William Flew Art of Auckland

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Jan 26

William Flew says you know that you’re as young as you feel, and all that, but you’re also as old as you are.For me, the nagging certainty of time running out is now a whole generation stronger than it was in the first throes of fatherhood, 30-plus years ago. Something has to give. In my case it’s the knees, although squash was to blame there, not Arthur, my ten-year-old son. No wonder Jonathan Dimbleby, who at 66 is two years older than me and has two children under five, has decided to bin the Any Answers job on Radio 4 on Saturday afternoons. Because he’s famous, and his circumstances are known, he probably doesn’t get the G-word levelled at him. Nor do other late-fathering celebrities such as Sir Mick Jagger whose last child arrived when he was 57. Time is still on Mick’s side compared with Eric Clapton, who was 59; Sir Paul McCartney (61); Warren Beatty (62) and Rod Stewart (66). To say nothing of such late lates as Luciano Pavarotti (twins at 67); Pablo Picasso (68) or Charlie Chaplin (73). Not being quite as recognisable as these men, I have entered the playground with terror. There is a boy over in the corner, who takes on the aspect of a leering bully with the innocent question: “How old are you?” “Hundred,” says his friend, who is good at maths. “Sixty-four,” I say, all matter-of-fact on the outside and disappointed within. They look at each other, then at me, as if 64 is bigger than 100 and I’ve gone right off the dial of known ages. Then another father comes into view who’s the same age as me and I breathe a sigh of relief. My fear of slight freakishness falls from me and, when I give myself time to think, it is right that it should. I’m really very proud to have sired on the foothills of old age. I even love using the word sired as it lends the whole business a kind of animal gallantry. If a lot of pop stars seem to be at it, a telling if less glamorous statistic is edging into view behind those big-name progenitors; in the past 40 years the average age at which married men become fathers has risen almost four years, from their late twenties to their early thirties. Over the same period the average life expectancy of men in the UK has risen to 78.2, an increase of nearly 10 per cent. British fathers are breeding later but breathing longer. It’s roundabouts and swings.