Fathers Who Know Best : Second Families for Mid-Life Dads
Hal Yoergler’s real mid-life crisis was his financially disastrous three years as entrepreneur of a crocodile farm in the Pacific paradise of Palau. Becoming the father of a son at the age of 47 was just in the category of happy surprise.
Bob Crocker’s son, Christopher, 9, who was born when his father was 42, has a nephew who is also 9. “Christopher was confused for the first four years,” his mother, Carol, acknowledged.
Matt Bornyasz, who has a 22-year-old daughter, is looking forward to becoming a father again in November. He joked about being a senior citizen by the time his child graduates from high school.
At 51, Jim Pitcher is both a grandfather and father of a 4-year-old son, Adam. When Adam’s mother, Patti, first broke the news of her pregnancy, Pitcher admitted, “I looked at my age, and the years of responsibility ahead, and I thought, ‘There goes my early retirement.’ ” Now he says, “The Lord really blessed us.”
Second-time-around fathers, raising new families after their first set of children is grown, are not a new phenomenon, suggested Dr. Fred Gottlieb, an associate professor of psychiatry at UCLA and director of the Family Therapy Institute of Southern California: “It’s just more frequent because remarriages are more frequent.”
And, he added, it’s only natural to “want to have a child by one’s new mate.”
If the phenomenon is not new, what is different is that these are new-age fathers whose older children, in many cases, were born in the days when bringing up children was women’s work, childbirth was a mystery shared only by the mother and the attending medical staff and the extent of intimacy between father and infant was an occasional diaper change or an emergency reading of “Dr. Spock.”
For second-generation children, the mothers are apt to be professional women, not homemakers. And Dad is more likely than not to be an active partner in the child-rearing, beginning with natural childbirth preparation classes.
Sometimes, said Dr. Patrick Bezdek, a psychiatrist who counsels a number of families in his practice in Century City, the middle-aged father wants a baby because he sees this as a chance “to do it over again and do it well.” More often, he suggested, “it’s the goading of the new, younger wife” who has not experienced parenthood.
Whichever, Bezdek said, “Studies indicate new children tend to bind families together, tend to be a plus” in sometimes complicated family restructuring where tensions among stepparents and step siblings may create conflict.
And, theorized Gottlieb, “This child gets all the goodies. The child has the potential to have the best of both worlds"--a father with wisdom and experience and a mother who is younger, energetic, likely to have only one child and who “sees this child as a special gift.”
Psychiatrist Gottlieb speaks from firsthand knowledge when he talks about the pluses and negatives for a child born of older parents. His mother was 38 when he was born and his father was 50. He remembers his father, who lived to be 94, saying, “If only I live to see you graduate from high school . . . if only I live to see you graduate from medical school. . . . “
“I think there are issues for a child having a parent whose age is out of sync with other parents,” Gottlieb said. “We’re seeing some of that,” in remarriage as well as delayed pregnancy situations, at the Family Therapy Institute.
He spoke of the “pleasure price” with the child--"I think there are differences in energy level. A 40-year-old father and a 60-year-old father have differences in what they are willing to encumber themselves with. A 55-year-old with a 10-year-old is not apt to be out on the football field.”
In addition, said Gottlieb, “One gets less readily hooked into the frivolities of life” as one gets older, “some of the good craziness. They’ve seen it all, done it all, know it all. There’s nothing worse than a parent who knows it all . . . and it gets worse when they know it all that much more.”
On the other hand, he said, emphasizing that all of this is “speculation,” “we make the argument that a couple shouldn’t have children until they’re really a couple. You don’t become a good three-person system until you’re a good two-person system, and this means a certain level of maturity.
“When you’re talking about kids of much older parents who have only recently gotten together, the potential reward of greater maturity I think tends to cancel out the one that says I can lean back in my easy chair and puff on my pipe and say, ‘Oh, yes, this too will pass.’ ”
Gottlieb theorizes that possible negatives for the child would be having a father “who substitutes observation for experiential activity,” an observer only, and a mother to whom the child is so special “they become an enmeshed dyad” and the child has no chance for autonomous growth.
Bezdek, who has a stepdaughter and a son of his own, said his “musings” would indicate that the father parents better with his second generation of children, is “not as macho, more comfortable, more experienced and more caring.”
When life expectancy is such that “when you’re 40 you’re still likely to have 30 years with your kids,” Bezdek said, “there are advantages to spacing your kids out.” In general, he noted, families are more affluent when Dad is middle-aged and many can afford housekeeping and nursing help.
Although the step family is “filled with pitfalls,” Bezdek said--among them the stepmother who is bent on being “the rescuer” and “the anger and hostility of step-sibs"--studies show that “more often than not step families are really corrective. They really help children get over the trauma” of their parents’ split.
It is not surprising, he said, that it is most frequently the new wife who wants a baby. The older men “have already had the experience of being a parent,” he said. “They’re well aware of the difficulties and strenuousness. Often they marry the younger woman because they want to feel free. He sees this romantic, exciting relationship and suddenly she wants to have a baby.
“Now he’s got aging parents, teen-age problems--and a baby.”
For many, though, he emphasized, “it’s a wonderful experience.” Said Bezdek, “Kids tend to have characteristics of both parents. If the first marriage was a mismatch your children are going to be mismatched to you also. If the second marriage is a good match, the kids will be better matched to you.”