There’s been much hype in the news lately, and over the past couple of years, about dads having children later in life. They call it a trend; they call it a medical danger; they call it a celebrity status symbol. Whatever the world may call it, the same thing lies at the heart of an older dad as in any other dad: the bond with his child.
Here at Disney Dads, we saw those reports and wondered if having older fathers meant anything special to their children. We decided to interview some children of older dads to see what insights they could offer on the subject.
Bea is 15. Her father is 65. Her time is split between her mother’s house and her father’s house, and has been for over half of her life. While it’s hard for a child, young or adult, to think qualitatively about her own parent, we tried to get a sense of what her dad’s age means to her.
“One thing about my dad, one quality about him that I feel might have something to do with his age,” began Bea, “is his judgement. I mean, the way he makes big decisions and small decisions. The way he makes decisions is based on such a huge number of experiences he’s had. “For example, I’ve been really wanting to study abroad. It’s a big decision that will impact my life in the long run. When I asked my dad if he thought I should go abroad, he thought about it for a long time and he came to the conclusion that it would be really constructive, and important for me to see how other cultures work and stuff. Another dad might have said no, because it seems like the first instinct many parents have is to shelter their child.
I feel like my dad is less cautious than other parents in that way. I feel like since he’s had a long history of life experiences, he understands more about how the world works. He wants me to do stuff and experience stuff myself. He also knows me well enough to evaluate my own abilities and judgment.
“He tells me lots of stories about lots of different things, but I would say my favorites are hearing about crazy adventures he went on with his friends, like road trips, or when they didn’t have any money and had to survive on oatmeal for three months. Or when Janis Joplin fell asleep on his bed and he came home and found her there. Or when he had an apartment above all these actors that are now famous movie stars when he lived and worked in Hollywood.
“He has such a rounded perspective. He’s had joe jobs, like as a bartender, and a ball boy, when he didn’t have enough money yet to support himself as a writer.”
We then asked her to tell us more about the kinds of stories her dad tells her. “Basically I think he’s like a portal into the past because he was, like, at Woodstock and met a lot of musical prodigies that are legends now, pretty much, so now that kind of gives me a deep appreciation for these kinds of things, you know? Like, now I really love rock and classic rock, which got me into playing guitar. I’m proud to learn Zeppelin and Hendrix riffs while most other girls who are on guitar spend hours learning Taylor Swift and other teen folk heartthrob whining. I think my dad really respects my taste in music and sometimes I feel like I’m somehow carrying on a family tradition.
“When I ask him about, let’s say for example, the Rolling Stones, he has real stories to tell me; he doesn’t just know the music. It gives me a much more rounded understanding of things, [because] I can ask him about almost anything and then I can really understand because of all his stories. I can get a sense first-hand about what people’s values were like, what his parents allowed him to do, or what they didn’t. It gives me more perspective on today’s standards of parenting and other stuff [since] he can tell me first-hand stories from his childhood 60 years ago.”
We asked if she had heard those same stories from someone else besides her dad, would they have the same impact?
“It’s not just a matter of hearing the stories. If I were hearing the same stories from my grandparents, they wouldn’t have the same impact. Grandparents’ generations are always one generation removed from yours, so, like, everything feels much more distant and like rambling. The stories wouldn’t become part of my culture like they do when I hear them from my dad. You could say that my dad is a generation removed from other kids my age, but he isn’t a generation removed from me. So my connection to earlier times is a more direct connection, I think.”
Since the subject of grandparents came up, we asked Bea if she’d had a chance to know her paternal grandparents, she said they had both passed away: Her paternal grandfather died before she was born, and her maternal grandmother died when she was a baby. “I feel it’s a shame that I didn’t spend very much time with my dad’s parents. But even though they’re not here, my dad also is sort of a bridge to their generation. The stories and the access to history [I have because of my dad] stretches even further back because he has first-hand memories of the stories they used to tell him as a boy.”
We asked Bea how her dad’s age affected her relationships with other people in his family.
“In some ways it’s kind of like a time warp. My first cousins on his side are 40ish. When I’m around them, I feel I can almost get a glimpse at what I’ll be like when I’m older. They have kids of their own, and their kids are my age. For me, it’s kind of like staying back in time. I’m not in the same time as my first cousins, and yet, when we’re all together, I feel I’m at the level of my cousins [in terms of age] and not their kids, even though their kids are the same age as me. It makes me feel like I’m a 40-year-old who got held back.
“What makes me feel even older, I guess, is when my 40-year-old cousins call my dad “Uncle Marcus,” but it shows me that throughout a person’s life, there are so many sub-lives, kind of. Like, with each new major shift that occurs within your personal timeline, you pretty much start a whole new life, like how you start a new life when you move away from home, or when you get married. I feel like my dad had a ton of those. He has lived a lot of different places, with different people, different jobs and stuff. When he’s around his nieces and nephews, it accesses parts of those past lives, when he was just known as “Uncle Marcus.” I guess it’s kind of weird. They know him differently than [I do] and vice-versa. He isn’t just “Uncle Marcus” anymore: now he’s also ‘Daddy’.”
Illustration by Juliane Hiam