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Published: Sunday, 6/20/2004

Late-in-life dads

BY RHONDA B. SEWELL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
William Ashley, 51, goes for a morning walk with his 1-year-old twin daughters, Samantha and Emily. William Ashley, 51, goes for a morning walk with his 1-year-old twin daughters, Samantha and Emily.
WADSWORTH Enlarge

Instead of reliving their youth at concerts by reunited '60s rock bands, an increasing number of men over the age of 50 are caring for their young children and learning the opening song to Teletubbies.

Several factors have contributed to late-in-life fatherhood. They include couples marrying later and delaying first childbirth; more men having children in second families, and longer life-expectancy. For example, a National Center for Health Statistics report released in 2001, stated that life expectancy was about 79.5 years for women and 74.1 years for men, both figures were up slightly from the previous year.

In adddition to biological factors, celebrities who become fathers later in life have changed public perception about mature parenting. Examples include Paul McCartney who became a parent again at 60; David Letterman at 56; Larry King at 66; Warren Beatty at 63;, and Hugh Hefner, who at 74 had a couple of late-life offspring.

Perhaps the most famous late-life dad is actor Tony Randall, age 84, who remarried in 1995 after his first wife died. Randall and his current wife, actress Heather Harlan, have two youngsters, Julia, age 7, and Jefferson, age 6.

According to Ken Canfield, founder and president of the Kansas City-based The National Center for Fathering (www.fathers.com), the growing trend to delay parenting and childbearing until couples are secure financially and in their relationship has led to older fathers.

"By choosing to father later, it can become a place of great opportunity or challenge," said Mr. Canfield. The benefits to being an older father, he added, are that most men are more settled in their jobs job, have more time to spend with their children, and are often more thoughtful about fathering.

"The challenge is that older fathers don't have a peer group like younger fathers for support and encouragement in their fathering quest. They also might have lower levels of energy, and then there's that social stigma they must fast, especially when someone confuses their child for their grandchild."

On this Father's Day observance, we spoke with several dads age 50 and over to tell us what fatherhood is really like in later life.

Johnny Mickler, 52, gets a thumbs-up from his 9-year-old son, Caleb, after sweating it out on the tennis courts. Johnny Mickler, 52, gets a thumbs-up from his 9-year-old son, Caleb, after sweating it out on the tennis courts.
MAXWELL / BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

Johnny Mickler,52, said having both 34-year-old and 9-year-old sons presents a unique opportunity for him to analyze fatherhood at different stages in his life. Mr. Mickler is the father of adult son Johnny, Jr., who resides in South Carolina, from his first marriage, and of Caleb Alexander, a fourth-grader at Emanuel Baptist, who was a 10-year wedding anniversary present-surprise for him and his current wife Tamara, 48.

"It's interesting because when I was younger I had a lot of time to play sports, and [my older son and I] got to run, and I taught him how to ride a bike, but now even though I'm more settled, I don't have that same amount of time due to my career," said Mr. Mickler, president and chief operating officer of the Greater Toledo Urban League.

"My older son thinks that his brother has it made because I am more financially settled and I'm able to give Caleb more opportunities, but I'm not sure of that, because when I was younger I had more time and energy," said Mr. Mickler, who can often be found wearing a suit and cheering from the sidelines when he attends his son's Calvery Knights baseball games.

When Jim Bishop, 51, married Maureen (McQuillen) in the summer of 1996, it was the first marriage for both. And their family soon began to grow.

"I married in my late 40s for the first time. I'm lucky to have found the right person even if it did take me awhile," said Mr. Bishop, an attorney. He and his wife now have four children, Mary, age 6; Patrick, 4; Bridget, 3, and the youngest Joseph, who is 23-months.

Regardless of his age, he added that fatherhood and being a husband of eight years is extremely fulfilling.

"I have found nothing more rewarding than spending time with our family, which we call The Maureen Corps.," said Mr. Bishop, who said the nickname is a play on his wife's name and his military affiliation. He is a U.S. Navy Reserve Captain and appellate judge at the Navy-Marine Crops Court of Criminal Appeal in Washington, D.C.

For William "Bill" Ashley, 51, becoming a father later in life was a complete shock. He is the parent of a 30-year-old son and a 27-year-old daughter from his first marriage, and never expected to become a parent again at time of his life. But he now is the parent of 1 1/2-year-old twin daughters Samantha and Emily, with mate Sophie, 36. Mr. Ashley is also the step-parent to Sophie's 9-year-old daughter Jordan.

"When we got the ultrasound and the doctor told us we were pregnant and having twins, I was in shock and I grabbed my heart [chest] and told the doctor, 'do you know I'm 50 years old?'," said Mr. Ashley, a meat-cutter and 25-year employee with Kroger .

The Oregon resident, who himself has a twin brother and twin sisters, added that the surprise of having two children later in life forced him to rethink an early retirement. Still, he has job security, which was not always the case as a young dad.

"I just feel younger and a little more at ease having children now. I just enjoy being with them and don't have to worry about getting time off of work, or for the holidays. When you're a younger father you worry about work and providing for your family, paying the bills, and bringing home a paycheck.

"Now, I just love taking them for a walk, going to the park, or letting them run around the mall," he said.

Mr. Ashley's young spirit is often found in older fathers.

"We do know that there are great things that older fathers bring to the table. We need to celebrate their unique fathering styles. I've seen many men go through a revival in their life when they found out that at 44 or 54 they were to become a dad either for the first time or again in later years," said Mr. Canfield.

A revival was exactly the case for Tim Meyer, 50, who has four biological daughters with his wife Debra, 48. The couple, parents of Courtney, 22, Jennifer, 19, Ashley, 17, and Stephanie, 11, decided to become late-in-life parents to their former foster child Matthew, age 3, whom they adopted in 2002.

Mr. Meyer, an employee of Lathrop Co. of Maumee, said that when his wife approached him about fostering and eventually adoption, he was hesitant, partly out of consideration for his age.

"I was approaching 50 and I found out that [Matthew] was drug-exposed at birth, but I said `yes' and put it in God's hands. There was a lot of fear and trepidation, but [Matthew] had us by the heart," said Mr. Meyer.

The Meyers had fostered Matthew since he was about 5 days old. When he was born, he tested positive for cocaine, said Mr. Meyer, who loves having another "guy" in the house where all his daughters live and help take care of their new brother.

When Mr. Meyer, of Sylvania Township, finally decided to adopt his son, he reflected on his age.

"I sat there and said when he's 20-years-old, I'll be 67 or 68 and it concerned me . . . I don't have all the answers yet, but trust me the Lord's gonna take care of those things for us, and what better way to spend those years than with a kid.

"My wife just keeps going back to that old line, that 'kids keep you young'," said Mr. Meyer.



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