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I became a father at the age of 53
Published: November 27, 2015
I became a father at the age of 53. If you’d told me this would happen twenty years, ten years, even five years earlier, I wouldn’t have believed you. Parenthood was something I’d always thought about, but it was never for me. Why? Because, until 2005, gay couples couldn’t adopt. It took a change in the law, and a change in social attitudes, to turn a vague desire into a concrete intention. These things don’t happen overnight – especially when you’ve grown up in a world that thinks you’re a second-class citizen, not fit to have a family, a threat to children.
The great strides towards equality that happened in the 90s and 00s opened a lot of people’s eyes to the potential of gay people as parents, mine included. When I told my mother (then in her late 80s) that my husband and I were planning to adopt, she was delighted, and became our biggest supporter. Family, friends and neighbours all accepted us without question. We knew that with their support, we could do it, and so we put thought into action and set about finding an agency.
Fast forward eighteen months, and we became fathers to a three year old boy. My husband took six months’ adoption leave, while I took a career break. As older parents, we were in the fortunate position of being financially secure enough to do this; twenty years earlier, we were both working our socks off to pay the mortgage. I think, perhaps, we were also better equipped to deal with some of the challenges that looked-after children bring with them. We’d both been around the block, lived through hard times, experienced loss and separation and many of the questions of identity that are key issues in adoption. My understanding of the world is very different now I’m in my fifties from what it was when I was in my twenties or thirties. I’ve had my fun, had a couple of successful careers, forged friendships that have lasted all through my adult life. I’ve seen children born, grow up, get married and have kids of their own. I wonder whether the younger me would have been able to summon the patience and empathy I need every hour of every day.
Of course there are challenges to being an older parent. I’m very conscious of the clock ticking; by the time my son is 30, I will be 80, and my usefulness as a parent will be nearing its end. I won’t have as much time with him as I’d like, and for that reason only I wish I’d done this a lot earlier. But then, he – that individual person whom I love – would not have been my son. I feel, sometimes, that we were waiting for each other.
You need a lot of stamina, both emotionally and physically, to parent an adopted child. I’ve always looked after myself – at least, since I scaled down on the partying when I turned 30 – and I’m fitter now than I was as a young man. I can pick him up, carry him on my shoulders and chuck him around in the park as well as any other parent. My knees creak a bit, but that’s all. I take care of what I eat and drink, and I go to the gym regularly when he’s at school; this is a job that requires training.
Once or twice we’ve had the inevitable remarks in school or playground – variations on ‘Is he your grandson?’ and ‘Where’s his mother?’. For all of these, I have standard answers (which are polite ways of saying ‘mind your own business’) – and, more importantly, I make sure my son can respond with confidence and pride. He knows his Dad is old, and he often teases me about being bald. I’m much, much older than his birth parents, even his birth grandparents, but it doesn’t matter to him any more than having two fathers matters. Children don’t care about age, ethnicity, gender or sexuality, as long as they know they can trust you.
If you’re middle-aged, and thinking about becoming a parent, then emphasise the positives rather than the negatives. There is no upper age limit for adoption; we were told a load of old wives’ tales about the ‘required’ age gap between parent and child, and how we’d only be considered for children over the age of ten, or whatever. This turned out to be nonsense. What matters is the quality of parenting that you can offer; age and experience make you more capable, not less. Having a child has made me feel young again in a way I never expected. It gave my mother, in the last years of her life, great happiness. It has connected me to society in a wholly different and challenging way. I have embarked on the greatest adventure of my life at a time when many of my peers are thinking about retirement and grandchildren. Yes, I’ve come late to the party, but I’m glad I made it.