Joy of an older dad: He's a father at 51

With more Singaporeans marrying later, the number of new fathers aged over 50 is likely to rise. The Sunday Times looks at the highs and lows of late fatherhood

By the time he was 50, Mr Vasu Menon had given up on marriage and having children.

He felt this way even though playing with his two nephews and niece, now aged between 14 and 24, and taking them on outings over the years had boosted a desire for kids of his own.

"I kind of gave up on marriage just before I met my wife. I told myself it wasn't meant to be," says Mr Menon, 53, who has an elder and a younger brother.

When the vice-president and senior investment strategist at a bank met Ms Jean Lim, 40, an in-house legal counsel, they hit it off and wed after a nine-month courtship.

Two years ago, he became a father at 51, the same age as Hong Kong superstar Aaron Kwok, who confirmed the birth of his first child two days ago.

According to figures from the Department of Statistics, the median age of grooms in Singapore has edged upwards in the past 10 years. The median age of marriage for grooms was 29.7 in 2006 and 30.3 in 2016. The median age of remarriage for grooms was 41.1 years in 2006, compared with 43.3 last year. The median age for brides has also increased.

Mr Lucien Low, 54, with his wife Jocelyn Lau, 43, and their five-year-old son, Robin. Mr Vasu Menon, 53, with his wife Jean Lim, 40, and their daughters Natasha, two, and Alisha, four months.
Mr Lucien Low, 54, with his wife Jocelyn Lau, 43, and their five-year-old son, Robin. PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

While older dads typically speak of the joy they experience in raising their children, they also face possible challenges such as "a lack of social support", says Mr Vincent Lim, chief operating officer of the Focus on the Family Singapore organisation.

"We may see more children growing up not knowing their grandparents. They would therefore not benefit from the important role grandparents play in their upbringing, such as caregiving, especially for dual-income families, and creating awareness of their family history and heritage," he says.

"In addition, an older dad's close friends may have grown-up children and would less likely identify with the current life-stage of an older dad and offer the support he needs."

This has been the experience of Mr Lucien Low, 54, who became a first-time father at 48 when his only child was born.

I'd better be prepared to be around for a bit longer. You need to be able to keep up.

MR LUCIEN LOW, 54, who ramped up his exercise regimen and tries to work out at the gym every other day to keep his energy levels up

His peers' children are young adults who talk about driving and wanting to own a car, while he and his wife, Ms Jocelyn Lau, 43, are concerned about pre-schools and primary schools. Their five-year-old son, Robin, is in the second year of kindergarten.

Mr Low, an associate lecturer at a polytechnic, says he was "mostly neutral" about having children, but the couple decided to have a child because Ms Lau, who runs her own business offering editorial and writing services, had always wanted kids.

Energy levels, a common bugbear among the older dads interviewed for this story, are a concern for Mr Low.

"I'd better be prepared to be around for a bit longer. You need to be able to keep up," he says.

Previously, he used to swim about once a week, but after the birth of Robin, who is an active child, he ramped up his exercise regimen, and tries to work out at the gym every other day.

Mr Menon has adjusted readily to the tiring demands of caring for his daughters Natasha, two, and four-month-old Alisha. But the energy he requires for it makes him feel like he is regularly "running a half-marathon".

There is another potential pitfall for families with older parents. Ms Josephine Loh, a training manager for Morning Star Community Services, which develops parenting programmes, says children of older parents may feel some strain when they grow up, as they are caught between wanting to care for and support ageing parents who may have health issues and tending to their own needs, such as wanting to further their studies at a tertiary level.

Even before that happens, Mr Menon is already finding late fatherhood challenging in another way.

"One thing about being in my age bracket is that I've got old parents," he says.

He often checks on his father, 90, and his mother, 85. Cared for primarily by three domestic helpers, they have health problems and limited mobility, and have been hospitalised several times in recent years.

This stress was augmented for Mr Menon when his older child, Natasha, had difficulties drinking milk for more than a year after she was born.

More people may face similar challenges in this "sandwiched" generation as the number of older fathers is likely to increase in the years to come, says Mr Lim of Focus on the Family Singapore.

Despite all this, some older parents say their age and experience give them an edge over younger parents. For one thing, having a more "zen" parenting approach than younger parents gives the older dads more satisfaction.

Mr James Heinritz, 54, and his wife, Ms Jennifer Hoe, 45, who works in advertising, are relaxed about their daughters, aged five and three, getting dirty or falling down, or smearing paint on their arms, legs or face.

"When I was younger, I was more hyper. The benefit of being older is the ability to just be. I've had a very full life. I'm not missing out. It's cool when we just go to the beach and the children are playing with sand toys," says Mr Heinritz. The American, who is a permanent resident here and runs a company selling systems for organic farming, moved to Singapore about seven years ago.

Mr Philip Wee, 66, also felt he had experienced enough during his youth and was fully prepared to make sacrifices, including financial ones, when he got married at 50 and had children.

"The advantage of being an older dad is you get to see other people's mistakes before you start your own family," says Mr Wee, adding that some people he knew who married early were career-driven and not close to their family.

"During my younger years, I was pursuing my hobbies, sailing and golf, which were very time-consuming. I gave them up," he says, adding that he took up rearing aquarium fish as a hobby instead.

Mr Wee, who runs his own waterfiltration business, and his wife, Ms Valerie Ong, 53, a supervisor in the airline industry, have a 15-year-old daughter, Abigail, and a son, Isaac, 11.

While he says he still has to work because his children are young, he has cut down on the hours spent on his business since his children were born, ensuring that he has time to take them to their various enrichment activities.

He tries to finish work by 1pm, which means less sales for him, but it is a sacrifice worth making because he has more time to bond with his children, he says.

Abigail says her friends used to mistake her father for her grandfather when he picked her up from school.

"I felt a bit uncomfortable. He was the only dad with white hair there," she says.

She eventually barely took note of such comments. As a parent volunteer at his children's schools, Mr Wee, whose hair is more salt than pepper, was often seen by her school friends.

Abigail recalls: "In primary school, all the mums were there, I never saw the dads. But everyone knew my dad."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 24, 2017, with the headline 'Joy of an older dad'. Print Edition | Subscribe