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Surviving Being an Older Father Because of a Wise Wife

When I was about to become a first-time dad at 52, I wasn't quite ready.

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small toddler hand on top of her fathers hand
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Every Father's Day, I have flashbacks of the 2000 U.S. presidential election campaign's final days and averting what would have caused a lifetime of regret: not being with my wife, Maureen, for the birth of our son, Hank.    

With an increasing number of older women becoming mothers and older men becoming fathers, I was about to become a first-time dad at 52. But I wasn't quite ready. As a political reporter for Reuters, I needed at least a few more days.    

On Sunday, November 5, 2000, however — two days before voters went to the polls to decide between Democratic Vice President Al Gore and Texas Republican Governor George W. Bush as leader of the free world — my very pregnant wife shocked me.    

Maureen wasn’t due for another 17 days, but in a phone call from our Maryland home she said, “I may have the baby early.”     

“Oh, no,” I thought, sitting in the press bus of the Gore operation, then in Philadelphia, about to begin another day of campaigning. Polls showed Gore and Bush in a razor-close race.    

Maureen told me she seemed to be having labor pains. The baby might come soon. Any day. She made it clear she was nervous but didn't ask me to come home.     

I didn't want to leave the campaign. I had been covering it for a year, and Reuters had spent a ton for me to travel with Gore aboard Air Force Two — from New York City to Los Angeles, with countless stops in between. I'd feel guilty and disappointed by bailing out now.    

And I figured Maureen could handle it. She's smart and strong. She owned and ran a jewelry store, and before we wed in February, she was a single mom raising two young children.    

As Maureen spoke, I scrutinized Gore's schedule, which showed he'd be in his home state of Tennessee on Tuesday, where he would vote and await election returns.     

But Election Day came and went without a winner and without Maureen giving birth. More than three weeks later — amid a recount fight with Bush, up by only 537 votes in Florida, the state that would determine the election — she had our baby, on December 1.      

I was there when Hank arrived at 11:48 p.m. ET — 10 pounds, 15 ounces. At that moment — with our baby red-faced and crying, and Maureen sobbing and smiling — I knew I had erred in not coming home sooner.      

After covering big stories and traveling much of the country and the world for three decades, I was about to discover the most meaningful and challenging world of all — that of our child and all that came with him.      

Within minutes of Hank's bursting into our lives, I developed a new appreciation for mothers. It's a 24/7 job like no other and more important than any other.     

With the love of a mother, Maureen taught me all about parenthood — from 3 a.m. feedings and diaper changes to pacing the kitchen at midnight, waiting for a teenage Hank to drive home from a date.    

I also learned that being a father is far more rewarding than covering a campaign. I discovered that hosting your child's birthday party at a bowling alley beats going to the White House Correspondents' Dinner. I found that taking photos of your son’s high school graduation is more exciting than getting your picture taken with a president.       

And hearing Hank tell me "I love you" and "Thanks, Dad" is far better than any editor ever telling me "Great story" or "Nice lead." In 2012, for the first time in my career, I didn't ask to cover a presidential campaign. I didn't want to miss a day with my fast-growing son.      

The only drawback to being an older father is that many people have assumed, over the years, that I'm Hank's grandfather — particularly at his youth soccer and basketball games. I'm older than some of Hank's friends' grandfathers. But Hank doesn't seem to mind.       

Just days after Hank's birth, I answered the phone in our suddenly louder home.      

"Hello, this is the White House," the caller announced. "Please hold for the vice president of the United States."      

"Hello, Tom," Al Gore said. "I hear you and Maureen just had a baby boy. Congratulations!"

"Thank you, Mr. Vice President. We really appreciate your call,” I said. Then I quickly went back to holding my beautiful little boy.      

Maureen and I didn't plan to have Hank. But if we had, if I had done research, I would have had concerns. As with older mothers, babies of older fathers are more apt to have health problems at birth. I knew there could be problems because of Maureen's age, 40. But I didn't realize my age could also be a reason to worry.       

That worry was put to rest. Our big baby is now a big and healthy college sophomore, 6 feet 1 inch, 195 pounds. In high school, Hank made the honor roll and was a three-year starter on the basketball team.       

Yes, I became one of those annoying braggart fathers, a surprise since, earlier in life, while in other relationships, I wasn’t focused on getting married and having a child. I was more interested in being a reporter, free to accept any assignment and go anywhere.

I didn't know what I was missing.      

As a bonus to getting Hank, in marrying Maureen, I also got two great stepchildren — Flynn and Callie, now 30 and 26 — a big brother and a big sister, ideal role models for Hank.

I got a family.     

Every Father's Day, I call my good friend Iris, who introduced me to Maureen in 1997 on their mutual birthday, August 31.

"Thanks again, Iris, for helping me become a father and have a far more meaningful life," I say. "Hank thanks you, too."        

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