What Might Older Fathers of Toddlers Bring to Their Constituents?

Older men, new fathers -- the presidential campaign reflects this trend.

Oct. 2, 2007 — -- Politicians with young children are proving to their constituents that late-in-life fatherhood can teach old dads new tricks.

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown became a father after the age of 50, and two American presidential candidates past their child-rearing prime have toddler-aged children.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, older fathers are on the rise, particularly in the 40 to 44 age group. Increases have also been seen in the 45 to 49 age group. Some studies say their maturity brings many advantages to their offspring.

And interviews with these powerful men suggest their constituents might also benefit from their role as new parents.

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., 63, and his second wife, Jackie Clegg Dodd, a consultant, have two daughters, ages 6 and 2. Dodd was previously married, with no children.

Former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, 65, has two toddlers with second wife Jeri Kehn, a political consultant. He was divorced from wife No. 1, with whom he had three children, in 1985.

Both senators reputedly had wild bachelor days before settling down with their second wives. Thompson had been romantically linked with country singer Lorrie Morgan; Dodd dated Nicaraguan model and former Rolling Stone spouse Bianca Jagger and actress Carrie Fisher.

Dodd has said that his interest in children's issues led him to write the Family and Medical Leave Act child care legislation, start the Children's Caucus and deal with Head Start.

'Late Bloomer'

"I'm a late bloomer," Dodd said.

"My daughter Grace was born less than 48 hours after 9/11, in Arlington, Va.," said Dodd. "From the hospital where she was born, you could see the Pentagon smoldering. And I asked myself the same question parents have asked for eons: What sort of a world, what sort of country is my child going to grow up in?"

Thompson, who has often said he has been "blessed later in life," told ABC News that his two children are "a large part of why I'm running for president of the United States."

Britain's Brown told reporters after the birth of son John in 2003, "I am a father first of all. Everything else must take its place in that context."

Last year, the prime minister fathered a second boy at the age of 55.

When asked how he was adapting to life with a baby, he said, "It is sleepless nights -- this time not because of the economy."

Taking on fatherhood after 50 presents different rewards and pressures, according to Martin Carnoy of Palo, Calif., who co-wrote "Fathers of a Certain Age" with his adult son David.

"The ordinary run-of-the-mill person does not have the huge amount of resources," said Carnoy, a professor of economics in the School of Education at Stanford University.

"You've got to be movie star or a senator, not an ordinary man with a child at 60," he said. "Raising kids is far more expensive than was 25 years ago, and there are a lot more fears."

Today, at 69, Carnoy, after raising two grown sons, relishes his role as a father of a 16-year-old daughter. In his book, he argues that men past their 40s make nurturing fathers.

The stories of ordinary fathers may give voters some insight into how these older candidates will fare on the campaign trail and beyond.

Victoria Gordon, who grew up in Rhode Island, had no idea her father was an old man until Grandparents Day at her elementary school, when all the grandpas looked strangely like her own father.

Today, Gordon is 28 and her father is 76, only one year older than her maternal grandmother.

'No Big Deal'

"I really never considered it a big deal," said Gordon, a preschool teacher in New York City.

"He's always had an active lifestyle," she said. "People didn't believe he was that much older."

Her father, Bob Gordon, was 45 when he met his second wife, who was 19. Now 76, he still practices medicine in Providence, R.I.

"He was older and knew what he wanted," said Louise Bandieri of Bristol, R.I., Gordon's mother-in-law. "He's patient and very nurturing and caring, and their children have not suffered."

Gordon said he would never have been ready for marriage or for children in his 20s. "I was always proud to be an older parent," he said. "I spoil them all rotten."

Both Baldieri's daughters married men two decades their senior. Her second daughter is married to Ely Turetsky, a retired television control room director from New Haven, Conn.

"Younger women and children keep you young," said Turetsky, now nearly 74 with a 28-year-old daughter and 52-year-old wife.

Paul Garber, a 44-year-old newspaper editor from Winston-Salem, N.C., worried about having his first child in middle age. His own father died at the age of 54 when he was only 9. "I never knew him as an adult," he said. "Having a father in his 20s is very different than having an older parent."

'Happiest Years'

Garber, who writes a blog, "Fathers After 40," said he waited, but having two young children has given him the "happiest years" of his life.

"I am at the point where I am settled and stable, not buying a first house and moving up the ladder," he said.

Los Angeles psychologist Michael Diamond said "later timed fathers" like Dodd and Thompson are successful because they have the "enhanced resources" to cope with the stresses and responsibilities of parenthood.

"They have more money, a wider network of friends, children from earlier marriages who can get involved and siblings who act like surrogate parents," he said.

Lauren Wiener, 26, a special needs teacher from New York City, has multiple siblings across the generations because her 84-year-old father had been previously married.

"My father always spoke in grandiose, existential terms," said Wiener. "He would speak about his different lives with all his children."

She, too, worries about her father's mortality, but it enables Wiener -- and her father -- to find passion and purpose in their lives.

Presidential candidates Dodd and Thompson, too, say fatherhood has given new meaning to their political aspirations.

"It always makes me realize how important choices are and how each day counts," said Wiener. "There is a sense that time is passing, but I also think that having an older father leads to greater compassion and understanding about time and love."

That kind of empathy, say the experts, could go a long way in the White House.

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