Status anxiety

Fatherhood is killing me

If you’ve over 40, dignity goes out the window the moment your first child arrives. But that’s not the real problem…

25 April 2015

9:00 AM

25 April 2015

9:00 AM

Not a day passes when I don’t look on my father’s record with shock and awe. I’m not talking about his authorship of Labour’s 1945 manifesto, his invention of the word ‘meritocracy’ or his creation of the Open University. I’m talking about the fact that he fathered a child at the age of 80. How on earth did he cope?

My eldest was born when I was 40, with three more following in quick succession, and I already think of myself as an old dad. The problem is, they want to play with me all the time — rough, competitive, physical games — and it’s completely debilitating. The boys, aged six, seven and ten, are particularly demanding. I’m just not up to it. God knows how my father managed to stay alive until he was 86.

Until recently, I was required to play on the trampoline for at least 30 minutes a day. Put aside the issue of just how undignified it is for an overweight 51-year-old male with ‘man boobs’ to bounce up and down. If you’re over 40, dignity goes out the window the moment your first child appears. No, the issue was that my children invented a game called ‘trampoline dodgeball’ — or ‘incoming’ for short — that is almost guaranteed to produce cardiac arrest in anyone above the age of 25. After ten minutes of vigorous play I would be gasping for breath like a trout at the bottom of a bucket.


Salvation appeared in the form of a rag-and-bone man who turned up on my doorstep in January. Did I have any scrap metal I wanted to get rid of? As a matter of fact, I did! I led him down to the bottom of the garden, pointed at the trampoline and told him that if he could dismantle it before the children got home from school he was welcome to it. ‘No problem, squire,’ he said.

I was expecting them to be furious, but no. The three boys took one look at the empty garden and started hopping around with joy. Unbeknownst to me they’d been having a long-running argument with their sister about whether to keep the trampoline and now, it seemed, I’d inadvertently sided with them. ‘That’s brilliant, Dad,’ said six-year-old Charlie. ‘Now we can play football.’

Seconds later I was being dragged into the garden for a game of ‘three-and-in’, which would have been OK if I’d been allowed to be in goal. Instead, I had to compete with Charlie and the seven-year-old to try and get three goals past the ten-year-old. Given that the ‘goal’ consisted of a small cardboard box on its side, this was nigh-on impossible. It didn’t help that we were playing with a ball so small — a squash ball, I think — that I couldn’t see it without my bifocals.

Needless to say, they now insist that I play football with them every evening. I’ve invested in a proper ball and a couple of pop-up goals, but that hasn’t helped much. Instead of ‘three-and-in’ we play ‘two-a-side’ — and, again, I’m not allowed to be in goal. Rather, the boys take it in turns to be on my team, knowing full well that whoever plays with me will lose. Not that it’s a quick death. The standard rule is ‘first to 15’, which can take up to 45 minutes given the goalkeeping athleticism of my sons. The sessions end with me humiliated and drenched in sweat, often nursing a pulled muscle or ligament injury.

Later, when the children have gone to bed, Caroline commiserates with me, but with barely concealed sadistic glee. Her favourite trick after listening to me reel off a list of symptoms — ‘My left arm has gone numb! D’you think I’m having a heart attack?’ — is to suggest we hire a ‘manny’, i.e. a male nanny who could play with the boys without collapsing from exhaustion. She isn’t completely joking, either. One of her friends managed to find a 21-year-old German man on an au pair website who looks like a cross between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Brad Pitt. She flew him over the following day and this Adonis is now installed in the spare bedroom. Her two sons absolutely adore him, while her husband says he feels like an abandoned motor car waiting to be carted off to the junkyard.

I daren’t risk having a ‘manny’ in the house so I’m going to soldier on. I suppose I should be grateful that my children still want to play football with me. But my chances of living until I’m 86 are vanishing-to-zero.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.

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Show comments
  • davidshort10

    Think about the next cycle of elderly dads in London who will never be able to afford a garden to kick about in, not even in Acton.

  • Montgomery Draxel

    You act like it is hard to get in shape. It isn’t, even for people over 50. Stop being so weak.

    • Callipygian

      Maybe he has better things to do with his time than play children’s games? I know I do.

    • blandings

      It may not be hard but it’s so undignified.
      Still, if I’m going to impress Callipygian…

    • Gweedo

      Just go for a run twice a week, somewhere quiet and rural – preferably at dusk. Then no-one has to watch your flabby body, and you’ll be a lot thinner in a couple of months.

  • Callipygian

    Who on earth of reproductive age would want to bed an 80-year-old? I’ve fancied much older men in my time (always a mistake: they may be OK now but they will only get older. And balder. And greyer. And weaker. And more shrivelled.) But even I have an instinctive reaction of shudder-shudder-shudder!

    • blandings

      Who on earth of reproductive age would want to bed an 80-year-old?

      Would you settle for 60ish with own hair ?
      Just asking.

      • Violin Sonata.

        Oh not another one. Callipygian and I witnessed the suggested delights of a superbly built Count of whatever age. And now another person pops up
        with the suggestion of a man of a certain age but at least with own hair.
        Just so much choice to contemplate but so little time- and who’d settle ?

        • blandings

          I was only joking.

          • Violin Sonata.

            You were only joking, you mean you don’t have your own hair? at least the other man had
            hair ( well in his avatar) Maybe Callipygian is into the Jean- Luc Picard look, eh ?
            PS – some of us like uniforms on a man, they hide a magnitude of imperfections and
            improve what’s already there 😉

          • blandings

            I was not joking about the hair (men do not) – it is as luxuriant as ever – grown women gasp as I enter the room.
            What kind of uniform? Nothing dubious I hope.

          • Callipygian

            I don’t think she means ‘janitor’s uniform’.

          • Violin Sonata.

            No I really didn’t mean janitor’s uniform.
            Firefighter, RAF ( like a man who can fly) or Astronault.
            Maybe grown woman gasp when you enter a room because
            you tread on their toes whilst you’re admiring that luxuriant hair
            of yours 🙂

          • Callipygian

            That’s what Rod Stewart said.
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UWSTh2ogZA

          • blandings

            I don’t have much in common with Rod.

          • No, i don’t imagine you do. No six-foot-one woman hanging off your arm, to name one item.

          • Guest

            ¬¬

          • Whatever it was, I’m sure it was good and I’m sorry I missed it!

          • blandings

            Nah! Misfire!

          • blandings

            Amanda,
            What would I do with a six-foot-one woman in high heels?

          • I don’t know, I’m more likely to be called ‘squirt’ than ‘Amazon woman’!

          • blandings

            Petite is, I think, the correct term.
            Not many men want a girlfriend taller than themselves, so a six foot one inch girl has got a problem – it’s either a dim-witted basketball player or Rod Stewart. – Are you really jealous?
            Me? I’m five foot ten – general purpose – I reckon you could reach – if you tried.

          • Ha ha ha! :^0

          • pedestrianblogger

            You may very well be five foot ten (I wouldn’t doubt your word for a moment) but might you be (ahem) a trifle petite “downstairs”? The ladies care about these things, or so I understand.

          • Are you questioning the gentleman’s capacity, P? Oh my giddy aunt!, as my grandma would say.

          • blandings

            Hi
            I believe that some souls are troubled by inadequacy. I explain it as just plain bad karma so better luck next time around, though that doesn’t seem to offer much consolation.
            There’s a line by Lou Reed (I think) that says “The world is full of problem but none of them are mine” – a tad selfish perhaps, but a view that I can subsribe to in my more exuberant moments.
            Do the ladies care? I would imagine so, but you ask Amanda – I’m not going to!

          • Callipygian

            Speaking for Amanda, I suggest that she’s not in a position to have an opinion. Much like asking the salt-mining elephants of Mt Elgon to have an opinion on pepper.

          • blandings

            You seem confident that you can speak for Amanda.
            I wonder what else you know about her.

          • Callipygian

            I am very fond of you, Blandings. And so is she.

          • blandings

            I’m sure I’m equally fond of both of you.

          • Callipygian

            Well that’s a very nice thought to go to sleep with.

          • Violin Sonata.

            But don’t gentleman exaggerate.
            The fish they caught is————————– long
            The flu is in reality a cold.
            When a man who you cannot see says he’s five foot ten,
            reality he’s not much taller then John Bercow .
            As for the other query, a ladies response to a man’s packed lunch is similar to that of what yeast is to bread

          • blandings

            I never exaggerate (except about fish) as it can only lead to disappointment. Anyway, five foot ten is hardly boasting now is it?
            If I said six foot two and built like a stallion, that would be boasting and you would be entitled to demand evidence.

          • Violin Sonata.

            I suppose your fish comes from a supermarket. What’s happened to the real, hunter gatherer who hunted and fished.
            No need for evidence, you’d never boast clearly 😉

          • blandings

            I have been known to hunt road kill pheasants and,occasionally, deer, though not fish.
            Does that count?

          • Violin Sonata.

            Sorry, if something is already dead it doesn’t count.
            But you could be a big game hunter crossing Mombasa or hunting deer across the plains of Colorado.
            You’d need a horse, you may not be a stallion but you’d require one. If all else fails there is Wimbledon Common and the wildlife there. 😉

          • Callipygian

            We certainly would. On a jet plane, all expenses paid!

          • Violin Sonata.

            A bit off- topic, I’ve found the Count on the feminist thread
            he said : Adonis sometimes can be seen strolling around
            St James Park on a hot summers day.
            So it might be the case of visiting the park before setting eyes on
            the other man’s evidence. I assume there is a orderly queue 😉

          • Violin Sonata.

            Well he had something to say.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIlHt_syoSE

        • Callipygian

          Thanks for the laugh!

          • Violin Sonata.

            😉

      • Callipygian

        I think it would largely depend on the gentleman’s er level of interest.

        • blandings

          Fireman?
          Hackneyed
          Striped prison suit ?
          Well it worked for Mary Jane
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OiljaInq4g

          • Callipygian

            I was thinking along earthier lines…. %^0-

          • Violin Sonata.

            Marlboro Man ( with fresh breath) now he’d be earthy 😉

          • blandings

            I gave up smoking but I kept the looks

          • Violin Sonata.

            Well good for you,nicotine stained teeth are not very attractive.
            And I am sure you’ve far more stamina too.

          • Bonkim

            Clark Gable asked his wife at the time Carole lombard not to wash for two weeks when he was out shooting in the wilds as he liked her smell better then. Attractiveness is different things to different people.

          • Violin Sonata.

            Yes I am sure Carole Lombard would have stank to high heaven but that makes a person
            off- putting but not ‘ unattractive’. Clark Gable would know his wife could have a bath
            in an instant when his mood changes. But unsightly nicotine stained teeth would be a
            long term issue and relevant to real attractiveness or unattractiveness.

          • Bonkim

            May be you should start smoking, then it would be O.K.

          • Callipygian

            I heard the same anecdote about Napoleon and Josephine. I do think moderns over-wash but then men oxidize worse-smelling than women (generally).

          • Violin Sonata.

            Yes we do and wash all the natural oils out of our skin.
            Yes men do smell worse then women, but we’re more attuned to male odour, apparently
            the biological data it contains helps us chose a mate.

          • blandings

            Coalminer?

          • Callipygian

            ‘Level of interest’ — not to put too fine a point on it.

  • Bonkim

    Why do you pander to the expectations of the children? Take them to museums, country walks and talk about intellectual development, science and the arts. It is up to you what type of activities your children are encouraged to do. Be in command and not a slave to their passing fancy. Help them with their homework, and you will have done your bit in their development as productive and thinking adults. Sports are for the Plebs. Don’t encourage them to be followers of passing fads but think individually.

    • Violin Sonata.

      Sport isn’t for ‘ plebs’ its part of a normal development for a child. It encourages teamwork and good exercise.
      Yes everything else you’ve mentioned is important and maybe older fathers will have more patience. But is it fair for children to have elderly parents to
      care for by the time they go to university ?

      • Callipygian

        Is anything fair? My parents certainly didn’t mould their lives around my wants. And one could say that it shows!

        • Violin Sonata.

          No I suppose not. I just remember my cousin going to school and everyone thinking her dad was her grandfather.
          He wasn’t in good heath and my aunt couldn’t cope and my cousin
          was an only child. She in fact was more like a carer then daughter.
          On the other end of the scale you can get parents marrying too young and splitting up causing much hurt. I guess its the luck of the draw.

          • Callipygian

            Yes. Mine was the last case you mentioned.

          • Bonkim

            Human beings are flexible and rise up to the occasion. Sports is just a minor factor in life. We all have abilities that differ in character and in strength and that is why human beings are diverse in their make up and aspirations. Not all parents would be bothered about their children having sports or physical capabilities – many would want their off-springs to excel in intellectual or social pursuits, or others. Not all healthy human beings are keen on sports and many that are can be seriously unhealthy.

            Parents marrying young and having children too soon is a sign of immaturity and they should not have children.

            Conversely an older parent with considerable life-experience would be in a position to bring up children in a more mature and disciplined way imparting life-skills that the younger parents may lack.

            There is no one solution, cause of guaranteed effect whatever way people raise families – all are different and most rise up to the occasion and do the best they can within the prevailing circumstances.

        • Bonkim

          They had a life of their own and pandering to ungrateful brats is not good parenting anyway.

          On the plus side I bet you learnt to be independent because of that.

          • Callipygian

            Yes, but it would have been nice if they could have kept me in my native country and put some money in a fund for me, too.

          • Bonkim

            You appear to be a spoilt brat – you should be grateful to your parents for whatever they did, and they don’t have to give you any money – under English Law they could leave all they have to a Cats’ Home or to charity, and as a grown up person you should not expect anything from them.

            Regards native country – you go where your parents take you until you are legally a grown up and independent person. Simple.

          • Callipygian

            What a miserable git you are sometimes!

          • Bonkim

            Always, not sometimes – and my children have got used to that. I keep telling them the world does not owe them any favours and they have to learn to swim or sink and not complain whatever the odds. Prepare your children for the disappointments of life – they will be forever prepared to face the harsh world and grateful to you for preparing them to face reality.

          • Callipygian

            Yes, one needn’t strive so hard to make it a harsh reality, though. I won’t talk to my mother any more. She has to earn my affection just like anyone else — it cuts both ways — and she’s failed.

          • Bonkim

            Tragic but being the younger person you should not be that harsh on your Mum and you don’t know all the circumstances – being judgemental will not achieve anything. That is what growing up is all about.

          • Callipygian

            Er, she is the harsh one. And I’m past the point of needing relatives I don’t get on with.

          • atttia

            I too had a harsh mother. She compounded that by favouring my younger sister to the point of parody. I was basically told to go it alone when I was still a teenager. After nearly starving, I eventually put myself through a major university and married well. My mother actually had the nerve to display my diploma. She created a myth that her indifference and neglect had been “for my own good.” I always treated her with courtesy (she passed away last year at age 93), but inside, I felt little but contempt for her. I made sure that my own child grew up with the utmost love and unconditional support. Yes, I probably spoiled her but she is happy, generous and deeply devoted to me and her father. She will never know what it was like being raised by a heartless mother.

          • Callipygian

            You survived and more than that, you thrived, and beyond that you became a generous nurturer to another vulnerable being. That’s impressive and you deserve all the goodness that comes to you.

          • Bonkim

            No one is forcing you and your personal affairs don’t concern the public.

          • Violin Sonata.

            She wasn’t speaking of personal affairs to the ‘ public’.
            The comment was totally relevant to the debate and understood by those participating with this somewhat personal subject matter.

          • Bonkim

            Why bring your personal affairs in a public forum?

          • Violin Sonata.

            This article was hardly about the economy, education etc..
            and as said above the comments relevant.
            Its possible for the debate to change somewhat and for us to
            discuss parents suitability to have children who are not fashion
            accessories or we’ll have one because ‘ everyone does’.
            The fact is some parents are selfish, show very little interest
            in their children, some treated as fashion accessories.
            Some even resent their children and even dislike them.
            P. S a post has just been made by ‘ Elizabeth Williams’
            about spell makers, her husband.. the irony of your question.

          • Bonkim

            I must agree all that have children are suitable to be parents. In fact the earth is overpopulated and resources running out. Yes have fewer children and assure quality both of parents and children. Suitable/unsuitable, are however relative terms and human societies get soft as affluence increases – nature is harsh and the future for mankind bleak. Only the tough and adaptable will survive.

          • goodsoldier

            I am touched by people’s personal stories. I learn a lot from them because of their honesty, possibly due to their anonymity. Please don’t spread shame and embarrassment about or we will miss beautiful, wise stories.

          • Bonkim

            Stories all – made up.

          • Callipygian

            Hey, Violin, it’s all right when he does it! But the body of evidence not flowing his way, now it’s too ‘personal’ for the public to bear. Hilarious.

          • Callipygian

            Look, you really need to lighten up. First you bloviate about hard reality and how we all have to get with the program. Then, when I point out that reality is more complex than all the mums and dads being honourable and wise, while the younger generation needs a good lesson, you get all defensive and suddenly it’s not a fit subject for discussion.

            You and my mother should get a room together. I’ll have the emergency services on standby.

          • Shorne

            There is a total absence of unconditional affection in your attitude. When you are sitting in the day room of whichever Care Home in which you are dumped, watching other residents having visitors whilst none of your children come near you, you may have cause to regret this it.

          • Bonkim

            Too late in life and you won’t be disappointed if you tone down your expectations.

    • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

      Sport is for gentlemen ,games are for plebs.

      • Bonkim

        Difference between sport and sports. I thought games were for girls in my time but English is a forgiving and evolving language.

  • AQ42

    You should have had girls.

    • Callipygian

      Yes, I reckon they would have suited him better (he does have one). The other question is: why four? Did he need to found a mini dynasty, to keep up with Dad? Or was the lady of the family the driving force in procreation?– which is bound to burden the other parent interminably however much he loves his children.

      • little islander

        Mrs Young wanted another. Toby thought she wanted to be one-up over their friends with 4 at most but I think seeing that he’s doing well financially, why not? He must have refused or another could be on its way. I’m not sure about the driving force but she sure knows how to defend her husband from aggressors.

        • Callipygian

          You seem to have insider information, Mr Islander. I can’t imagine giving birth once, never mind four times. I have the best physique of any woman in my family and who knows? perhaps being nullipara is a help.

          As for doing well financially, the quickest way to cease doing well financially is to have children. I’m doing quite well myself, but then I’m sitting on a legacy egg that when it breaks will spring a lovely chick.

          • little islander

            From his column, last year.

          • Callipygian

            Ah right.

            If I may add: there comes a point when surely the addition to the family gives one diminishing returns. I think that when I see people with three dogs. Now many people I’ve known — especially in Texas — made a point of rescuing dogs and that’s why they had more than one. But I have two immediate neighbours with three dogs (different breeds not monomaniacs in each case), and I wonder why. One woman is clearly divorced (and the chap I once saw with her while her hair was literally down has not reappeared; her long hair is always tied up, otherwise). The other is a couple, tediously dressed in athletic wear seven days a week. (And no sandals. In Florida, fercrissake.) Anyway that’s not the point. The point is that they have to pick up THREE LOTS OF DOG POOP or just leave it there for someone to tread in. Since the lot of them never take their dogs anywhere except around the block, I can trust that they are picking up. It’s only me with my one princess that picks up as rarely as I can, preferring to cover her offerings with nature’s own leavings such as pine needles, dried leaves, and fallen air plants.

            But back to the question of number. I have one dog, and I lavish so much time affection and energy on her that another animal would not only be exhausting for me but detractive for her. She understands this, which is why her vote was against our final adoption of a beautiful black cat we’d rescued on a mountain. (Yes, it really needed rescuing, and it took quite some doing to rescue it.) But I have a princess, the best of all dogs. Why would I need or want another?

          • little islander

            Other considerations involved besides diminishing returns, perhaps. Dogs are pack animals. It might not be difficult for you if the dogs got on with one another.

          • Callipygian

            Dogs are individuals. My dog is not a pack animal to me: she’s my ‘girlfriend’ (as I often call her). You have to know one to understand.

  • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

    Who has children at 40 plus other than toffs ? As for fathering kids at 80. that is just a class based superiority. If ordinaries did this the Sun would vilify them.
    Plus why have four kids? The UKIP nutters keep telling us that ethnic monorities have too many kids ……but the toffs have far more, then saddle them with aged parents.

    • Violin Sonata.

      Maybe some people cannot afford children until they’re older.
      Maybe some have trouble conceiving.
      Immigrants do have larger families, thankfully UKIP speak of issues other political
      parties shy away from.

      • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

        I suppose the 1% are a minority, but surely everyone has trouble concieving at 80.

        • blandings

          I won’t

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