Friday 13 December 2019

'My boys' friends think I'm their granddad'- Stephen Brennan on being a father to two young boys in his sixties

Like Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, Stephen Brennan is a father to two small children in his 60s. The actor tells Andrea Smith of the pros and cons of being an older father

Age old question: Stephen Brennan (60) is father to eight-year-old Dylan (left) and five-year-old Jamie (right). Photo: Fergal Phillips.
Age old question: Stephen Brennan (60) is father to eight-year-old Dylan (left) and five-year-old Jamie (right). Photo: Fergal Phillips.
Simon Cowell and baby Eric

Andrea Smith

'I'm the burper, walker and nappy changer, and I'm still trying to work out when I can get to sleep in between all that!" They could be the words of any exhausted new dad, but they came from veteran father Ronnie Woods, who is the proud dad of twin girls, Gracie Jane and Alice Rose, born on May 30. "I have played the guitar to them and when I get round to it I will do some drawings. At the moment I'm just soaking up every moment we have."

The twins are the Rolling Stone's fifth and sixth children, and the first for his wife Sally (38). The rocker already has son Jesse with first wife Krissy, daughter Leah and son Tyrone from his second marriage to Jo, and Jamie, Jo's son from a previous marriage, whom Ronnie adopted. The fact that Ronnie has become a dad again at 69 has raised eyebrows.

"I do accept this is a shock to some people and ridiculous to others, but these children are loved," his wife Sally protested in an interview with 'Hello!' magazine, in which the proud parents showed off the adorable babies for the first time. "There are other children being born to younger people who aren't loved. Which do you prefer?"

Stephen Brennan knows just how Ronnie feels. The Dublin-based actor turns 61 this year, and he is dad to Dylan (8) and Jamie (5), who are also his fifth and sixth children. Their mum is his partner, Dawn Bradfield, who is 14 years younger than Stephen, while his four adult children were born during his former marriage to 'Fair City' actress Martina Stanley.

Papa was a Rolling Stone: Ronnie Wood has become a dad again at the age of 69, with wife Sally (38).
Papa was a Rolling Stone: Ronnie Wood has become a dad again at the age of 69, with wife Sally (38).

Read more: 11 things no one admits about being a Dad

In what must be a fairly unusual scenario, Stephen has had a baby (or two) in each decade, with Sarah being born in the 1970s, Kate and Holly in the 80s, Johnny in the 90s, Dylan in the noughties, and Jamie in the 2010s.

"I was an early beginner and late finisher," says Stephen. "I was a very young and inexperienced father at 22, and you sometimes wonder how the first baby survives at all because you know so little about becoming parents. On the up side, you have a lot more energy, and I can tell you that having small children requires a great deal of energy.

"When you get older, you have a lot more experience, and you're better equipped to deal with any potential difficulties or dangers, but you're also a bit shagged out," he adds. "I've often said that having young children is a young man's game, but the great thing is that it's always a pleasure at any age."

Read more: David Coleman: As a father, my children are learning from my actions

Stephen says that being a dad at a later stage has kept him young, because he's a lot more active now than he would be if he wasn't running after two young boys. He also says that fatherhood, both early and late, is the best thing he's ever done, and doesn't think there is any perfect time to have children anyway, as parenthood at any stage doesn't really work on paper.

"I adore children and don't regret having a second family for a minute, but you have to realise that you're signing up to being a climbing frame, a footballer, a model-maker and a storyteller," he laughs.

"Generally speaking, children don't care what age you are - you're just their dad and you have to function as one. I know that a lot of my younger children's schoolmates would presume that I'm their grandfather, because I don't look like their own daddies."

Funnily enough, Stephen met Ronnie and Sally Wood last year when he was in a production of 'Juno and the Paycock' in Minneapolis. Ronnie came backstage to say hello and gave him a tip for a horse. I said to some of the boys that his wife was very young, and they said that when you're a Rolling Stone, different rules apply," he chuckles.

Stephen feels that parents are much more hands-on now when it comes to entertaining the kiddies, as when he was a child, he was sent out on the road to play with his pals and only returned home for meals. These days we organise 'play dates'.

"That means that muggins here is expected to be their 'mate' in the absence of a play date," he smiles. "If the weather is good, we go out to the back garden and play football or cricket or badminton.

"Look, every kid drives you mad on occasion, but I hope I've learned to be more patient and understanding," he says. "As a young man, I was out more and off working more and I wasn't around as much, but I've slowed down a bit now and can do their homework with them and stuff that I didn't really get to do so much with the older children."

Read more: 'I always dreamt that I'd walk down the street with my kid, and have people stop us and say, 'We had some great days with Dublin''

One of the lessons that Stephen has learned over the years is that being a parent at any stage is precious. This was brought home to him very sharply when his sister Barbara's son Emmet passed away aged eight during an asthma attack. "We never really took a day of life for granted after that," he says, sadly. And being a father to children of different ages makes life very interesting. While Dylan recently made his First Communion, his son Johnny is going into his last year of college. His daughter Kate is an actor and musician, while Holly is a graphic designer, and eldest daughter Sarah is expecting her second child next month. Stephen is thrilled to be granddad to her two-year-old daughter Ruby, whom he adores.

"I had a wonderful Father's Day on Sunday," he smiles. "The little fellas brought me up breakfast and cards in bed, and then in the evening, I got taken out for dinner by my grown-up children.

"I think having children is one of the greatest privileges you can have, and don't think that there's anything better you can do in life."

Read more: Dad of Ireland’s youngest quadruplets on juggling four toddlers at once: ‘Our mad house is a lot noisier than it was two years ago!’

Dad's army: The celebs who left it late

1. Comedian and actor Steve Martin (70) married writer Anne Stringfield (44) in 2007, and became a father for the first time aged 67. Despite intense curiosity, his daughter's name has never been revealed, although Steve joked that they were considering 'Conquistador.'

2. Hugh Grant (55) became a father for the first time aged 51, when Tinglan Hong gave birth to their daughter Tabitha. While his publicist deemed it a 'fleeting affair', he then had a son John Mungo in 2012 with Anna Eberstein. This was followed by a son, Felix Grant, again with Tinglan Hong in 2013, and an unnamed daughter with Anna Eberstein in 2015.

Simon Cowell and baby Eric

3. He seemed like the eternal bachelor, but music mogul Simon Cowell (56) surprised us all when he became a dad to baby Eric in February 2014 aged 54. His partner is Lauren Silverman (38), who also has a son from a previous marriage.

4. Singer-songwriter Elton John (69) married David Furnish (53) in 2014, nine years after their civil partnership. Elton was 63 when their son Zachary was born in 2010 and 66 when Elijah was born in 2013, and both were delivered via surrogacy.

5. 'Frasier' star Kelsey Grammer is 61 and a dad of six; his youngest son Gabriel was born in 2014. Age is not a problem, he says: "A lot of kids raised by men of a certain age have an advantage in terms of their study skills. There's a knock-on effect that makes them a little more equipped for life."

- Andrea Smith

Irish Independent

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