Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Sharing the Biological Clock by Eric Steinman

I am pushing forty, and when I say pushing forty–I mean pushing forty. I have one child, and would like to have another one in the near future. Up until last Sunday, when Lisa Belkin, columnist for the New York Times, published a piece exploring new data that indicates that men my age, and younger even, may not have all the time in world to procreate, I lived in a state of false confidence.

This false confidence consisted of the faith that, while my wife was held by the constraints of her biological clock, I (and other men of similar advancing age) were free to inseminate and breed well into our golden years. Now it would be disingenuous for me to say that I had no knowledge of these stats or these claims prior to reading this report (I did), but there is something about reading it in plain black and white that helps you identify the unmistakable tick of your own biological clock.

A friend of mine who is over forty, unmarried, and toying with the idea of getting married and having children, periodically will call me to get a window into the loving bounty and rampant frustrations of parenthood. When he contends with the idea of putting off parenthood for a few more years, he will usually say something like, “Well, I don’t want to be too old to kick around a ball with my child.” According to a report sited in the aforementioned article, he may have larger issues of concern than being able to play ball. Researchers at the University of Queensland found that children born to older fathers have, on average, lower scores on tests of intelligence than those born to younger dads. In addition, other studies have indicated there is an increased risk of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism, and that the chances of successfully conceiving a child begins to diminish once the man is older than thirty-five and falls sharply if he is older than forty.

Now you should take what you will from this data, as the results certainly shouldn’t dissuade anyone from attempting to have children. If anything it might motivate prospective parents to speed the plough (so to speak). Data is data, and as we all know everything is subject to dispute, as well as exception. The more interesting aspect of this report (as noted by author Lisa Belkin) is how this impacts traditional gender dynamics around the subject of having children. Typically (and I am generalizing here) it is thought that women, due to a limited window of opportunity, hold much more awareness, as well as enthusiasm, about the prospect of having children, and that men tend to hold off the inevitable procreation until a desired comfort level is reached (financial stability, etc). While these new findings don’t exactly reverse that paradigm, they do sort of even the playing field.

If prospective fathers are serious about becoming actualized fathers of healthy and hearty children, they best adopt a little bit of urgency on the matter and drop the “all the time in the world” attitude.

So scare tactics aside, how do you think these new findings will potentially impact the existing gender clash around if and when to have children? Does it change anything? Will men change their tune and start charting their partner’s basal body temperature as they sleep? Or are we in for more of the same?

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.



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