My son was born when I was 38. I’m what could be generously referred to as an older dad. Or “a dinosaur”, as my son calls me. It’s true that I’m older than his friends’ dads. I have less hair, a more errant stomach, and I give an involuntary puff of the cheeks as I get up off the floor after playing. I’m not that healthy either. Since his birth my son has seen me undergo five spinal surgeries to fix the fractures in my lower back. My youthful exuberances of falling off skateboards and mountain bikes have left me with dodgy knees that threaten to give way if mistreated. Right now, I’m hobbling about on a swollen toe joint that the doctor thinks may be the start of arthritis. At forty-four! For me, being an older dad means I’m less the mighty Tyrannosaur ruling the world and more the fragile fossil on a museum bench.
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The drawbacks of being the old man in the game are all too evident to me. I don’t have the energy levels of youth and I’m carrying a lot of injuries. It’s easy for me to feel down about that. It’s easy for me to mourn the physical things I can’t do with my boy and feel I’m letting him down.
There are advantages to being an older dad though. For one thing, I know myself. I don’t think I really understood myself until I was deep into my thirties. I don’t know when it happened but I got to a point where I stopped trying to find myself and accepted that I was already there. I was a mess as a teenager and all through my twenties. If I’d had a kid back then, I wouldn’t have been able to cope. I’d have felt hard done by when I couldn’t go out every night and I had to think about the needs of others first. Forget the child, it would have been me throwing my toys out of the pram.
I don’t need to party these days, I can’t party these days. I went out for a friend’s birthday a few weeks back. We met in town at 9pm – but I was already yawning before I’d even left the house. I had four pints of ale and a shot of something green that I was told I had to drink. I got a taxi home at just after midnight when everyone else was heading for the club, and was in bed before 1am. I was absolutely buggered for the whole of the next day. I couldn’t believe how wiped out I felt, and – while slightly grumpy about not being able to keep up with the lads anymore – I was most annoyed that I was no use to my son that day.
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Another benefit of being an older dad, is that I’m better with money nowadays too. My younger self would be knocked on his arse by my next statement: I have a savings account. And there’s money in it. Actual money, not just a few quid to keep the account open. I’m not exactly JD Rockefeller but I’m not spending every penny straight away like I used to. I look more long term, I plan the family finances, I like doing the accounts.
I know there are young parents who were already good at these things, but I wasn’t. As my physical ability has reduced, so my maturity has increased. It’s not a cause and effect but it does correlate. In my head, I still feel 18 but my body doesn’t allow me to behave like that anymore. And given how I behaved at 18, that’s probably a good thing.
Having more candles on my birthday cake also means I’ve had more life experiences. I’ve had more jobs than you can shake a P45 at. I was mowing lawns and doing a 300-house paper round at 12 and at a rough count I’ve worked in eight different shops. I laboured on building sites during the summer when I was at university, I was a youth worker for a few years and I’ve been a pub chef. I was a data co-ordinator for a supermarket chain after university and oversaw the stock ordering for 650 stores.
My experiences haven’t always been good. I once put a zero where I shouldn’t have and one shop got enough yoghurt to last a decade. When I was a youth worker I went to Palestine to teach English. At Tel Aviv airport on the way home I was strip searched and interrogated at gunpoint for hours because the Israelis thought I was a member of Hamas (just to clarify, I wasn’t).
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It’s not just work either. After seeing Pink Floyd perform at Earls Court in 1994, my partner and I missed the last train home and had to sleep on the platform at Paddington station. Waking up as a violent, homeless guy tries to steal your shoes is an interesting experience.
My life experiences have taught me two things. Anything can happen and panic is not your friend.
I think not having a child until later in life has given me the opportunity to learn more about how to cope with life’s little tests and as a parent there are certainly enough of them. When my son was projectile vomiting and running a temperature of 39.5 I didn’t panic. It was scary – very scary – but I knew panicking wouldn’t help. I assessed the situation and took the right course of action. My younger self would have been flapping about like Mr Tickle in a hurricane.
Both my son and I feel frustrated sometimes by my physical constraints and that’s only natural. I think on balance though he has a better dad than he would have done if I was younger. I’m better at fixing things, I know more, I’m calmer, and having been there, done that and got the T shirt, I’m happy to be where I am.