A middle-aged father of three hopes a new baby isn’t the catastrophe it appears to be.

I’ve discovered the feeling of new fatherhood at age 55. My wife and I already have three young kids. A fourth wasn’t planned. My wife, who is 10 years younger than me, is ecstatic. Children are priceless. There can never be too many. Except, maybe, when they’re yours. And when you’re the one pulling daytime duty. You see, my wife and I swapped work roles. She goes to an office. I’m a daytime dad (and a writer after hours). It leaves the new baby in my care all day.

Our three other children are wonderful and yet still a handful. They’re all under ten years old. They need help (or constant reminders) to do almost everything. On top of that, our second-oldest has special needs. I began to homeschool him this year. All to say, there isn’t a lot of time left over.

The Havens’ family before Lily

“I’m 55. Should I become a father again?” Silly question. Nope! And yet, by the time you wonder, “Is this a good idea?” it’s a moot point. You’re already on your way.

I say this in jest. Whether planned or unplanned, it’s our view that a baby is a miracle. Can I understand the feeling of overwhelm a little better after a fourth at my age? Definitely. Our first didn’t come with that feeling. I was already 47 at the time. Our lives were ready to accommodate. Our second child came with special needs. It was understandably overwhelming. Our third? Iris had to convince me our family wasn’t finished. She was right. Our daughter has blessed everyone.

This fourth child feels like something different. We’re already responsible for quite a bit. What’s ahead isn’t entirely clear. You can’t even really plan for it until it happens. Every parent’s challenge seems to be logistics, expressed as getting it all done. I would sum it up as time, money, and energy. They’re rare commodities, especially as you get older.

For a father who works out of the house, a new baby has less of a direct impact on his day. Of course, the father can do a lot to help his wife (whether on maternity leave or after). He can take over a midnight feeding by bottle, wash dishes, and entertain the other kids. And yet, the daytime care of a baby is something else. It’s both important and, at times, monotonous. This father will be doing the lion’s share of changing, feeding, holding, and consoling our new girl. I’m tired already. (I need middle-aged vitamins.)

Of course, many of us have been here before. We’ve had the next child and then the next. Parents know the feeling of impending doom over a new birth is largely an overreaction. Time is elastic. Your first child felt like a seismic explosion in your world. Your life was over. You couldn’t go where you wanted. What about nap time? You couldn’t let your guard down. What if your child stopped breathing during the nap? You’d better go check.

And yet, your schedule doesn’t get much worse when a second (and then a third) child comes along. It’s more work, but you don’t see a doubling or tripling of responsibilities; more like time-and-a-half. There’s another round of sleepless nights, then diaper training. Childcare became an assembly line of sorts. Instead of making one meal, you make more.

Being a new father is always doable. Would anyone want to do it at this age on purpose? It’s a pointed question when you’re on the daytime shift; even then, the bulk of the hands-on work is finished by age three when your child enters preschool, followed by all-day kindergarten. The consideration for a middle-aged person is the way time grows more valuable. Over a father in his 20s, a man in his 50s is aware that he has fewer days. Of course, your child is worth the three years it takes to raise her to preschool age, even if you feel the years more acutely.

Our daughter won’t worry about the circumstances of her arrival. (Does any of us care about how our parents felt when we were born?) Her coming into the world is about her, not me. A good parent is selfless. Getting used to the surprise is the process I go through.

I’ve gotten the question indirectly. “Another kid? What you were thinking? Don’t you know how this works?” Needless to say, an outlier situation involves a perfect storm of factors; another way to say, “believe me, I know. It wasn’t supposed to happen at age 55.”

Truthfully, I set myself up for having a fourth child late after starting fatherhood late. I was 47 when I become a father for the first time. If I had started when I was 37, this fourth child might’ve come at 45, which is a much more normal age these days.

Having a family was not a goal of mine, let alone having a big family by today’s standards. Instead, I followed the trend of career-oriented people who put achievement first. I didn’t travel the world for pleasure. I didn’t try to own a home. I didn’t look to start a family. You could say I was a product of a competitive generation, trying to earn my place in the world before committing myself to raising someone else.

Did I achieve my career goals? Almost. Foregoing the spoils of adulthood for my career didn’t lead to the fulfillment I sought. What I gained wasn’t a material success but life experience at whatever value that conveys. Do I have buyer’s remorse? Probably not. Would I do things differently? (Probably.)

The value we place on our children follows how we value our own lives. I bought into our conventional wisdom that said, find yourself in your 20s, get married in your 30s, and then have children, reluctantly. It seemed a wise path. Why rush into lifelong commitments before you figured out who you were and what you wanted? Instead, you should discover your strengths and true passions, then carefully create commitments based on them. You would end up happy.

There is a lot wrong with conventional wisdom. Anyone who has tried to follow it can tell you, you never really learn enough about yourself to make informed decisions. Even if you tread carefully on the major decisions, you’re always making up life as you go. The goals you’re willing to sacrifice for can stay unfulfilled, whereas other opportunities you never considered become available. Life is an improvisation. The best you can be as adaptable.

It leads me to think about a very different generation from my own, Gen X. My grandparents were part of what was termed the Greatest Generation because of their stoic sacrifice in World War II. My grandparents didn’t take a careful look at their options. They built life fast and got married as teenagers. They had children right away. My grandparents’ worldview was forever shaped by growing up in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Financial security and social conservatism were their goals.

An expensive, extended process like college wasn’t realistic when you had bills to pay. Instead, my grandparents went into government work, the most stable job around. They spent their 20s and 30s meeting their mortgage payment. Reaching their 40s, they were able to go on a cruise twice a year. It wasn’t until their golden years that they took up hobbies to find themselves as my generation did as twenty-somethings. It was a casual pursuit. They didn’t need answers by then.

When my grandmother turned 55, I was in 6th grade. “It’s like the speed limit!” I said on a phone call to wish her a happy birthday. Now, I’m 55. My oldest son is in 3rd grade.

My grandmother was finished having her two children by her early 20s. Likely, she wanted more kids but was overruled by my grandfather, a solitary man. Many theorized that my warm, funny grandmother would have preferred a do-over on her husband. In the days of the Great Depression, you evaluated a spouse as a survival partner over a romantic one. My grandfather was responsible and hardworking. He fit the criteria.

The predicament of having a child in middle age was foreign to my grandmother’s generation. I imagine the advice she would have given me. Considering her austere upbringing, guided by years of hard work and personal sacrifice, my grandmother would have likely said, be pleased to hold another baby. Another thing she told me, she was always right. And she usually was.

This post first appeared at I Can Count to Four.

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