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Baby Boom

With a third child on the way, the actor and travel writer grapples with becoming a dad again at 50.

Illustration by John Cuneo

Illustration by John Cuneo

By Andrew McCarthy

My wife is pregnant. Few phrases speak to such an utter, irrevocable change in the trajectory of one’s life. That my wife is with child is, of course, good news. It’s fantastic news. And yet it is news that does not sit easily with me.

I already have two children, one by my first wife and another with my current—and currently pregnant—wife. My oldest lives with us half the time and with his mother, a few blocks away, the other half. I adore my children, naturally. My son is 11; my daughter recently turned seven. Like most parents, I believe my children to be more dynamic, more charming, funnier, smarter, more perceptive and sensitive, more athletic, and more beautiful than other people’s children. My wife has accused me of not liking other people’s children. I like them fine, I tell her, but I love my children. At this moment they still adore us. It’s a lovely time of life.

The thing is, I turned 50 this year. I was fairly old getting into the child business to begin with, but now…

My own parents were in their twenties and early thirties when they had children. These days people are waiting longer, so long that refrigeration is often involved. We’re postponing the responsibilities of parent hood for careers or personal pleasures, waiting until we’re ready. But are we ever ready? Much like the presidency, doesn’t the job of fatherhood make the man?

When I do the math, and I have, repeatedly, I will be nearing 70—s-e-v-e-n-t-y—when my youngest child goes off to college. That is, assuming I live that long and that I can still afford college. From everything I hear, 70 is no longer 70. At least, that’s what the 70-year-olds say. If the view from 50 is any indication, I’m sure they’re right. It’s just that I was looking forward to a little more time to be left with an empty nest. These newly added years of child rearing on the horizon will swallow up nearly an entire decade. And as one gets older (like, say, 50) one realizes that time is the most valuable of commodities. It’s the discovery that choices must be made, that everything is no longer going to be possible; it is a view into the void and perhaps the true sign of aging. And now, with the notion that my sixties will be spent with a teenager at home, I am left gasping as I watch pipe dreams of extended travel, time with my wife, and visions of blessed solitude go up in smoke.

I used to be grateful I waited so long to start a family, glad I was more emotionally mature when my kids came along. But I never imagined myself one of those fathers mistaken for Grandpa at morning drop-off. All my supposed accumulated wisdom goes out the window every time my son tortures his sister. I don’t see this situation improving, as I now need longer naps than my children.

Since the day my first child was born, seasoned parents told me to enjoy it. “The time flies,” they all said. And that has been my experience as well. It seems just yesterday that I sat with my son on my lap at his preschool orientation, but earlier this week I waved goodbye to him outside our apartment as he pedaled his bike into Central Park to go off to school, out into the world alone, without looking back.

The greatest, deepest joys in my life have, without doubt, been associated with my children. So why this apprehension about another? Is it just fear, the same corrosive agent that lurks beneath so many of my less noble characteristics? But fear of what? That everything won’t be okay with the delivery? Or maybe it’s worry that my relationship with my wife will get sliced even further, with yet another piece of her going to someone else who cries out for attention. Or how the new baby will affect the ever evolving dynamic within the family. We already have a house filled with four divas and no chorus—can we really take on another star? There are a lot of unknowns at this point.

I take solace in the knowledge that there’s still time. As I write this, we have another five months before the baby is due. My mother likes to say that the nine months give you a chance to get used to the idea—though I know I’m grasping at straws when I start quoting my mother’s pliable wisdom.

In any event, we are preparing. My wife has plunged into serious and classic nesting mode. She has become urgently obsessed with finding a bigger, better home. Now. I, on the other hand, have recently been employing an equally time-honored response: denial. Just last week I was on a plane. Sitting across the aisle was a crying child in the arms of an exhausted, panicked-looking father. The man helplessly bounced the unhappy infant on his lap, but the kid just shrieked louder with each jostle. I thought, “I’m so glad I’m past that phase,” all the while knowing that in less than a year I will be that exhausted, bug-eyed man. Again.

Another thing I thought was behind me was the playground. I always hated the playground. A few months ago I was struck suddenly with relief and a strange form of pride when it occurred to me that the hours spent chasing my kids under the jungle gym and pushing them on truck tires hanging from heavy chains were mostly over. The idea of zooming down the slide with my new infant on my lap fills me with exhaustion. Been there, done that.

And yet, if experience tells me anything, it’s that all this hemming and hawing, all my resistance, is just “by the way,” a time-filler of sorts. History promises—and I trust the future will bear this out—that the moment my new child is born, all my misplaced anxieties and selfish doubts will be swept away. Love will rush in and save the day, the way it always does when new life is welcomed. My heart will sing. I will be my best self once again.

At least, until the 2 a.m. feeding.

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