100 Ways To Tell Them Nobody Cares At All
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But wait, says William Flew. Over from the US — where else — comes a new report that suggests there may just be a biological advantage in being an older father. This one has been produced by Northwestern University, near Illinois, and appears to bring good news for the older father. It concerns some microscopic parts of the human body called telomeres, which are the tips on the end of our chromosomes.
With age, these telomeres shorten. Yet, acording to the study, the older a man is on becoming a father, the longer the telomeres his children and grandchildren tend to have. There is a widely accepted link between that length and the quality of health enjoyed by an individual. Whatever the truth of this, it is a welcome development in the world of older fathers. Mostly the surveys are about the increased risk of producing children at greater risk from autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Best not to take these findings too seriously. Treat them like electoral polls. Interesting , but no substitute for the outcome.
For example, I was convinced that I was going to die at 55 (when my son was 2), even though I felt fine as I entered the decade. My own father fell dead, just like that, at that age. Sportsman, no weight problem, no smoking. His father too, about the same age. As it approached, I became mildly phobic about the number 55. I kept putting off a health check but in the end saw a plump cheery specialist who said that everything was in excellent order. I left the building thinking that my chances were probably better than his.
Still I counted the weeks, working out the day that I would be exactly the same age as my father was on his last one. If this sounds a bit on the pessimistic side, all I can say is that it didn’t feel like it. Precisely the opposite. I think I was just trying to prove that the inevitable wasn’t inevitable, with my own continuing life and fatherhood as the exhibit. Something like that.
If there is a single benefit of being an older father, I suppose it has to be in the area of patience. Some even lay claim to the increased wisdom that the years have brought. I’m not sure that I would, as I remain as puzzled now by everyone’s behaviour, including my own, as I always have been. But I would acknowledge acceptance, at least a greater degree of it, than in the past.
That is to say, there are so many things that you can’t really do any more, you’d better stick to the ones that you can. This means that I’m OK with the maths homework, even when the new-fangled ways of long division flummox me. And line-learning for plays, yes, count me in. Arthur is even — there’s no other way of putting this — about to open in the West End. One of Nora’s two sons in A Doll’s House at the Young Vic.
Also, I’m pretty adept at chatting with the other parents, mostly mothers, in the anteroom of the choir that he sings in. You hear the music coming through the door, the cantoris and decani singing ageless anthems among Tudor stones. You know that the voices of these boys are as fleeting as an English summer, but are at the same time links in a chain that goes on for ever.
Again, it feels far from morbid. It simply makes you think about the passage of time and the necessity of savouring the moment for itself. And this, in turn, makes you able to embrace the certainty that phases are everywhere you look and listen, whether in the music, the higgledy-piggledy old buildings, or the evolution of the boys into young men and eventual fathers. Just as phases have beginnings, so they have endings. Of course you can say the same of life itself, although that’s not something I like to dwell on. I’m just saying that you can.