Monday 16 September 2019

Tanya Sweeney: 'Are dads better fathers when they're oul fellas?'

Ross Kemp with his twins Kitty and Ava who were born two years ago when he was 53
Ross Kemp with his twins Kitty and Ava who were born two years ago when he was 53

Tanya Sweeney

In his 30s, Ross Kemp (55) was hanging out in war zones, with deadly gangs and searching for pirates in the name of investigative journalism.

Oh, and brooding away as only he could behind the bar of the Queen Vic in EastEnders. Yet earlier this week, he admitted he would have liked to start his parenthood journey then as opposed to in his 40s.

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Becoming a dad at 48, Kemp has a son (8) with ex-partner Nicola Coleman and three children, Leo (4), Kitty and Ava (both 2) with wife Renee O'Brien.

"I'm very happy I've got my children and wouldn't have it any other way. I could have done it about a decade earlier though - I should've done. I was old, I was in my 40s. I was quite selfish before, in terms of you put yourself first, you look at what's going to be best for you and that totally goes out the window when you have children. You put your children way in front of everything you do," he reflected.

Kemp then added: "You don't earn money for you so you can buy yourself a nice car or live in a big house, you make money so you can guarantee your children a better life, a safe life, a secure life."

Let's not get into the myriad ways in which a similarly aged woman would be treated if she had made a similar admission. Like some sort of freakish, irresponsible or selfish idiot is my reckoning. Janet Jackson had her first child at 50; George Clooney at 56. Guess which one we've heard more public opprobrium over?

READ MORE: Tanya Sweeney: 'Having a baby makes the wound of grief open afresh'

In any case, Kemp's comments are notable, upending as it does the stereotype that most men are happy to put parenthood off for as long as possible. A more uncharitable angle on this is that most men of a similar age are commitment-phobes; happy to keep playing the field because biology, and culture, tells them that they can.

Yet is there a grain of truth in this? Ask any woman in her 30s, or even 40s, who has braved online dating in the past 10 years and she's likely to tell you many of the men she encounters haven't thought about parenthood quite as urgently as she has. I know this was certainly my experience: most of the men I met in their late 30s were looking to date 25-year-olds.

Hugh Grant, who called Boris Johnson an ‘over-promoted rubber bath toy’ on Twitter (Victoria Jones/PA)

We have long established that the average age of new dads is on the rise closer to home. Central Statistics Office figures show the number of first-time dads in their 40s rose sharply in the past decade, with 12pc of new fathers in 2007 to 17pc in 2017.

Like women, it seems many Irish men are postponing having children until they are more financially stable, and in a better place, both mentally and geographically. In the current social and political climate, getting to any of those stages seems to take much longer than before.

Where my father had three kids under eight years old at 35, many of his latter-day counterparts are part of the 'kidult' generation: still saving for house deposits while living at home, travelling the world and letting the good times roll. Thirty- five, or even 45, isn't what it once was for men and women alike.

Do older men make for better dads? Many of them have waited for the moment to feel right (or as right as it's likely to feel). In a neat coincidence, my own partner became a first-time dad earlier this year in his late 40s.

I suspect if you'd checked in with him a decade previous, he'd have been happy to keep travelling, partying and going back to college. Yet by now, he has ticked off several of life's milestones and settled into his skin. He's patient, happy to stay in of an evening, can cook, and is sure-footed enough to take the vagaries of parenting on the chin.

He's wise enough to look on it as a gift, rather than a burdensome duty. Best of all, he can count on the advice (and baby stuff) of his pals, many of whom have gone before him.

Start doing the maths and it does look a little unnerving: he'll be in his 60s at his daughter's graduation from school; nearing 70 as she enters the workforce. There are probably a number of ramifications - social, financial - tied up in this that we will encounter down the line.

Jeff Goldblum became a father at 60

But Jeff Goldblum, who became a dad in his 60s, probably put it best: "I keep doing the math, and keep extrapolating where they're going to be, and where I'm going to be. And when I buy a watch, I wonder who's going to get it."

Irish Independent

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