The U.S. birth rate as at an all-time low. Millennials are either not having kids at all because the future is bleak, or they’re waiting to meet certain milestones — a college degree, steady income, getting married — before they do.
It makes sense, then, that a study published in Human Reproduction found the average age of first-time fathers steadily increasing up to 30.9 in 2015 from 27.4 in 1972. If generations of men before us became dads in their youths, what’s in store for the first generation of men to become dads in their 40s?
We asked a bunch of old dads what they regret most — and least — about waiting to take on fatherhood.
Steve in Bristol, England, became a dad at 42, then again at 45
Until I hit 40, I was convinced I’d never have kids and didn’t want them. I come from a broken home, so I always knew that if I did it, my wife and I would need to be able to cope with the stresses of parenthood and not have it break us. Consequently I made my poor wife wait six years before I thought we could handle it (I think she’d have done it much sooner).
I’ve surfed a very peculiar wave since my eldest was born. At its heights I’ve felt like my life has been reset and I have all of it to live again. At its depths I’ve felt like the oldest man in the world and been convinced I won’t even see my kids go to uni.
The most common negative thought I’ve had as an older dad is simply that, when things get tough, I think to myself that a lot of dads my age are well past all this and their kids are on the verge of being fully grown, or at least sleep through the night —whilst I won’t reach that stage until I’m pushing retirement!
The flip side, of course is that I’m far more emotionally and financially stable than I was 20 years ago. Plus I no longer have a desire to travel the world or go out clubbing every night. I’m perfect “steady reliable dad” material. I’m also in shape, I’d been working out for 10 years prior to my eldest being born and have kept going since. I can’t recommend this enough, especially if you have two boys. Boys love their play fighting.
And I’ve reaped the benefits of that with two very happy boys who show me a lot of love and give me a lot of grief, without whom I couldn’t imagine my life. If you’d told me 10 years ago I’d be where I am now, I’d have laughed and walked away utterly terrified.
Paul from California became a dad at 40
I have no regrets at all. I mostly see the advantages: I am much farther along with my career and money, definitely a bit wiser, but mostly more mature. I have gotten to travel a bit, raced motorcycles, and I’ve had a great life, so I don’t feel like there is anything I didn’t get today or any real sacrifice I have had to make to have kids.
I do worry that I won’t be around as much as I would like with my kid, but that’s always life anyway, huh?
Davy in California became a dad at 42
In a sense, I do regret not having my daughter when I was younger. Overnight, my life changed, but all those changes were for the better. Until then I’d sort of stumbled through life, bumbling into a career, picking up and moving when it suited me, leaving jobs or making other changes without too much careful thought. While that freedom is appealing, it’s also all too easy to be careless and unwise. But now my whole future has a certainty to it: I will be my daughter’s father, and I have a responsibility to her.
That responsibility is informed by so much love that it’s a pleasure, not a burden. I make more careful choices now, because they affect more than just myself. Consequently I’ve been more diligent professionally, more concerned with keeping a clean and orderly house, more thoughtful about how the choices I make will impact both her and myself.
I have an additional motivation to take care of myself physically, too. My daughter is a bright spirit, she’s so full of love, enthusiasm and sunshine, she’s a joy to be around. I can’t wait to see what kind of person she turns out to be, and want to live a long time so I can share as much of that as possible. And along the way I want to be a good role model for her; I want her to see me treating other people with kindness, love and compassion so that’s her model of what relationships are like. I want her to see me doing service in my community so she’ll understand the value of effort on behalf of people other than ourselves. I want her to have a childhood full of memories that will the foundation of a good life, full of moments to cherish and as free from worry or care as possible.
All this means changing my habits in ways both great and small. From the momentary mindfulness of responding to her with patience and care rather than frustration, to being fully present in the time I spend with her and not distracted — to better diet, exercise, housework and the chores of taking care of all the little things. I have to do all that better than I ever did before, and I think I’d have profited had I started out younger, and spent a greater portion of my life with more motivation to do more than just stumble through life.
Also, I just want more time with her. If she had been born 10 or 20 years ago, that’s 10 or 20 more years of my life I’d have with her. How could I not regret that?
As far as things like physical stamina, fitting in socially with younger parents or the declining health that comes with middle age: These are challenges, they’re real and they’re not trivial. But I don’t have any standard for comparison … I can’t say how much of a difference it makes. Maybe a lot, maybe a little, who can say?
At the time, I also know that my life changed so much when my daughter was born because I was ready for it to change. I’d sown my wild oats in my youth, I’d had some adventures, seen the world, and did a lot of things that wouldn’t have been possible as a father. Maybe I’d feel less inspired and more resentful if I’d had her in my youth?
That said, I’m in a more financially secure place than I was in my 20s, to be sure, and having a kid isn’t cheap. Before she was in kindergarten, paying for daycare was just crushing. I make a good living, but I was still paying the equivalent of a mortgage payment every month for her daycare, and that’s with a job where the company subsidizes childcare. I can’t imagine how people who are already struggling manage that kind of expense, and I’m glad I had the financial wherewithal to get by.
I am also more mature and emotionally stable than I was as a young man. The self-discipline and emotional intelligence was hard won, but invaluable as a parent. When she is testing my boundaries, pushing to see how far she can push because that’s what kids do as part of their own maturing, I have the ability to see that for what it is, to understand it’s not a personal attack, and to let the anger or frustration pass and react calmly and with consistency. This helps my daughter to understand the world, to know how her actions impact people around her without the volatility or unpredictability of dealing with a parent still learning how to control themselves.
I think my wealth of experience in life is also an advantage for her. When she wants to know about the world (and she always has a million questions) I have a lot of answers for her based on personal experience, which makes what I tell her more immediate and relevant than just reading a Wikipedia article. And I also have the humility to admit when I don’t know something, and that we’ll have to find out together. As a younger man, I struggled with admitting when I was wrong, or admitting that I didn’t know something. As a grown-ass man, I can laugh about making mistakes and learn from them.
Will she listen to any of this stuff? Probably not; did you listen to your parents when you were a kid? But it will give her a foundation of good examples to draw from someday, when it all comes together for her. I hope, I hope. I hope.
Tony Deyo, a standup comedian from Utah, became a dad at 40
I have absolutely no regrets about becoming a dad later in life. I’m sure most older dads have a similar story, but I was just at a better place in life, and more equipped to be a dad at that time.
I had a bunch of years to chase my career, and not feel like having a family was holding me back. I’m in a better place financially, and can give my son not just what he needs, but lots of experiences that I think he’ll remember forever. We can afford to travel more now, and that wouldn’t have been possible 15 years earlier.
I’m more zen-like in my older years. I think I would have been a much more strict, and high-strung dad if I was younger. I’m in decent enough shape to keep up with him, and I don’t see that changing drastically in the next several years.
It’s truly a joy having a child at this point in my life, and I would recommend the timeline to anyone that thinks any of those points would make them a better dad.