Making Fatherhood An Insider's Game: Becoming A Dad, Again, At 49 | St. Louis Public Radio

Making Fatherhood An Insider's Game: Becoming A Dad, Again, At 49

Sep 8, 2014
Originally published on September 9, 2014 8:12 am

Meet Dale Conour, a strapping, athletic man of 52. At midday, he's at home eating lunch with his son, Quinn, who is 2 1/2. Half of the living room of their San Francisco apartment is clearly Quinn's territory, filled with building blocks, a tepee and a train set.

Conour, a brand strategist and former magazine editor, is currently between jobs — which frees him up for afternoons like this with Quinn.

Conour has two other sons in their 20s from his first marriage, which ended in divorce. His second wife is 13 years younger than he is, and when she decided she wanted children, Conour says he was ready, too.

"Parenting is a humbling experience no matter how many times you've done it," Conour says as he watches his son play.

Overall, there's a slight but steady trend of American men becoming fathers later in life. One group is men who become first-time fathers in their 40s. In another group are the guys like Conour, who "re-father," or have a second family in their 50s.

While Conour knew he was ready to be a dad again, his friends weren't so sure.

"I was telling them I was getting back in it, and they were just like, 'What, are you crazy? You got in, you got out and now you're going back in?!' "

Decades Later, A New Sense Of Perspective

Conour uses those phrases — "back in it again," "jumping in again" — a lot. It's as if fatherhood, for him, is an insider's game he knows well: diaper-changing and lack of sleep in the early years; then, later, the self-doubt many parents feel as their kids grow.

Conour's seen it, and he knows how different he is as a father in his 50s from the father he was in his 20s.

As a young adult, he says, you have "so much going on, and you're trying to figure out life, and what you're all about, and what's coming next, and how am I going to build my career, and I've got to take care of this kid — and yes, I think it gets much easier as you get older just to slow down time and appreciate what you have, right here and right now."

Not much has been written about American dads who "re-father" when older. Back in 1995, Martin Carnoy, a professor of education economics at Stanford University, and his son David wrote a book that examined the subject: Fathers of a Certain Age. In it, they examined the joys and problems of middle-aged dads.

"In most cases, they ... start new families in order to satisfy the desires of their younger wives," Carnoy says. "In general, we found that they do so with trepidation."

That was the case for Carnoy. He and his adult sons had to work through hard feelings after he decided to start a new family with his second wife. His sons worried they were losing what was left of their original family, Carnoy says.

'This Is The Time That Matters'

But it's not just the older kids who are worried in these situations. Children from the second marriage have concerns of their own. His survey revealed that those kids said they spent more time with, and had stronger relationships with, their older dads than their peers did with their younger fathers — but that came at a price, Carnoy says.

They all had fears about the age of their dads, Carnoy says. "They usually counted ... 'when I'm 30, how old will my father be? Ohhh, he's going to be really old! Is he going to be around?' " Carnoy explains. "That's the great fear."

Back in San Franscisco, Quinn Conour, giggling as he jumps around the living room, is too young to know that fear. And his dad doesn't dwell on it much, either.

"I don't think you can get too caught up in that sort of thing — like what's the future all about and what does it mean going forward as an older father?' " Dale Conour says. "I think you do have to stop and say, 'This is the time that matters, right now.' "

Still, a skeptic might wonder, is late fatherhood a self-indulgence?

Conour, for one, isn't buying it.

"I mean — it's hard being a parent, you know?" he says. "It takes a lot of work! It's not a luxury."

And for Dale Conour, it doesn't appear to be much of a labor, either.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It's time, now, to hear about men.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Supposedly we're less sensitive to the needs of others, more...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Brutish?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Well, more hit over the head with a club.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Men have a lot of power and authority. And their words hold more weight than a woman's.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Male privilege? That's a whole other ball of wax.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Geez. It seems like there's a lot of pressure on men.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: There's a lot of so-called men that don't take care of their kids, that don't work. I mean, you've got to be a provider if you're going to be a man - I mean, even if you're not with the wife.

SIEGEL: For the past few months, we've been reporting on the changing roles of men in the home and on the job and what their expectations are, what their lives are like. Our series wraps up this week with a look at older men. And today, we hear about men who father children later in life. NPR's Richard Gonzales has the story.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: Meet Dale Conour, a strapping, athletic man, 52 years old. And at midday, he's eating lunch with his two-and-a-half-year-old son, Quinn.

QUINN: (Laughter). That was funny. That was pretty funny.

DALE CONOUR: I know, you grabbed it. Are you a little lion?

GONZALES: Conour is a brand strategist and a former magazine editor currently between jobs. That frees him up for afternoons like this one, alone with Quinn. One half of the living room of their San Francisco apartment is clearly Quinn's territory - building blocks, a teepee and a train set. As he watches his young son play, Conour nods his head.

CONOUR: Parenting is a humbling experience, no matter how many times you've done it.

GONZALES: Conour's first marriage ended in divorce, and his two sons from that union are in their 20s. His second wife is 13 years younger than he is. When she decided she wanted children, Conour says he was ready too. But his friends weren't so sure.

CONOUR: I was telling them I was getting - you know, getting back in it again. And they were just like, what? Are you crazy? You got in and - you got out, and now you're going back in?

GONZALES: Conour uses that phrase a lot - back in it again, jumping in again. It's as if fatherhood for him is an insiders' game he knows well - diaper changing and lack of sleep in the early years. Then later, the self-doubt many parents feel as their kids grow. Connor's seen it, and he knows how different he is as a father in his 50s than the father he was in his 20s.

CONOUR: You're younger as an adult. And, like, there's so much going on. And you're trying to figure out life and what you're all about and, you know, what's coming next and how am I going to build my career. And how am I going to - you know - and I've got to take care of this kid. And yes, you know, and I think it gets much easier, as you get older, just to slow down time and appreciate what you have, you know, right here and right now.

QUINN: (Babbling).

GONZALES: Overall, there's a slight but steady trend of American men becoming fathers later in life. One group is men who become first-time fathers in their 40s. In another group are the guys like Conour, who re-father. They have a second family in their 50s.

MARTIN CARNOY: I'm Martin Carnoy. I'm a professor at Stanford University, of education economics. About 20 years ago, I wrote a book with my son called "Fathers Of A Certain Age."

GONZALES: Martin Carnoy and his son David wrote about the joys and problems of middle-aged fathers. Not much has been written on this group. Still, here's what the Carnoys found about older dads in their 50s.

CARNOY: In most cases, they have started new families in order to satisfy the desires of their younger wives. In general, we found they do so with some trepidation.

GONZALES: That was the case for Carnoy. He and his adult sons had worked through their hard feelings after he decided to start a new family with his second wife. He says his sons were worried they were losing what was left of their original family. But it's not just the older kids who are worried. Children from the second marriage have concerns of their own. Carnoy's survey showed those kids reported spending more time and having stronger relationships with their older dads than their peers did with their younger fathers. But it came at a price, says Carnoy.

CARNOY: They all have fears about the age of their fathers. They usually counted, how old will I be - when I'm 30, how old is my father going to be? Oh, he's going to be really old. (Laughter). Is he going to be around? I mean, that's a great fear.

QUINN: Lift me up.

CONOUR: Lift you up? I don't know if I can. You're too heavy.

QUINN: (Laughter).

GONZALES: Two-year-old Quinn Conour, who giggles as he jumps around the room, is too young to know that fear. And his dad Dale doesn't dwell on it much, either.

CONOUR: I don't think you can get too caught up in that sort of thing. Like - what's the future all about, and what does it mean? - kind of going forward as an older father. I think you do have to stop and say, you know, this is - this is the time that matters, right now.

GONZALES: Still, a skeptic might wonder, is late fatherhood a self-indulgence? Conour's not buying it.

CONOUR: I mean, I think, you know, it's hard being a parent. It takes a lot of work. It's not a luxury.

GONZALES: And for Dale Conour, it doesn't appear to be much of a labor either. Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.