PARENTS

Why Being A Young Father Doesn't Mean Your Life Is Over

13/09/2013 17:35 | Updated 22 May 2015

Why being a young father doesn't mean your life is overBen Wakeling

So, James Buckley is going to be a dad. "Aah, isn't that nice!" I hear you cry, clasping your hands together as you look into the middle distance with broody longing. "He's that foul-mouthed one, isn't he? The one with the hair?"

Yes, that's the one. Oh, and James is 23 years old. Your face drops. "23?!" you exclaim. "Why, he's just a whippersnapper, a boy, barely out of nappies!" And, if you're feeling particularly harsh: "He's ruined his life!"

I can identify with young James - I was the same age when my wife fell pregnant with our firstborn. I vividly remember going into work and spreading the news with childish (no pun intended) glee.

Why being a young father doesn't mean your life is overBen Wakeling

"Congratulations!" said my workmates, although the expression on the faces of some of them belied their true feelings. It was a 'congratulations' not illustrated with a hearty grin; instead, their face mirrored the kind of smug expression you have when someone else kicks a football through a window, and for once you're not to blame.

These are the same people who sidle up to you while you are in the kitchen making a round of teas, and say, "So, 23, eh? When I was 23..." ...and they start a never-ending spate of anecdotes and memories, all whilst looking wistfully at the wall. It's then that you'd take your chance and, side-stepping carefully out of their peripheral vision, gather the mugs and leave.

The notion that becoming a parent at a young age automatically means that your 'life has ended' is ridiculous.

Yes, it means that you probably won't be jetting off to the Maldives any time soon, and that family holidays will be spent in Eurocamp, or the Travelodge in Dartmouth.

It also means that – unless you're a high-flying businessman or the star of a Channel 4 sitcom – you probably won't have that much disposable income for the next few years, and you'll spend more time flirting with your overdraft limit than you will with your wife.

But – and forgive a little soppiness, please – you will have something worth so much more: a child. Yes, it will be exhausting, and stressful, but when I look back over the last three years of my son's life, all I see are wonderful, rewarding moments as I watch him grow from a fragile baby into an intelligent and handsome young man.

Becoming a father at any age is a life-changing experience; perhaps more so when you're young (whatever 'young' is classed as, nowadays). Many first-time fathers have already had their youth: for some, a swirling cocktail of booze and pot smoke; for others, travelling around the globe, perhaps.

I sometimes worry that, as a young father, I've missed out on all of these experiences. But then, when I think some more, I wonder whether it really matters; and if I actually give a monkeys that I haven't visited Peru, or woken up in someone else's lounge in a puddle of Guinness sick. Those things are temporary, memories that last for a while but not forever. I have a legacy now, two boys, two little heirs whom I will see grow up into young men and hopefully become parents themselves one day.

And I can still go on holidays, of course, once the kids are old enough to fend for themselves: although they will be Saga trips to somewhere which now seems dull, but at the time will be breathlessly exciting: a vineyard, perhaps, or a knitting museum.

I guess I'm living by the notion of 'life begins at 40'. If I get to 40, and it doesn't, someone's going to have a lot to answer for.

What do you think? Is there an ideal age for men to become dads?

How old were you when you started a family?

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