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When your friends start having kids young

I ran into a guy who had been a few grades below me at school on the weekend. He was with his wife and child.

Despite what many people may tell you, nothing can truly prepare a man for the fact that he’s getting to that age where he could be having children. It's a distant possibility in your early twenties, but it can happen. For most guys I know, the entire concept of fatherhood, preceded by the equally sticky concept of ‘marriage’ is probably ranking below the lowest team in their fantasy football league in terms of time they’ve spent thinking about it. Most of us spend more time trying to court partners or apologise to the ones we’ve messed around than really project forward, or think long-term. After all, that’s what we have parents for, right? They love to worry about that kind of stuff.

So being faced with that very real possibility of fatherhood, especially when it’s manifested in a guy significantly younger than you are can really throw your male chakras out of whack. Anyone who has been brought up under a monotheistic religion is well aware that this is what having sex is supposed to be all about anyway. While you’re here trying to figure out if you can justifiably drive to that house party an hour away if you intend on drinking All Of The Beers, Mr Responsible down there is worrying about inoculations and waking up at 3am to the worst kind of crying imaginable, and you sort of envy him.

That’s not to say it that I would wish it upon any unborn foetus or small pudgy thing to have me as a Dad at this particular point in my life, but in typical alpha-bro fashion, we do get to wondering what it is about those Young Dads that makes them qualified to be Young Dads. What do they have that we don’t? Are they legitimately more responsible, temperate and reasonable than us, or is it just a matter of circumstance?

Fatherhood is a big deal, and requires focus and fortitude. What that could mean is that these men, though appearing at a huge disadvantage in the moment we encounter them, are truly better than us. They have sorted their lives out. They have brought another life into the world in the process. They saw the signs, and they didn’t cart their lady off to the pharmacy for that magic get-out-of jail free pill. They fell in love with one woman and committed to her. That’s probably the most impressive thing you can do as a man, which includes changing tires and being able to sing the entire Powderfinger discography.

I believe the reason young men baulk at the prospect of even discussing fatherhood is not because they’re not mature enough to deal with it. That would be the obvious, grossly oversimplified response. Rather, it could be that gnawing fear that we just won’t be good enough. This extends to many other facets of our lives that seem to just fall into place by accident or design, but we never know when they’re going to happen. We don’t know when we’re going to be faithful, land the job that isn’t dead-end, or when we’re going to want to continue our bloodline.  Most young men don’t even know when we’re going to be content with who we are, where we are, and where our lives are going.

My father only got married in his early thirties, and later had four kids. The other night I told him I was intending on doing the same, and he gave me a stern lecture. “You don’t want to be an ageing father,” he said, himself a sixty-something Dad to a fifteen year-old daughter. “There’s no evidence that shows men who get married later stay together longer. In fact, it’s the ones who settle down earlier who are less likely to divorce.” I then asked him what he was doing in his mid-twenties, in the roaring ‘70s, and whether he harboured any desire to have argumentative offspring like myself back then. He told me to stop asking questions and to go wash the dishes.

Obviously, the highschool friend was delighted to see me, and wanted me to meet his infant son. Holding that adorable little bundle of spit and flub in my hands didn’t feel quite as alien as I’d imagined it would, but I still had this horrible, stinging fear that I’d drop the little guy and break him into a million pieces. I asked the 23 year-old Josh, now that his child was a whole 18 months, when that strange feeling finally went away.

“Oh mate,” he said, hoisting his child back into the pram. “It never does.”

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