Fatherhood at 60

STAYING COOL Brad says the key to remaining close to his little pal will be to keep interested in what Parker enjoys.Photo: Jennifer Wilhelm Ford

I can’t believe it’s taken me 60 years to learn about WubbaNubs and Baby Einstein, things that are among my most valued possessions now.
WubbaNubs are pacifiers attached to a soft stuffed animal, an invention that every parent must wonder why they didn’t think of first, so they could retire to the Bahamas and hire a nanny.
Baby Einstein is a video series for children that mixes classical music and puppets that look like they are reaching out from the screen. It’s not only educational for kids and inoffensive to parents, but it attracts babies like zombies to breathing human flesh. And it doesn’t make you feel guilty for letting them watch or put their mouths on your computer screen.
These accessories have become indispensable to me, because at the age of 60—at the same time my friends are retiring and admiring their newborn grandchildren or great-grandchildren—I just had my first kid. A son named Parker. P-A-R-K-E-R. Yeah, a son, not a grandson.
That was one of my friends’ biggest concerns when I told them that I was having a baby with the love of my life. “What are you going to say when people think you’re a grandfather, not a father? Aren’t you worried about that?”
“Well, not really, but now that you mention it …”
There were, however, much bigger fears to fry. Like why does every magazine and publication on Earth provide horrendous statistics about the odds of older parents having defective children? Yeah, that was terrifying. And they all blame the father’s chromosomes, not the mother’s. Mine are, like, 40 years too old, they all said. Not a day of eight-plus months went by without that terror flashing through my head, even when the unintentional selfies Parker took in the womb made him look OK—but with too much of my nose. When he was born, I counted fingers and toes enough times to show my own defective math gene. I was sure I was missing one.
But normal he is, if having a little screeching thing that resembles an alien and possesses zero communication skills is normal.
Which brings up the next fear my friends voiced to this senior dad, that honestly never came to me on my own: “How are you going to have the energy to deal with a kid?”
If I’d known then that the Rolling Stones’ singer was going to be a new father at the age of 73, I would have just said: “Mick Jagger.”
Instead, I said: “I’ve bicycled 500 miles across the Midwest each of the last 19 summers. I’m not going to have trouble keeping up.”
But that was before I realized that having a kid means I’m not going to have a week to bicycle across the Midwest for about another 15 years. OK, that’s one on the negative side of the balance sheet, but less of a sacrifice than I would have guessed a year ago.
On the sheet’s plus side, you can insert every cliché you’ve ever heard or said about having a child or grandchild:
Yes, it very quickly became the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.
Yes, I’ve posted a never-ending parade of unbearably cute pictures all over my Facebook.
Yes, he’s the cutest kid in the world.
Yes, he’s given my life new meaning.
Yes, I’ve changed a few diapers, but really I’m not that good at it.
So, I don’t think about my age that much. I’m of a generation that proudly says 60 is the new 30 or 16 or whatever it is, and you’re only as old as you feel. I imagine I feel the same way a 20-year-old would, but with a bit more patience and the wisdom to know that there is no bigger priority than my son.
Unlike a 20-year-old, though, I have this sense that I have to work harder to stay alive longer. I can’t take some of the chances I might have taken in my youth, like running toward an active shooting scene or shouting down fascists, but I still eat croissants. Sorry. I do feel that dark at the end of the tunnel, and want to be able to be there for him. It’s a worry.
Did I mention Mick Jagger is 73?
And there’s the overwhelming positive side of the equation, which I don’t want to bore you with because if you’ve had a kid, you already know—something hormonal or spiritual or magical or delusional takes over and turns parents into nuts about their kids. I’ve seen it before. Now I am it.
I’ve learned two important things over the last 11 months that are contrary to what people told me. A conservative friend told me that having a baby would make me conservative. I’d probably vote for Trump, he predicted.
Hell, no. It’s done the opposite. I’m more liberal than ever, because I care even more about making the world better for future generations. Liberals were the ones who fought slavery, gave women the vote, passed equal rights amendments, want to control the mayhem of firearms everywhere, support environmental regulation, cleaned the air, cleaned the water, want to save National Parks.
The other important thing is my relationship with my partner Jennifer’s children, who feared I would love my own baby more than them. I can say honestly that isn’t true. I love Parker, but no more than them. That’s something I wouldn’t have realized if I hadn’t seen it for myself, but I’m so glad it’s true. Not a day goes by that I don’t appreciate, love and am fascinated by them, just as much as by their little brother.
Will I miss traveling and living a life of lazy luxury? I don’t know yet, but I don’t think so. We’ll find ways to do what’s important.
I was never that obsessed with having a kid. For most of my life other things took precedence, like my career, travel, friends. Frankly, I didn’t think the world was in such great shape for bringing new generations into. The worst science fiction is becoming fact: the oceans are dying; the climate is deteriorating; we are poisoning ourselves with bad food; the economy doesn’t favor average people.
But on meeting my mate and having a truly compatible relationship, I thought it could be the right time and person with whom to have a child. For about two years I considered it, but as I neared 60, I thought I was over it. Her kids were enough, and I’d have a good 10 years with them and then begin that spoiled retirement we all fantasize about, where I’d be like a kid myself, biking, traveling, doing what I want when I wanted.
And then one day at work I got the call from Jennifer, who said she had to tell me something later about her body, which sounded like she might have cancer. I was terrified, but she claimed it wasn’t something bad.
And thus began what Lou Reed once called the “greatest adventure,” guiding and helping and loving and looking endlessly at this new life form.
In some ways, he gives me great hope. If we can communicate with these little beings, maybe we can one day do the same with life forms from other planets. Parker is 11 months old now, and I still little clue what he thinks about, wants or understands. But some extra sense, the same thing that religious people must think reaches to them from God, connects him and me. I kind of know him, a bit.
I do worry about the age thing. I’ll be the oldest parent at his kindergarten, and at every class forever. But my friend Chris Jackson, the radio DJ on KFOX, gave me some good advice from a book he’s writing about treating your kid like a rock star. His parents were in their 40s when they had him, and he wasn’t bothered by their age so much as by the fact that they just weren’t cool. They were Sinatra fans who wouldn’t check out the rock he loved. They were set in their ways.
Jackson’s advice was to stay fluid, to listen to Parker and keep up mentally with what he likes. OK, I’ll do it. Unless he likes Kanye and the Kardashians, or whatever crap they come up with that’s worse than that. That would be a challenge.
At 11 months, I can make Parker smile, almost anytime, which is one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. No wonder new parents often think they can write a great children’s book or song or invent a baby product and bring it to Shark Tank.
These kids love everything we do, no matter how out-of-tune or shallow. I sing to him constantly, make dumb and obnoxious noises and get the most joyful, lilting laugh I’ve ever heard. Jerry Seinfeld isn’t this funny.
I live for that laugh. It’s the greatest sound I’ve ever heard. It’s changed my life’s goals. From here on out, all I want to do is keep this kid that happy.

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