Remember those capable, hands-on young dads on MTV’s Teen Mom? The teenager who stocked his own diaper bag? The barely twenty-something who took the baby for his immunizations? Of course you don’t. Because those guys weren't on the show. You’d have better luck finding Sasquatch sporting a Baby Bjorn on Teen Wolf.
It’s the older, wiser, calmer, fully formed men who make the best pops. And someone must have told them that later is greater, because the salt-and-pepper pop-ulation is thriving. However, some brand new information threatens to undermine them.
Earlier today, the journal Nature released a study with some disturbing findings: Men who become fathers later in life have a much higher risk of passing a genetic mutation off to their children, which may be contributing to disorders like autism and schizophrenia. According to the report, a man aged 29.7 at the time he fathered a child contributed an average of 63 new mutations to his offspring. A man aged 46.2 contributed 126 mutations. (It should be noted that the study’s sampling only included 78 families.)
This troubling research dovetails with an increase in men becoming dads later in life. Harry Fisch, board certified urologist and men’s health expert, wrote in his 2005 book The Male Biological Clock that the number of first-time fathers over 35 increased by 50 percent from 1970 to 1999, and the number of first-time fathers between the ages of 30 and 34 increased by 37 percent. (Men younger than 30 saw an 18 percent decline during that time period.) Women aren’t far behind: The only age group that showed an increase in birth rate in 2010 was women 40 to 44, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Does this small study portend a big change in this trend? That would be a shame, because older dads offer plenty of benefits. “Age brings with it emotional stability, psychological strength, wisdom, and financial security,” says Pasquale Patrizio, M.D., professor with the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Yale School of Medicine and director of the Yale Fertility Center.
Like many before him, the grey-templed dad will find himself dropped off on the Island of Misfit Parents, that icy, desolate expanse where we put all the non-traditional demographic quirks and pie chart slivers that are defective and unwanted. The cohabitating father (not as invested as married fathers, likely to see his family dissolve) as Charlie-in-the-Box. The stay-at-home dad (unmotivated, odd) as the cowboy who rides an ostrich. The lesbian mom (unfit to lead a Boy Scout troop) as the spotted elephant. The mother of the formula-fed newborn (lazy, ill-informed) as the red-haired dolly. They coexist, isolated together in the snowy bluster. And when they hear the shh-shh-shh of society's sleigh bells and see its glowing red nose, they may just pass us up on a ride. Who could blame them?