They call themselves Dinosaur Dads—four men who are “older” (past 45) with very young children. Sandy Purdon is 56 with a 17-month-old daughter (his first child). Bob Copeland is 58, and his son Zachary is 4. Jim Reynolds is 51 and has a 5-year-old. Ned Chambers is the kid in the quartet—he’s only 48, with a 5- and a 2-year-old.
They concocted the idea of Dinosaur Dads around a chili pot, competing as a team at a cookoff. In an effort to make their group stand out, they searched for something they all had in common. “Well, we’re all older dads of young kids,” said one. “We’re Dinosaur Dads.”
“It began as a fun thing,” says Chambers, a family practice physician from Point Loma. “We wore diapers on our heads and used pacifiers to dip into the chili for the tasting. When we won ‘people’s choice,’ we realized we were a unique population, so we thought of starting a Web site, designing a logo. We joked that we could get sponsors like Geritol, Depends and Viagra.”
Not such a unique population, it turns out. Actually, almost a trend. And for good reason. Now, with two-income families and women working, there are more divorces and remarriages at midlife. Men who have devoted their younger lives to careers now begin again in their 40s and 50s, often with younger women. It’s a pattern in all major cities—women, married to older men, having a first child at 40.
“There are definite statistics to support the fact of delayed childbearing,” says Anne Hendershott, associate professor of sociology at the University of San Diego. “And the list of marriageable partners for middle-aged women is smaller. Men can marry younger women—that’s socially acceptable. But so far, not the other way around.” Based on increasing birthrates to older men between 1980 and 1991, experts guess that the number of middle-aged fathers in the early 1990s is well over 400,000, up a third over the preceding decade.
The disadvantages of being an older dad: Forget about retirement; you’ll be supporting an offspring through college. If a wife works, a nanny often goes on the payroll. Unless public schools improve, count on heavier costs during pre-college years. “It takes $100,000 per child to get him through high school, then another $100,000 for college and beyond,” figures one dad.
|Celebrity Dinosaur Dads |
It’s Never Too Late
Research by Rebecca Filman
| Woody Allen |
& Soon-Yi Previn
| Warren Beatty |
& Annette Bening
| Charlie Chaplin |
& Oona O’Neill
|55|| Michael |
| Larry King |
& Shawn Southwick
| Victor Mature |
| Jack Nicholson |
& Rebecca Broussard
| Anthony Quinn |
& Kathy Benvin
| Tony Randall |
& Heather Harlan
How have things around the house changed? “Messier,” Purdon says. “The house is messier.” For an ex-Marine, it no longer looks regulation. “But she loves to read. The first thing in the morning, it’s ‘Books, books.’ Especially the ones with pop-out doors.”
For some of our Dinosaur Dads, like Purdon, fatherhood is a brand-new experience, but some have older kids from previous marriages. Investment banker Jim Reynolds, 51, managing partner of Reynolds & Rothstein, has boys who are 26, 25 and 21—and now Jake, 5. Jim was hesitant about approaching his college-age kids with the plans he and his second wife, Leslie, had for children.
“I think their reaction was ‘What are you thinking?’ But they’re very supportive,” Reynolds says. “Most of my friends here are retired. Back East, where I was at the time, it seemed not so unusual. At the soccer field, half the dads were my age; it has something to do with careers there. People get together later in life. But it has something to do with wealth, too. Those people could afford it.”
Attorney Bob Copeland, 58, a partner at Luce Forward Hamilton & Scripps, has a daughter who’s 33 and a son who’s 31. He remarried five years ago. “Lynn had been married a time or two, as had I,” says Copeland. “She never thought she could have a baby. She’d had a career in banking, but now her number-one goal was to be a mom, and that’s how we wound up on the parent trail.
“I love my other kids, but I wasn’t in the delivery room for my first two. In those days, it wasn’t done. This time, I suited up and went marching down the hall,” Copeland says. “With the first two, I was just getting started in my career. I was measuring up to standards [of the profession]. Time went by awfully fast. Now, I can stop and smell the roses.
“I take Zachary to school every morning. I try to get home by 5 so we can play Thomas the Tank. It’s great. It strips years off your life. He’s a fun guy, a good traveler. There’s a little bit more wear and tear when you’re traveling with a 4-year-old, but I’m looking forward to our two-week vacations at Yosemite and Mammoth. Of course, instead of fishing, now he just throws a lot of sticks in the water.”
Chambers, at 48 the junior member of the Dinosaur Dads, thinks older dads treasure their children more. “Children revitalize you,” he says. Doctors typically delay marriage because of so many educational requirements—medical school, residency. “When I married, I was already 11 years in practice,” he says. “Then along came Evan, now 5 years old, and Alec, now 2. It’s like walking into a different dimension; you love these children so immensely. Many of us could be grandfathers. But you don’t have to be some rigid old codger.”
Life expectancy for men around the turn of the century was 49; now it’s almost 80. In Fathers of a Certain Age, a book by father and son Martin and David Carnoy, the authors quote from an interview with an older dad: “I feel good about what I’ve done,” says this dad. “I have no intention of departing early. Earlier in this century, fathers regularly had children at 30 and died at 50 or 55. I had a son at 52 and have a very high probability of living until my late 70s or later. The only difference is that society is still stuck on images of certain ages as if nutrition and medicine had not changed in 75 years.”
Ed Chapin, an attorney at Chapin, Fleming, McNitt, Shea & Carter, missed the first year of his son Eddie’s life because he was serving in Vietnam. That was 30 years ago. But with Russell, now 8 years old, nothing has been missed. Chapin and his second wife, Debbie, tried for 10 years to have a child—unsuccessfully. “We tried everything—fertility planning, everything,” says Chapin. “Debbie is a nice Irish Catholic girl from Chicago, and this was very difficult to deal with, but she finally became reconciled to no children.”
And what happened? Out of the blue, the announcement. But Chapin wasn’t prepared. “We were at Reidy O’Neil’s,” he says, “with friends, and she said twice she’d like to go home. I said, like an insensitive klutz, ‘You go on ahead, I’m having a good time.’ When I got home, she handed me a box. Oh golly, I thought, what special event have I missed? Inside was a pair of baby shoes.”
Does Chapin see different rules for little Russell than those applied to Eddie? “Russell lives in a different environment,” says Chapin. “I try to tell him the walked-to-school-in-the-snow story —and I did—but he lives now in an atmosphere of much more abundance. But we do recycle things—toys. Whenever he gets something new, he has to give something away.
“Once, he got the same gift twice, and I remember we took that opportunity to educate him about courtesy. I’d had something like the same thing happen to me when I was a boy. An uncle gave me a pocket watch that didn’t work. It wasn’t supposed to work—he thought I’d just like to play with it. But I went to him and complained it didn’t work, and my mother heard about it. She was outraged at such inappropriate behavior. I tried to show Russell a little of the same thing—how to react when you’re disappointed in a gift.”
What do a man’s older, already-grown children think about him having more children with a new wife? Chapin’s older son tells a story of the three of them—Chapin, Eddie and Russell—shopping in a shoe store. The salesman complimented Eddie Jr. on the little fellow, assuming the boy was his. “You’d better not let my dad hear you say that if you want to make a sale,” said Eddie. “This is my little brother; that man over there is our dad.”
A friend whose 65-year-old father has a child by his second wife finds she and her father have new things in common: toddlers the same age. Does the daughter resent the new family? “He’s a much more attractive person now,” she says. “Before, he was quite authoritative. He had a quick mind, read every newspaper, and visits with him frequently turned into lectures. Now ... I don’t know, when you have a new child, there’s a certain vulnerability. I’d have to say he’s a much nicer person now.”
The temptation would be for the Dinosaur Dads to believe they’re raising a new and improved generation. “Emily is 17 months old, and she hasn’t tasted sugar,” says Purdon. “But Kathy and I sneak a few sweets,” he admits. “And things may change when she goes to her first birthday party.”
Ned Chambers says he’s not overly restrictive. “The key is to make fruits available,” he says. “But a little bit of candy won’t hurt them.” Chambers is the third in a line of San Diego doctors. His father, Dr. John Chambers, advocated health and nutrition ideas before his time. “Can you imagine, he found places where we could get tuna hot dogs,” says Ned. “And nonfat hamburgers.”
“We keep sweets monitored,” says Copeland. “No gorging. But it’s not exactly carrots in Zack’s Easter basket.”
What about warfare toys and the popularity of guns? “Lynn is uncomfortable with that,” says Copeland. “I grew up in East County; my dad was a real good teacher. I look forward to the time when Zack can go off into the field with me. He dressed up as Captain Hook on Halloween and carried a little sword. Does that count?”
“My impression is that the child of an older father is blessed in two ways,” says sociologist Hendershott. “The dad is solid in his career, so economically the child benefits. And the dad is more stable emotionally, more able to be involved in raising the child. It’s far from being irresponsible to have a child so late. I see lots of older dads at the school where my son goes. Kids don’t really want a peer [as a parent]; they get more attention from a dad who is settled within himself.”
The drawbacks of being an older dad: Unless money is no object, you can forget about sleeping through the night, travel in Europe and weekends of golf. Or hanging out with the guys. One of our resources remembers going to a street fair with couples and being abandoned with the ladies and the stroller while his buddies went off to do something more interesting. He wasn’t even asked.
On the other hand, you get snuggling with a 2-year-old, managing a house full of stuffed animals and playing a lot of computer games.
When the Dinosaur Dads get their Web site (www.dinosaurdads.com) in order, others will be invited to join them. They’ll plan golf tournaments and pass out T-shirts. Maybe wearing a Dinosaur Dad shirt adorned with a green dinosaur pushing a stroller containing a little green namesake, they won’t be mistaken for grandfathers.