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Fatherhood After 40

F is also for "fulfilling" - as a trio of fathers in their forties discover.
Feb 2, 2018 5:50 AM

AARON KWOK AND GEORGE CLOONEY had their first children at 51 and 55, respectively. Mick Jagger was on to his eighth at 73: is the sky the limit for fatherhood?

Scientifically, male fertility doesn't drop the same way that a woman's does with age or menopause, and if the Rolling Stone frontman's virility is anything to go by, it is never too late for a guy to become a dad.

That might come as good news to Singaporean men who seem to be in no hurry to tie the knot.

Figures from the Department of Statistics show the median age of grooms has shown an uptrend over the last decade: increasing from 29.7 in 2006 to 30.3 in 2016. Men are also taking their time to give marriage a second shot, with the median age inching up from 41.1 in 2006 to 43.3 in 2016.

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In short, Singaporean men are taking their time to find their life partners and as a result, fatherhood becomes something that gets pushed back as well.

Take Patrick Yong for example - the 46-year-old has just become an expectant father five years after getting married and just as he's entering middle age.

"We have been planning since Day One but conceiving is not as simple as it sounds," says the freelance editorial consultant. "I guess it has to do with our ages too and even though my wife is about 10 years my junior, she was worried her biological clock was ticking so we couldn't be happier when we found out last November that we were going to be parents."

While Mr Yong can take heart that men continue to produce sperm - as many as 1,000 per heart beat - regardless of age, medical studies have shown that the quality of their swimmers deteriorates as well over time due to everything from lifestyle, environment or just growing old.

In fact, according to an article in lifestyle wellness magazine Men's Health, as soon as a guy enters the third decade of his life, he loses both Leydig cells (the cells in the testicles that make testosterone) and Sertoli cells which support and nurture new sperm.

Poorer quality sperm contains DNA mutations that pose a risk to the foetus, and research shows that the average 30-year-old male introduces 55 mutations to his offspring, with that number increasing by two every year.

Thankfully, the good news is not every mutation is a potential health risk, although substandard swimmers also mean a lower percentage of becoming a dad. Jaggger notwithstanding, a UK study found men 35 and above had a 50 per cent lower chance of conceiving after a year of trying than his counterpart a decade younger did.

That too was a concern for Bernard Teo when he became a first-time father at 40 but didn't want to stop at just one. Like Mr Yong, his spouse is significantly younger than him in her late 20s and the Teos wanted as many as three children.

They currently have a boy and a girl, aged four and two respectively, but are wasting no time to produce a third despite Mrs Teo still being at a stage of her life where reproduction should be no problem.

"I, on the other hand, am not getting any younger and, touch wood, we now have two healthy children. But the gynaecologist has also told us not to wait too long as I am already 44 and impregnating my wife might not be as easy as the first or second time," says Mr Teo, who owns his own creative agency, "Not only that, we share parenting duties and anybody will tell you that can be quite a tiring task especially for someone in his 40s."

Dwindling energy levels aside, a Baylor College of Medicine review found older fatherhood carries birth defect risks including achondroplasia (a type of dwarfism) which spikes from 1 in 15,000 to 1 in 1,923 once men reach age 50, schizophrenia more than quadrupling from 1 in 100 within the general population to 1 in 22 with fathers over 50, and autism rising from 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 174 in kids produced by guys after they turn 40.

Thankfully, the absolute risk is as low as 1 per cent according to another Swiss study but some men such as Mr Teo prefer not to take chances and have considered the option of storing their sperm in a bank for later use.

"If we do not conceive another child by the end of the year, I will do that. So if push comes to shove, at least there is that option of using my younger - and healthier - sperm for in vitro fertilisation," he shares.

Other late bloomer dads such as Jack Cheong says he never knew what was missing in his life until he became a father one year-and-a-half ago.

"The feeling is hard to describe but there was probably a void in my existence which I never even realised was there until I met my wife and she gave birth to our son," says the self-employed 45-year-old. "To call the whole experience life-changing would be an understatement because I am totally overwhelmed by it and have never been happier... All these on top of being amused by just how much he resembles me when I was a toddler!"

Mr Cheong admits he has had to give up a few of his personal "vices" such as partying and spending money on himself but laments fatherhood wasn't something he considered when he was younger: "My only regret is I waited perhaps too long and by the time my son is a young adult, I would be in my 60s, so I could have missed out on some things a younger father and his child might enjoy doing together… My advice to those who are sitting on the fence is to take the plunge - fatherhood is not as daunting as films or television make it out to be - and get into it as early as possible."