Single, 54 ... and a new dad

Sparky Campanella paid about $120,000 for his son, which included legal and medical fees, and costs for the surrogate mother.
Sparky Campanella paid about $120,000 for his son, which included legal and medical fees, and costs for the surrogate mother. Photo: Emily Bert/NY Times

Sparky Campanella never heard the thrumming of a biological clock. But his "sociological clock" - his sense that he was missing out on something important in life - boomed mightily.

At the age of 54, he decided to do something about it. He became a father.

He was single, but so what? "I decided I could either do it myself, or wait for the right partner to come along," said Campanella, whose son, Rhys, is a little over 1 year old.

Sparky Campanella realised he wanted to be a dad later in life.
Sparky Campanella realised he wanted to be a dad later in life. 

Over the years he had dated women who had children of their own, but he realised he didn't want to be a stepdad.

"Why go through this life," he asked, "and not have the experience of having my own child?"

It's a question many childless people over 50 are asking themselves. Of course, dealing with night feedings and rambunctious 2-year-olds are not for the faint of heart. But with their finances in order and their careers in place, with their life spans extended, some older people are concluding: Why not start - or continue - raising children in later life?

Stories of late-life celeb parenthood often make headlines. This year, art dealer Nicholas Bergruen, 54, had two children via surrogate. Janet Jackson made headlines when she announced her pregnancy two weeks before her 50th birthday.

Older men have long had children with younger wives, of course.

Most important, despite a host of health and ethical issues raised by late parenthood, the whole idea is becoming more culturally accepted, particularly in certain highly affluent circles.

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The path to parenthood comes in many ways. Beyond adoption and surrogacy, some choose in vitro fertilization, either with donor eggs or eggs they have frozen in the past. None of this is cheap. Campanella, for example, paid about $120,000, which included legal and medical fees, and costs for the surrogate mother.

Some fertility clinics have extended the age of the patients they will accept. The cutoff at Pacific Reproductive is 55 for women. (The combined age for a couple is 110.) There is none at the New York Fertility Institute, in Manhattan. "We've had patient's first baby delivered to 57," said Dr. Majid Fateh, the founder and medical director.

Steve Klein, a family formation lawyer in San Diego, is also seeing older people coming through his doors. "As surrogacy has become more mainstream, people see it as a viable way to have a child, especially for people who are beyond the optimum reproductive ages," he said. "They have money, they can provide a comfortable life, a private education. They can have nannies assist them, or one of them could be a stay-at-home parent, and they're older and wiser and more mature. They can be a better parent than if they were younger."

While some people worry about the daily logistics of having a child later in life, others worry about the ethics of it.

Annie Worshoufsky MacAulay, 55, a nurse, is planning to adopt a baby with her partner, Cindy. The couple has a 6-year-old son, Nate. MacAulay has four adult children from a previous marriage.

Although she feels strong and vibrant, she does have some reservations. "My mind tells me 'oh, my God, am I going to be going to his graduation on a wheelchair? Will I be around? Will people think I'm his grandma?' My mind and body have a constant struggle."

For all the questions, advocates for older parents say they can provide something special for their children - and themselves.

"My father was 50 years older than me," said Dr Majid Fateh, the founder and medical director of New York Fertility Institute. "I was in my 20s when he died, but the few years I spent with him were the best in my life. He was loving, understanding ... he was mature, he'd gone through life."

In his observations, Fateh added, "older parents are really gentle with the kids and more understanding."

"They're in a state of life where financially they're more comfortable," he added. "They spend a lot of time with the kids. In your 30s, you're working so hard you hardly see the kid.

"I don't know a single old father who regrets it."

New York Times