By Lakshmi Govindrajan Javeri
Fatherhood is one of the most important journeys a man can undertake, one that works towards no destination but makes the process as fulfilling as can be. Unlike the looming feminine biological clock, men are a little more at ease to chalk out plans for this journey. Or so we think. Popular culture and social stereotyping reiterate the notion that most men just stumble upon fatherhood and bumble their way through it as providers for children. That is increasingly getting farther from the reality of modern parenting.
While men may still be at more ease to defer parenting, it by no means is indicative of their lack of interest. Far from it—for a variety of reasons—men experience late fatherhood and with it cope with a gamut of other scenarios.
Is there a right age?
Kaushik S. Roy married the woman of his dreams. It didn’t matter that she was seven years older than him. It didn’t matter that he was barely out of management school when they tied the knot after four years of courtship. Within a year of marriage his wife was keen to have a child; he not so much. Today, he can sympathise and see how they were both looking at the situation from their own age points. “I was 22 then and she was 29. Obviously, she wanted to start a family. I still wanted to be suitably placed in a good corporate job. There was too much bitterness, we wanted different things and we didn’t last more than two years. By the time I was 25, I was divorced while my friends were still looking to solidify relationships.”
Finally, at 36, Kaushik met someone who he knew immediately had to be the person he would marry. He adds, “But I still waited four years to marry her and then two more to have our first child. She was very understanding about my need to not mess this one up. You wouldn’t believe that in all of this, I have always wanted to start a family. I love kids. I couldn’t wait to have a child with her, but I wanted to be sure that we’re both ready for it. She had a prominent role in a mutual fund company and I didn’t want her to do something without carefully seeing the repercussions on career and life in general.”
Praveen Singh spent much of his 20s and 30s consolidating on his career. He also treasured his singlehood at a time when he was jet-setting around the world. It never occurred to him “that there would be something more satiating and meaningful in life” than the pace and thrill that he was accustomed to. “By the time I found someone worth settling down with, I was already past 45. But then we both knew only too well that we can’t defer starting a family. Not just because we felt we were biologically running out of time, but because there didn’t feel any need to delay it further,” says Praveen.
Life throws a lot of spanners in the path to deciding on fatherhood. While a crux of decision-making process should rightfully lie with the mum-to-be, fatherhood is life-altering for the man too. And more often than not, it’s a journey a lot of men wish to defer. From wanting to focus on their careers, to not wanting to stop sowing their wild oats, from financial obligations to even space constraints in overcrowded households, the reasons to defer parenthood are all usually not without sense or logic.
Neeraj Mehta lived with his parents, older brother, sister-in-law and their two children. When he got married, his bachelor room was converted into a habitable young couple’s space. For a good 10 years, his wife and he focused on their careers, travelled the world, and did everything they set their mind on. “Despite the fact that our families inundated us with requests, threats and sighs over our decision to not yet raise children. When we decided to start a family, we silently suffered two miscarriages because we knew the barbs that would come our way. So we decided to adopt children. With that comes a fair bit of a waiting period. In this duration, we decided that we wanted the personal space to raise children and so we moved out on our own. I was 43 when we adopted our first daughter. And our son came home four years later,” says Neeraj.
Anxieties of delayed parenthood
Praveen didn’t factor in his physical anxieties while settling down to start a family. Up until then, being free-spirited was never slowed down by his sexual prowess. It wasn’t until they consciously worked towards starting a family that Praveen started being stressed out about both the length of his lifespan and his own fertility. “I got myself checked. My wife got herself tested. We couldn’t figure despite all normal results why we weren’t conceiving fast enough. The doctor then told us to just calm down and not kill the pleasure out of the process. I had had so many friends complain about their fertility that I was a mental wreck until the doctor had to calm me down,” he laughs.
Neeraj believes that most people simply focus on the process of childbirth but not so much factor in that late fatherhood is an ongoing battle between carrying out your responsibility against your advancing age. He adds, “As our child grew, we were a part of various school activities and events. I recall being called for Father’s Day to my son’s preschool, where there were some fathers who looked like they could’ve been my kids! Someone actually asked if I, ‘as a grandfather’, was filling in for my son’s father!” That really got him thinking about his own longevity and being able to extend his lifespan for his son’s sake. “It made me want to get fitter, to be able to run at his Sports Days, to play a more active role in his life as long as I can live. It was a kick in the gut, but a good one.”
When Kaushik’s wife was pregnant with their first child, both of them were 42. They knew they wanted more than one child, but they were both reluctant to physically have the mother go through the process. One of his friends suggested surrogacy as an option. “The first three years of raising the child in our 40s made us realise that we’re not getting any younger both physically and mentally. As soon as our daughter got into a playschool, we started researching the option of surrogacy. Today, we have a wonderful surrogate mother who is carrying our child, who is set to be delivered in February. Fingers crossed.”