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The Changing Face of Fatherhood

More men are opting for fatherhood later in life for a variety of reasons. Are the challenges different?

Are 50s the New 30s?

"I think there is a trend toward midlife fatherhood," says Terrence Real, founder of the Relational Recovery Institute in Cambridge, Mass., and author of several books on male emotional health.

"It's pretty clear that men in their 40s are significantly more interested in children than previous generations, and men are somewhat more interested in fatherhood from the 50s on up," Real says.

The reasons are many, he says.

"More men are engaged in second marriages, and there is often an age gap in a second marriage," he says. "If an older man takes a younger wife who does not have kids, there are very good odds he will have children."

In addition, baby boomers are revamping expectations about aging. "Men are thinking that they are in their prime at age 50," he says, adding, that "adolescence keeps getting extended, so it takes longer for men to settle down" as well.

Midlife Crisis?

Men spend decades on the conveyor belt, and now they are assessing where this conveyor belt has taken them, Real explains. If he was fairly successful, he may look around and think, "This is great, but I still feel like something important is missing."

Enter the allure of fatherhood.

"Men have woken up to the joy and enrichment of being fathers," he says.

A child is "a legacy and suggests that men have sewn their wild oats and are done running around," he says. "Fathering has hit the map, and the idea that you are really missing out without the fatherhood experience is not a myth, it's a reality."

Fueling this cultural phenomenon is a tremendous change in the positive imagery of men as fathers, including books and movies, Real explains. "Men being healed by fatherhood/fathering is depicted in several films, including Scent of a Woman, Man Without a Face, and Finding Forrester," he says.

"There are slews of films where a shut-down, reclusive, cynical man has his heart opened by a boy/child who needs him," real says. "The act of fathering can heal a damaged man."

Tick, Tick, Tick?

Midlife fatherhood "is an increasing trend," agrees Jed Diamond, founder and director of MenAlive, a men's health program, and author of several books.

"I've been seeing it more and more in friends, colleagues, and patients," he says.

Today, for a host of reasons including the economy, men are less likely to put so much of their sense of self and identity into their work, and more of them are looking to feel more connected to family and children, he says.

In addition, there had been the belief that men can have children forever, but andropause or male menopause indicates a decrease in testosterone, and there is a drop in fertility for men as well as for women, Diamond tells WebMD.

"Men are beginning to realize that ... 'if I really want children, this is the time to do it,'" he says. "Fertility decreases and men start having a greater sense of urgency."

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