Adam, 48, with baby Millie

Mind The (Age) Gap

6th June 2014

In celebration of Father’s Day (15 June), Heather Harris talks to a selection of men who had their children late in life

A 96 year old former wrestler from Delhi put celebrities Sir David Jason, John Humphreys, Sir Paul McCartney and Tony Blair firmly in their place. When it comes to late fatherhood, Ramajit Raghav made these famous older Dads look positively youthful, as the birth of his second son last year put him straight into the record books as the oldest father on record.

Sadly, what should have been a celebration of prolonged fertility recently took a more sinister turn as his wife left him following the unexplained disappearance of their elder child, Bikramjeet, 4.

“She just left last week. She did not say anything. She just walked out of the door with baby Ranjeet in her arms,” the nonagenarian claimed, adding that Bikramjeet had disappeared after his wife fall asleep at a bus stop and woke up to find him gone.

Previously, proud parents Raghav and his wife Shakuntala Devi, 54, had spoken to a fascinated media about his active, tee-total vegetarian lifestyle. “I wake up at 5 in the morning and go to bed before 8pm. During the day, I work in the fields and also take a one or two hour afternoon nap,” he told the Times of India.

The night waking and early-to-bed regime is familiar to 48 year-old Adam, from Oxford, since the arrival of daughter Millie five months ago, though Adam thinks he’s probably getting rather less sleep than Ramajit.

“An afternoon nap at my desk would be bliss,” he told me adding that this is about the only downfall of having another child, ‘later in life’.

With his older two children from his previous marriage already in their teens, Adam was shocked at people’s reaction when he announced he was to become a Dad again.

“So many people questioned my sanity and looked horrified,” he said, sounding genuinely upset. He quickly developed a stock response. “I would say, ‘Why? Don’t you like your children?’, as this is what their reaction implied.”

The fact is that Adam genuinely feels that children have enriched his life, not ruined it, so the chance to have another one was, he assures me, “brilliant”.
For 69-year-old, Robert from Rickmansworth, the initial reaction was not so ecstatic. “I was 54 when Ben was born and it was rather a shock,” he recalled, adding that he notices the age gap more as his son gets older.
“I was a ‘war baby’ so grew up in the days of rationing… ‘waste not want not’ was the overriding approach to life. This is so different to today’s throw-away culture.”
Robert also admits to finding technology a challenge and the father/son relationship is frequently reversed when to comes to fixing computers. (As a 50 year old who can’t work iPlayer without a teenage assistant, I can totally identify with that).
This experience was echoed by Del Boy himself, Sir David Jason who, at 73, recently admitted that having a 12 year old daughter was not all ‘lovely jubbly’. He actually finds the fear of technology nothing compared to the terror of roller coasters.
“A recent trip to Disney nearly killed me! They say having a child makes you young at heart but Sophie makes me feel old!” he told the Daily Mirror.
Over the past 40 years the average age of childbearing has increased steadily for both men and women. First-time fathers are, in general, older than first-time mothers. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2012 nearly half of all live births were to mothers aged 30 and over, but nearly two-thirds of fathers were aged 30 and over. The average age of fathers is now 32 years and six months – it may be increasing, but it’s still only a third of Ramajit Raghav’s age; 23 years younger than former Prime Minister Gordon Brown who had his second son aged 55 and almost half that of Sir Paul who will be 77 when his youngest daughter Beatrice is sweet sixteen.

A recent study, the largest of its kind, suggests that the children of fathers aged over 45 are at greater risk of autism, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia as well as having lower IQs and, bizarrely, being less attractive. Martin Fieder, Associate Professor in Anthropology at the University of Vienna, put it very bluntly. “Someone born to a father of 22 is already 5-10 per cent more attractive than those with a 40-year-old father and the difference grows with the age gap.” This is, apparently, due to genetic mutations in a man’s sperm that can increase as he ages, but as a concept it caused a great degree of scepticism amongst the ‘geriatric Dads’ (their words not mine) I met, all of whom have healthy, happy children.

“But that’s the joy of being older,” said Adam. “I am sure we are more laid back and less likely to worry about things.” He also made the important point that it’s other people who instantly do the mental maths, not the fathers themselves, who are too busy simply getting on with life.

“You can see people working out that by the time Millie is twenty I’ll be nearly 70 and when she’s 50, I’ll be 100 but I really don’t worry about it.”

And that’s not really surprising, as he has an excellent role model. His 88-year-old father-in-law, Greig, became a father (to identical twin girls) when he was 56.

“When my girls were ten I would take them ice skating and never had any problem keeping up!” Greig told me, recalling how he gave up work in 1987 and, together with his wife, took their five year olds on a trip around the world.

“If you have children when you’re young you are too busy working to enjoy them growing up, but I retired when they were still little.”

As a self employed tradesman, Robert shares this sentiment. “I work less hours now so have been able to watch all Ben’s rugby matches, even at two in the afternoon, but a young high flier can’t ask his boss for the afternoon off so he can nip home…”

As one half of a musician marriage, 58-year-old Colin looks after his teenage son for weeks at a time while his wife travels on tour. Colin and his wife were married for 14 years and consciously left parenthood until later to make sure they were financially stable. And he now feels, unlike Sir David, that having children “keeps you young.”

“We seem to have grown up together and enjoy doing the same things like football, films or swimming. I have honestly never felt different from other Dads,” he said, admitting that this may all change as he has just been roped into playing in a Lads versus Dads football match.

“Football was the only time when I did feel frustrated as when everyone else was kicking a ball in the park with their toddler my knees just couldn’t cope,” said Robert, although he accepted my point that there are many unfit younger Dads who would rather sit their child in front of a computer than take them to the park.

Interestingly, Greig was the only ‘mature parent’ I spoke to who had been mistaken for a grandfather. “And that was by a New York bus conductor.” The others all agreed that today’s society is far more acceptable of families of all different age, race or gender combinations. They also acknowledged that the current trend for shaven heads among younger Dads helps enormously for those of a less hirsute appearance.

But what of the children themselves? I wonder if Leo Blair views his old man, Tony as ‘out of touch’ or if 14 year old Owen Humphreys cringes when he hears 70-year-old Dad, John on Radio 4’s Today programme (although he’s probably not up at that time of the morning…). Perma-tanned, nightclub owner, Peter Stringfellow was 72 when he had his daughter – but that’s possibly the least of the reasons why she might be embarrassed.

The truth is as all parents know – no matter their age – the ability to make our children roll their eyes in horror comes with the territory. “And actually Ben now sees me as quite cool and retro when I turn up at school in my tweed and old Volvo,” Robert explained.

And, in general, what older Dads can clearly give their child – more important than knowledge of the latest X-box game or the ability to discuss current music trends – is time.

“We’ve slowed down anyway when we’re in our 40s and 50s so are quite happy to stay in with our children. We don’t want to go nightclubbing or dash to the office all weekend. Being a hands-on Dad becomes a joy,” said Adam.

Old Father Time couldn’t have put it better himself.

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