherhood within a second marriage or a blended family.
I was truly intimidated by the prospect of midlife fatherhood, yet discovered it was the best thing I ever did. Most midlife men have an enormous reservoir of tested skills, life experiences, and plain old know-how that can be tapped to help them succeed as dads.
My wife and I have a healthy and thriving 11-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter. They are my joie de vivre, my kick start on sluggish mornings, my jet power through the day, and my inspiration to keep life interesting, fresh, and meaningful. To me, being a midlife father is not an issue of being better-late-than-never. It’s an issue of actually being better later.
Here then, for all you men in your middle years, you prime time men –and especially you women who love them– are my top five reasons to embrace midlife fatherhood.
1) You Already Got Your Ya-Yas Out!
If I’d been a father in my 20s or 30s, those turbulent, defining decades when I thirstily explored life and career adventures, I would have felt imprisoned. I would’ve paced the baby’s room as though it were a jail cell, blaming my wife and kids for my confinement, growing resentful, longing for what I was missing, and planning my escapes.
But since I’d already traveled, played, dabbled, and wandered around the block a few times when I became a dad, the gnawing sense that I might be missing “something” out there was diminished. I’d already lived free, been to the rodeo a few times, and was now ready for family’s binding ties.
Kids thrive in a stable, predictable, safe world of order, love and boundaries. As a more mature midlife man, I was infinitely more capable of providing such a healthy environment.
2) You Have More Money
Please do not misunderstand me. You need not be rich to raise children. But the midlife dad, who probably has a fatter wallet to match his expanding waistline, can apply those resources in a positive way that enhances the child rearing process for all concerned.
I’m not picking up the tab for lunch with Warren Buffet and Carlos Slim. But over the years, I’ve learned not to buy any bridges or play three-card Monte, how to shop around for low interest rates and index funds, and how to tighten a budget when necessary.
In short, I sit on a slightly thicker cash cushion than I had in my 20s. And that’s as good as gold, because lack of money is one of the single greatest causes of familial stress and divorce, toxic conditions for parents and children alike.
3) You Can Spend More Time with Your Children
The most formative years for children are in their first four to six years of life. This is the time when they gain confidence for living and learning primarily through a close relationship with their parents. Both parents.
Midlife men are more likely to have achieved some degree of success, skill, and trusted longevity in their careers. With that success comes more freedom of choice and time, more loosening of the job tether.
Midlife dads are more likely to have the job seniority and security to be able to take some dedicated time off, initiate flex time, work remotely or job share in order to participate at pre-school or the zoo or t-ball games. I decided to write and consult in order to spend more time with my children. I’m convinced this choice has helped my children. I know it’s rewarded me.
4) You Can Better Laugh At Yourself
Being locked in the restrictive strait jacket of image is for younger folk who have the energy to worry about their hair styles, what nightclub is hot, and the latest new greatest.
We midlife men have traveled through this superficial terrain, and arrived at the right-sized perspective to laugh at ourselves a bit more easily (probably because there’s a longer record of bewildering personal behavior to inspire us).
Are we fools, then? Au contraire, we’ve lived, learned, been burned, and we’re wiser. And this willingness to shed decorum is manna from heaven for our children.
Want to make your kids laugh hysterically? Act like you slipped on a banana peel. Sneeze a tissue high into the air. That’s right. We’re not talking about sophisticated humor. We’re talking about funny faces, prat falls, and playing down to the audience… way down, where kids really live and from where they look up to you.
While diapering my son once, he peed a perfect arc into my ear. You gotta laugh or you’ll go nuts. Because I became a father in midlife, I have a longer and richer perspective that allows me to perform the mental tricks that turn minor tragedy into grand comedy.
5) Fulfill Your Need for More Meaning in Life
Plato is credited with saying, “The spiritual eyesight improves as the physical eyesight declines.”
As we mature, many of us increasingly require more meaning in life. We seek it in unhealthy ways such as flings, substance abuse, and out-of-control consumerism, and we seek it in healthy ways such as charitable endeavors, mending fences, and spiritual growth.
Most midlife men have experienced the death of relatives, parents or friends. We know we are mortal. We’ve lived long enough to know that life dedicated to the office cubicle may not provide the depth of meaning for which we increasingly yearn.
Becoming a parent is arguably one of the most meaningful things you can do. Nurturing, teaching, and guiding my children through the passage of time is truly an adventure. It may not be Homeric, but it’s certainly my personal home odyssey. Minor triumphs and tragedies hit me with a power I could not have imagined. Why? Because these real life moments really mean something. And that’s exactly how I prefer life nowadays.
Len Filppu is a professional writer and consultant from Palo Alto, CA whose background includes non-fiction book and magazine writing, feature and documentary film screenwriting, national politics, high technology business, advertising and business communications.
Len’s latest non-fiction book, PRIME TIME DADS: 45 Reasons to Embrace Midlife Fatherhood, (www.primetimedads.com) explores the life-enhancing revelations he learned by becoming a midlife dad.
“I was worried that waiting until late in life to have kids was a mistake. It turned out to be the best decision I ever made.”
By Len Filppu
Special to Newsweek
Updated: 1:36 p.m. PT Aug 3, 2006
Aug. 3, 2006 – When faced with first-time fatherhood at the age of 49, I wasn’t sure whether to celebrate with champagne or hemlock. I was scared. Did I have the stamina? Would I live long enough to see my child through college? Would I be mistaken for grandpa? Would I drool, stumble and mumble to myself about Woodstock at Little League games?
All these fears turned out to be unfounded. I discovered with great surprise—and even greater relief—that as a mature man, I could tap into my accumulated reservoir of life experiences and skills to help me be an effective father of two thriving children. For me, fatherhood is better late than younger.
The best thing I did in my youth was to avoid having kids. I hitchhiked around the country for years, lived on a commune, worked in presidential politics and on Capitol Hill. I helped make a low-budget horror B movie called “Fear No Evil” and drove my ’72 Dodge Dart west from Washington, D.C., to Northern California. My priorities were selfish. I sought adventure, career advancement, financial stability, travel and fun. It was not a mind-set conducive to the duties of parenthood.
Now that I’ve gotten my ya-ya’s out (most of them, anyway), I’m no longer driven by youthful passions. I’m more patient, empathetic, compassionate and wise. I’ve already been there and done most of that. And because I’ve seen more death and am closer to its inevitability, my appreciation for life is keen. I deeply value this opportunity to nurture and enjoy my children.
Career longevity allows me greater flexibility to manage both work and family. When my son was 2, I was able to step off the Silicon Valley tech circuit to work as a consultant and spend more time at home as an aware, participatory dad. My daughter soon followed, and I remain a constant, integral part of their play in the park, preschool classes, birthday parties, sports activities and emotional-quotient growth during these formative years.
Now that the hair grows better from my ears than on my scalp, I’ve developed my ability to seek and find the humor in otherwise trying situations, a life-saving skill for parents of any age. I abandoned all hope of maintaining dignified order and wholeheartedly subscribed to laughter as a magic elixir when my son perfectly arched his urine stream directly into my ear as I changed his diaper. I would not have found that earful so funny in my 20s.
Lack of money is one of the single greatest causes of familial stress and divorce, creating toxic conditions for parents and children alike. I’m a bit more financially comfortable now, and can afford some of the expenses that help my wife and me stay focused on important child rearing activities. We have help with gardening, maid service, small chores, daycare and babysitting. Believe me, there were times in my 20s and even 30s when I was rolling up pennies to buy a week’s supply of eggs. My slightly fatter wallet, which unfortunately expands more slowly than my waistline, enhances the parental process for all concerned.
Age has made me a more wily coyote. I’ve lived through enough office politics, social shenanigans and the strife of life to know that the game does not always go to the best or the brightest. I’m glad to have a trace of treachery, a card sharp’s sleight of hand and the persuasiveness of a con man to help keep the kids occupied. My version of hide-and-seek sends the kids running to hide while I call out all the places in the house I pretend to search … from my comfortable position stretched out on the couch. My bigger bag of tricks helps keep me ahead of the game, even when I’m way out of bounds.
It’s ironic that most children are born to fathers between the ages of 20 and 34, precisely the period in men’s lives when I believe they are least equipped emotionally, financially and psychologically to deal with the extra responsibilities. I’m profoundly happy and appreciative to be an older dad, and this positive attitude directly benefits my children’s quality of life.
As we age, many of us increasingly require more meaning in life. I met my greater meanings in the maternity ward as they inhaled their first breaths. As Plato once said, “The spiritual eyesight improves as the physical eyesight declines.” These days, even the body’s decay isn’t as rapid as it used to be. Today’s 60 is yesterday’s 50. As my kids grow, they will help me stay active, healthy and vibrant. I’ll rock in retirement, but not in a chair.
© 2006 Newsweek, Inc.
Kids thrive in a stable, predictable, safe world of order, love and boundaries. As a more mature midlife male, I was infinitely more capable of providing such an environment. Why? Because I’ve acted out and have grown past most of my wild rascal shenanigans.
I’ve already traveled around, played around, dabbled around, and wandered around the block a few times. Been to the rodeo… used the T-shirt to wipe up the mess. And since I’ve been there and done some of that, the gnawing sense that I might be missing that irresistible yet elusive “something” out there has diminished.
My insane itching urge to shuck it all to pursue my madness is now a more dormant desire, fueling fond memories instead of immature action sprees. The best thing I ever did during my sowing of wild oats days was very purposefully not become a parent. Somehow, I knew better.
Hitchhiking around the states, living in a commune, sleeping on couches throughout the country on a presidential campaign, and helping make a low-budget, B-movie horror film were just not conducive to a stable relationship with a spouse or children.
How should I put this? When I was young, eager for experience, knew I’d live forever, and the rules applied to everyone else but me, I would go and flow wherever the action seemed most intriguing.
Back in those days, especially my 20s and 30s, nothing could stand in the way of me doing what I wanted. If I’d had a family during those times of intense personal exploration, I would’ve been a neglectful father.
Had a family prevented me from trying my hand at free-wheeling investigations of travel, politics, and film, I would have felt imprisoned. I would’ve been pacing the baby’s room, blaming my wife and kids for my confinement, growing resentful, then bitter, longing for what I missed, and planning my escapes.
As a prime time dad who’s lived out those dreams (with nightmares), I’m now ready for the cozy confines of the parental penitentiary. Heck, instead of trying to tunnel out of the place, I’ve helped reproduce more inmates to join me on the inside. I’m not imprisoned by children… I’m impassioned by them.
You see, I’ve had enough girlfriends, lost enough money in Vegas, scuba-ed in Aruba, partied hearty, emerged through plenty of scrapes and traps, and have now matured enough to realize I don’t need to revisit any of it. Enough is enough. If you’re a more mature guy, you know what I mean.
I thank my lucky stars that I survived my past, lived hard to realize some of my dreams, and that I don’t have to do it all again. I’m now ready to embrace wholeheartedly my family life.
I already got my ya-yas out. I’m now level-headedly ready and eager for this new adventure. And you know what? As it’s turning out, raising kids is truly the wildest trip of all. They’re born with an endless supply of ya-yas. That ironic karmic wheel simply creaked full circle.