“I didn’t think old people could have babies.” That’s what my 13-year-old granddaughter Molly said when her mom (my daughter) Lilla told her that Shonnie was pregnant.
When Lilla explained that it was only older women who couldn’t have babies, Molly reflected a moment, then replied, “I thought they were just going to have cats.”
And for approximately 12 years together, Shonnie and I figured we’d only have cats too. When we broached the topic of children, which happened fairly infrequently, Shonnie would typically say that she really enjoyed our life just as it was and didn’t want to do anything that’d change it. And I’d respond that I’d already partnered in bringing one precious life into the world, and that was sufficient for me.
However, as Shonnie reached her late 30s (37 to be exact), she wasn’t so sure about our position on this matter. In early 2009, we began to talk about the prospect of parenthood . . . during quiet moments in the evening, on trail runs and, sometimes, during our monthly family meetings. I wasn’t 100 percent sold on the idea, and though I maintained my ambivalence, it was apparent that Shonnie was beginning to lean strongly in the direction of parenthood. Together we decided that she’d go off birth control, and we’d let nature take its course. No plotting menstrual cycles, basal temperature or fertile periods; we’d just continue to have sex when the mood struck. And whatever happened was exactly what was meant to be.
As 2009 progressed I became more and more certain that my boys weren’t swimming as they once did, or perhaps something in Shonnie’s reproductive cycle wasn’t working quite right. Whatever. Consequently the notion that I might become a 60-something-year-old dad gradually diminished.
The year of 2009 had just run its course when on January 1, 2010, Shonnie walked out of the master bathroom holding something that looked vaguely like a thermometer and gleefully exclaimed, “I’m pregnant!” Shock, amazement, excitement, trepidation all washed over me at once. But it was impossible not to be caught up in Shonnie’s profound joy. And after a deep breath, I took her in my arms and joined her there.
Upon learning Shonnie and I were becoming parents, the response from friends and family has been overwhelmingly supportive. Yet I sense a few folks are wondering about the advisability of a 67-year-old man fathering a child. Well, don’t think I haven’t spent some time thinking about that myself. And after some serious contemplation, here’s my response.
From the beginning of our relationship in 1996, Shonnie and I have made conscious choices that fit for us regardless of the conventions and dictates of our culture. To wit:
- We have chosen to live our lives together even though we have an almost 30-year age difference.
- We left a wonderful life in Austin and moved to Asheville because we had a strong sense (and it has proven to be true) that it would be easier to be who we’re meant to be in this unique little city in the southern Appalachians.
- We have chosen a life of voluntary simplicity and forego the consumerism that our culture promotes.
- We have chosen to follow our true callings rather than working to make lots of money to buy more stuff we don’t really need.
- We have chosen a spiritual path outside the bounds of traditional religion.
- With Shonnie’s unwavering support, I heeded the call to serve as a field organizer for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 even though my fellow staff members were all in their 20s (I’m pretty sure I was the oldest Obama organizer in the nation.).
And now we’ve made another conscious choice outside the bounds of conventional wisdom; we’ve chosen to have a child even though I’ll be 85 (hopefully a hearty, energetic, spirited 85) when he or she turns 18.
Out of this choice, it’s clear to me that I’m being called to be more of who I really am, to love more deeply, to become more generous, to work more diligently to create the kind of world that I want to leave behind for my children and their children.
And should I leave this mortal form before Shonnie (and odds are that I will), I’ll be deeply thankful that our child will be there with her after I’m gone.