I was 65 when my latest son was born – a mere 28 years after the next youngest. I naturally asked my three other sons’ permission (although it was too late by then) and they didn’t seem to have a problem with it. What other people made or make of it is not clear, because they tend not to express an opinion on the propriety of the event. They usually invoke other elderly fathers (John Simpson and John Humphreys are favourites) with a kind of cryptic grin but, as yet, I’m glad to say I’ve not been blasted by followers of those women in the media who are outraged by old men with new wives and babies.
However, my own feelings are mixed. Everything has two conflicting sides to it. I feel both very old and very young simultaneously. Physically, despite the fact that it’s rarely me who gets up in the middle of the night to feed or comfort him, I am frequently exhausted by carrying him around when he needs it and by setting out, moving and then tidying away the enormous amount of equipment which babies and toddlers oblige us to acquire. On the other hand, I seem to be slightly fitter now than when he first arrived and my back no longer aches the way it did when I first started picking him and his toys up from ground zero.
In terms of my attitude to what my wife and I have gone and done, I feel torn between joy and guilt. The joy is simple. He’s so lovely and my wife is so happy and good at being his mother and I have a profound and exciting purpose for living for ever now. I’ve always (well, at least since I married my first wife 45 years ago) been an optimist and looked forward to each new day with the eager anticipation. Once I passed 60, the prospect of retirement began to worry me and a layer of dread gradually settled in. But, now I’m retired and he’s not only there to focus on but growing more and more wonderful minute by minute, it’s evaporated.
As for guilt, I will always be embarrassingly old compared to the fathers of his peers. I won’t have the energy he’ll probably need me to have as he becomes increasingly athletic and acrobatic. I may well grow ill before he’s an adult, and he will have to help his mother carry that burden. I may well die before he’s an adult, which will be a cruel thing to have done to him (I was in my mid 20s when my father died and, to my shame, I had yet to learn how to get through to him and show him how much I loved him). If I do die when he’s still young, he will then have just the one parent and that parent may well struggle to look after him on her own, and finance his childhood, let alone his adulthood. None of these things are in your mind when you have children in your twenties or thirties — or even forties, I imagine. But Yeats, who had his children in his late 50s, was 63 when he wrote ‘Among School Children’, in which he recorded the thought that young mothers never think of their children with ‘sixty or more winters’ on their heads.
People ask how it feels to be doing it again. When I look at photographs of his brothers when his age I can see them in him and him in them, and I do find myself calling him by their names, but when I look at him I see only him, and I really can’t say I can call on my experience of thirty years ago to inform and improve my performance now. When we go to Rhyme Time in the Town Hall and the woman who runs it welcomes ‘the children and their mummies and [glancing at me] granddads’, I bridle inwardly and want to call out ‘Fathers for Justice!’ But then I remember that I am a grandfather, actually, and one of the gifts I have donated to my grandchildren is that they can carry their uncle around in their arms.
Visiting contributor: Neil Taylor, 12th February 2010
Neil Taylor is a recently retired academic, living in West London. He has four sons and five grandchildren; three of the sons are in their thrties but the fourth has so far had only one birthday party.