When 19-year old Filipino Jericho Dizon found out about the pregnancy, he was hit by bittersweet waves of emotion. Looking back, the now Dubai-based 38 year old tells Gulf News in an interview, “If I could go back in time, I would choose to become a dad at a time where I had financial stability, so I wouldn’t have to sacrifice my own happiness all because of my financial responsibilities towards my child.”
It’s a thought many fathers echo. Adnan Khalid, a 42-year-old expat in Dubai, for example, believes that if you have a stable business and healthy bank balance, you can get married and have children in your 20s, but you “need that stability”.
However, laugh mums and dads, parental readiness is like a unicorn: a myth. There are a number of factors that come together to weave the complex algorithm of new births:
- Mum-to-be’s age and health
- Dad-to-be’s age and health
- Financial stability and willingness, and
- Societal pressure
How does age physically affect fatherhood?
It’s not so uncommon to meet a grey haired dad these days. However, that’s not to say age doesn’t take its toll. Maria Banti, Laboratory Director and Clinical Embryologist at Orchid Fertility Clinic, says: "All these years we were under the impression that men can reproduce at any age, as their sperm production never ceases. However, this is wrong; men have a biological clock, too. Research has shown that age affects a man's fertility in a similar way to a woman's. This is because the quality of sperm that men produce seems to decline with age. Although an average man makes millions of new sperm per day, a man above 40 years old is expected to have fewer healthy sperm than a younger man.
This is because, she explains, with age comes:
- Higher incidence of genetic mutations,
- Increased sperm DNA fragmentation, which can lead to lower chances of pregnancy or risks for the health of the baby.
- “The ‘best’ age to become a father is below 40 years old, although it is still possible to have kids above that age," she adds.
Dr Rami Labib Kamel, Specialist - Urology at Bareen International Hospital - MBZ City, echoes these ideas, saying in an interview that men are best suited for fatherhood in their late 20s and early 30s.
She adds: “Some studies even suggest that as men grow older, there is an age-related increase in acquired medical conditions and decrease in semen quality.”
And, adds Dr Abdul Hameed, Specialist Urology at Aster Hospital, a child born to an older man is at greater risk of neurodevelopmental disorders. This is because, with ageing, the count, morphology (shape), and motility (movement) of the sperm get affected.
A child born to an older man is at greater risk of neurodevelopmental disorders.
This also has a chain of consequences. Muhammad Suhaib mulls that while in their 30s men have a more stable financial outlook, “You get weaker with each passing year, making it tougher on those whose kids need a little extra help.”
Too young or too old?
There is a block of time, the Goldilocks years of fertility if you will, and having a child below this age band may do more harm than good, as well. A paper, published in the international ‘Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health’ linked fatherhood before the age of 25 to serious, even fatal health consequences. The paper found that those who became dads earlier had poorer health. Besides this, it said that the psychological and financial ramifications of the new responsibility could be brutal on the mental health.
What do men think?
Most parents and experts agree that parenthood is all about emotional investment. Dizon laughs: “What's the right age for a man to become a dad? That’s an incorrect question. The right question in my opinion is, ‘Are you ready to sacrifice half or almost everything you have - time, money, personal space and peace of mind?’ If yes, then you can now attempt to be a dad.”
As long as you are prepared for the unexpected. Thirty-year-old Sajo Chako says: “It’s always the unexpected that happens – you kind of just have to hold your breath and go for it. Until you experience it, you won’t know what it’s like – there’s no set age,” says the dad to a seven month old.
Some of the main reasons are wanting financial freedom, for example, having enough money saved up to provide for their family. Another reason may be related to intensity of work and, as a result, wanting to enjoy life in terms of travel and exploring the world before settling down and starting a family.
There are many reasons why a couple may choose to put their baby plans on hold. Mandeep Jassal, Behavioural Therapist at Priory Wellbeing Centre, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, explains: “Some of the main reasons are wanting financial freedom, for example, having enough money saved up to provide for their family. Another reason may be related to intensity of work and, as a result, wanting to enjoy life in terms of travel and exploring the world before settling down and starting a family.”
And that’s not a bad thing. “This [expression of freedom] can help fathers in particular to be more emotionally ready for the next chapter in their life. It can help them to connect with their wife and the pregnancy journey, as well as helping them become more attuned with the child. This is as a result of being more settled in other aspects of their lives e.g. established friendships, and hobbies.”
Dubai-based expat Hassan Qadir, who is 33 years old, says that a man must first discover and hone his own skills and only once he has, that’s when he should consider having a child.
There are some practical elements to consider on this journey, such as a wife’s age and health, a limited time window, age in relation to a child’s age, finances and career. Most people were quick to note that while age shouldn’t be a consideration, the willingness (or want) to have a child and the stability one would be able to offer a child is what matters most.
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