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 "Oldermen, Older Sperm and Fatherhood"

Mens Health > Sperm > Fatherhood in Older Men

Oldermen Have Troubles

When James Stevens looks back on his life, a dark cloud of regret obscures what should have been some of his happiest moments. Stevens married his high school sweetheart in 1966 before either of them was old enough to buy beer. Together they had a ticklish baby girl with curly blonde hair.

She was barely mumbling her first words when Stevens wife found out she was pregnant for the second time. He remembers hearing the news just before walking out the door to work. He almost didn't come back.

"I had everything in the world and didn't even know it," Stevens says, his voice steadily dropping. "But I was scared to death. I just didn't understand how everything could have changed so fast."

The tug of war between work and home soon began. Stevens was forced to put in upward of 60 hours a week just to keep his growing family out of the quicksand of house, car and loan payments, not to mention credit card bills, medical bills and so on. Until the divorce nine years later, he would spend less and less time at home, missing many fatherhood milestones along the way.

"I hardly remember anything about them growing up," he says. "My kids pretty much grew up without a father and that's something I'll always regret."

His memories of those days survive in dusty photo albums made by his ex-wife. Images frozen in time, these Polaroids show birthday parties he couldn't attend and first puppies he didn't help name.

"I wish I could do it over," Stevens says. "Unfortunately, what's done is done. I just have to try not to make the same mistakes again."

At 59, Stevens was given a second chance at fatherhood. Eight years ago, while visiting some friends in Atlanta, he met the "woman of his dreams." Five years later, they married.

Two years ago, Steven's second wife, Joyce, gave birth to a baby boy.

"It was the happiest day of my life," he says as though passing out cigars in a hospital waiting room. "I've learned from my mistakes. I'm living proof that everybody deserves a second chance, even at my age."

Stevens isn't alone. He joins the ranks of such famous older papas as David Letterman, Tony Randall, Larry King, Woody Allen and even Hollywood bad boy Jack Nicholson. Stevens may be part of a trend, where an increasing number of men are becoming later-in-life dads.

While the majority of children are still being born to men aged 20-34, a National Vital Statistics Report shows that between 1980 and 2002, the birthrate among fathers aged 40 to 44 increased 32 percent and for fathers aged 45 to 49 it increased 21 percent. For men 50 to 54, the increase was 9 percent. A variety of reasons can be attributed to this steady increase, experts agree, but one might come as a shock to men.

When it comes to making babies, women aren't the only ones who can hear their bodies going tick... tick... tick... tick.

"I don't want to scare anyone out there, but men have biological clocks, too," says Jed Diamond, executive director for MenAlive, a California-based research and information group. "These are not feelings shared only among women. Men, as it was once believed, cannot have kids forever. With each passing year, it becomes more and more difficult. So, like women, men's bodies are working against them."

Dr. Cecil Long, director of infertility services for Birmingham's Assisted Reproductive Technology, explains the inner workings of the male and female biological clocks. While women are born with all the eggs they're ever going to have, men's sperm count continues to decrease as they age.

"We start to see a decreased pregnancy rate for women around 35," he says. "They begin to drift downward as early as 27, but the huge drop off comes at 35."

"We used to think that men were immune to these problems," he says. "Men are continuously regenerating sperm every 72 days, so logic once dictated that men, as long as they were regenerating sperm, could continue to have children."

Not so fast, quick draw.

Long says that while men can potentially conceive children well into their 70s, there's evidence that advancing age can effect their DNA. Recent studies by the Centers for Disease Control show an association between increased paternal age and genetic diseases. Furthermore, studies show that 2 percent of children born to men 50 and older will have schizophrenia, three times higher than children born to fathers in their early 20s.

"We are finding out that there can be some difficulties that arise later in a man's life, starting around 42 to 45 years old," he says. "There is a decrease in sperm production and an increased risk of congenital abnormalities and mental defects. While this is a concern it is far from concrete and definite. Most older fathers will have perfectly healthy, normal children."

Like James Stevens, many fathers find it difficult to walk the tightrope that dangles between work and family. While trying to provide all the necessities of a happy and healthy home for their children, fathers too often miss out on the special moments. It's as if their children go from crawling across the carpet to walking down the aisle in the blink of an eye.

For older fathers, having children is a second chance to recapture what had been lost.

"Instead of a mid-life crisis, some men have a mid-life awakening," Long says. "That's when they realize that there's more to life than just work and career. They want to feel that connection that can only exist between father and child."

But there are still concerns.

Stevens says he started to feel the old feelings of distress when his second wife started talking about children.

"At first, I started worrying - like I would fail all over again," he says. "But we talked about it and prayed about it and talked about it some more. Then finally, I realized that it was something I wanted to do."

It's a sensation Mack Gillam understands all too well. At 58 years old, Gillam is raising a 7-year-old son with his second wife and absorbing every minute of it.

"You appreciate the milestones in their life more," says Gillam, who also has a 34-year-old son and a 25-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. "Before, I was too involved in myself, my career, my profession, and I missed out on so much. Now, I collect all those first-time memories."

When Gillam married his second wife, the couple soon began discussing having children of their own. Now, he understands the simple value of being there and believes his age brings with it certain wisdom.

"I think, being a little older, I'll have a greater perspective on what's really important in life and what's trivial," he says. "It's important to hug, to say, I love you to be there and to be supportive no matter what else has to be put on hold. When I was 30, there was always something else going on in my life that I'd rather have been doing. But today, I appreciate this for the miracle it is."

Paul Ellis - Mens Health

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