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An old dad’s baggage

PENN JILLETTE, the louder, bigger half of the magic/comedy team of Penn & Teller, is author of the novel "Sock."

I’M 51 YEARS OLD. My daughter, Moxie, just had her first birthday, and my son, Zolten, was born a few weeks ago. This is my first marriage, and these are my only kids. I started late. Way late. When Moxie is my age, I’ll be 102 years old, and I’m sure we all will have flying cars, world peace and an even cooler song for 12-year-old boys than “Stairway to Heaven.”

It’s not natural to have one’s first kid this late in life. My body wanted to reproduce when I was 15. My body, really, really wanted to reproduce when I was 15. It took a lot of civilization, socialization, willpower and some emulsion polymerization technology for me not to reproduce at 15.

Two years ago, it took much more technology for us to get started reproducing. Moxie was a test-tube baby. My wife, Emily, was 39 when Moxie was born. The ticking clock was deafening, and even though “trying naturally” was a blast, we turned to science for Moxie. After that kick-start we conceived Zolten naturally -- four months after Moxie was born. Naturally is cheaper and way more fun than in-vitro fertilization. But with IVF we did get to sing old Velvet Underground tunes together while I used a real hypodermic needle to give Emily her hormone shots.

Lots of people are having kids later. We’re living longer, and now that we have electric lights, there’s other stuff to do at night. A lot of older parents worry about being older parents. I hear people say, “I don’t want to be too old to play baseball with my son.” They worry that their kids will be embarrassed by their parents’ age.

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I worry about that less because I grew up with older parents. My parents were the best parents in the world, and they were old. They were older for the 1950s than I am for the noughts. My mom was 45 years old when I was born. My dad was a couple of years younger. My only sibling, a sister, was 23 years old when I was born. Now that I think about it, I might not have been planned. After Jack Nicholson found out that his sister was really his mom, I thought I might have a similar surprise coming, but I’ve seen pre-Photoshop pictures of my mom in the maternity ward, and my sister has given me her Girl Scout’s honor. I had older parents.

My dad didn’t play much baseball with me, but age had nothing to do with it. My whole family is missing that sports gene. I hope I didn’t screw that up by marrying a great golfer. If I did, I can teach Moxie and Zolten to juggle. The other kids in grade school did ask why I spent so much time with my grandparents, and I guess that embarrassed me a little, but there was never any trauma. I just told them they were my mom and dad.

My parents were always proud of me, and I was proud of them. It always seemed to me that my mom and dad didn’t have any problems other than my problems. They loved me, and they loved each other. It seemed they had gotten all the arguments out of their system before I came along. They never raised their voices to one another except in jest. They weren’t worried about their jobs or money. As a matter of fact, they seemed to worry about nothing but me and my sister.

There was one big downside to my parents’ age. They both died when I was 45. I was with my mom and dad for about half of their lives. Because they were old when they had me, and I was old when I had Moxie and Zolten, my parents will never meet my kids and, even as I type this, it makes me cry. There won’t be a year of my life where I send and receive a Father’s Day card. That’s a big downside.

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On the upside, I hope I’ve learned something from being alive this long that will make me a better dad. Moxie and Zolten will be asked if I’m their grandfather, but that’ll be the least of their embarrassments. They’ll also have a dad with a stupid beard and hair down his back talking atheism at the PTA meeting. If they say the name of their dad’s TV show in school, they’ll be punished.

They’ll have a dad who’s a Las Vegas magician, and that’s embarrassing whatever age he is.

I better buy them two ponies each.


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