Frankly, I’m a little stumped on how to appropriately respond to what occured in the discussion threads of last week’s 2 posts.
I could write a lengthy post on why formula feeders need support. I could argue about the inherent flaws in most parenting-related studies. I could debate the merits of certain misguided forms of lactivism. I could plead for understanding, strive to convince you that my standing up for women who cannot or choose not to breastfeed does not make me anti-breastfeeding, and that I still think nursing your child is one of the coolest, most empowering things a mother can do, as long as it doesn’t harm her physically or emotionally. But we’ve been there, done that, and honestly, it’s all starting to seem a little futile.
So instead, let’s talk about something that is threatening the health of current and future generations, especially those born in the United States and the United Kingdom. Yes, formula feeding has been deemed a “public heath threat”, blamed for increases in childhood obesity, cancer, and lowered intelligence. But you know what? That’s old news. There’s something new to worry about.
(Cue the foreboding music….)
I’m talking about OLDER FATHERS.
Yes, my friends, while protecting the collective health of the nation has been traditionally placed on the shoulders of the womenfolk (try Googling “fathers over 40” and you’ll be asked if you didn’t mean to search “mothers over 40” – no, Google, you misogynist bastard, I most certainly did not), we might be better off blaming Brad Pitt, Michael Douglas, and thousands of other (considerably less attractive and famous) men.
Want proof? Hard science? Here you go….
From the New York Times, 2/28/07 (Older fathers appear to raise risks of genetic disorders):
From Psychology Today, March 12, 2009 ( More bad news for the children of older fathers):
The child of a 40-year-old father has a 2 percent chance of having schizophrenia-double the risk of a child whose father is younger than 30…And the kicker: A 40-year-old man’s risk of having a child with schizophrenia is the same as a 40-year-old woman’s risk of having a child with Down syndrome.
From the Telegraph, May 31, 2008 (Scientists reveal dangers of older fathers):
Imagine, friends, the heartache that could be spared by encouraging men over 40 to choose elective sterilization. The lives of 830 children could have been saved. Autism rates would plummet. And the IQ and mental health of our nation’s youngsters could be improved, creating a super-population of intelligent, psychologically sound individuals!
Ah, but wait. According to that same article in the New York Times, “Skeptics say the studies find an association but do not prove a causal relationship between an older father’s genetic material and autism or schizophrenia, and note that other factors related to having an older father could be at play, including different parenthood styles. Another possibility is that the father’s own mental illness or autistic tendencies are responsible both for the late marriage and for the effect on the child.”
(Slams hand against head)
RIGHT! I forgot! Correlation, not causation. There could be so many other factors at play. And really, what are the point of these studies and news reports? To convince older dads not to reproduce? Or to have them be made aware of the (potential) risks, so that they weigh their options a bit more carefully, perhaps considering marriage and childbearing at an earlier age?
But hold on, there, buster. What if you get remarried to a younger woman, who desperately wants children with you? Or what if you just don’t meet the right woman until you’re 42? Or what if you do start trying at 36, but find yourself in infertility hell, and it takes 5 years to actually conceive your very wanted child?
Obviously, if you’re asking me, I’d say go on with your bad self and impregnate your beloved. Yeah, you may have a slighly increased rate of some really scary diseases and conditions, but think of all the amazing children who are born to older parents every day. Play the odds, because despite the frightening-sounding statistics, chances are your kids will be just fine. I mean, yes, if you are 20, and have the advantage of being forewarned/forearmed, you might want to consider young fatherhood. But there’s risks involved in jumping into being a parent before you’re good and ready, too. Divorce, for one. Being a crappy parent because you aren’t equipped with the life experience or maturity necessary for the job.Those may not be health risks, but they will certainly affect the life and emotional well being of your kids.
Other than the lucky few who live in the ideal socioeconomic (maybe poor people shouldn’t have kids, considering they are more likely to end up involved in crime, have a far higher rate of obesity, and will likely be a drain on our economy if their parents are forced to enroll in WIC), environmental (should people in California not be allowed to procreate, considering the increased risk of bronchial problems due to our air quality?), and emotional state (what about people with past histories of depression or anxiety?) to avoid the risks involved in child-rearing (is that even possible? You’d pretty much have to live in a bubble), we’re all going to have to weigh our relative risk every now and then. So you go into this parenthood thing armed with as much knowledge as you possibly can, and make decisions based on your own mental pro/con debates.
As far as public health goes, when it comes to mandating or heavily influencing parental decisions, we tread a slippery slope. Some people feel that home schooling or bed-sharing is detrimental to children. Others think feeding your kids Pizza Hut once a year is pure evil. And then there are those parents who are truly abusive or just negligent, who don’t think about any of this stuff, at all. I’m sure their kids would give anything to have a caring dad, even if he was 65. Or a mom who formula fed, but who loved the hell out of them.
And if a 50 year old dad were to start a blog trying to explain the flaws or relative risks associated with the studies pertaining to his plight, I’d support that. First of all, it’s not really any of my beeswax; it’s between him and his partner and whatever science/god/alien species he believes in. Secondly, I’d be glad that someone is out there for the older dads who are struggling with their decision to have kids despite the “risks”. In fact, in my research on the topic, I came across several blogs and articles extolling the virtues of older fatherhood, telling people it was “the way to go”. Is this irresponsible web-journalism? I don’t think so. There probably ARE many wonderful benefits to waiting until your 40’s or 50’s to have kids. Hell, I wish women had that luxury, without going to huge medical lengths to make it possible. I’m glad the aforementioned studies are out there to alert these guys that there might be some downsides, but I trust they will make an educated decision, and deal with the consequences, if there are any.
Happy belated father’s day, everyone – older dads, younger dads, gay dads, straight dads, formula feeding dads and those with breastfeeding partners. We’re all doing our best to parent, and if you’re online seaching parenting blogs of any sort, chances are you care. Which in the end, at least in my extremely opinionated (and currently frustrated) mind, is really all that matters.
PS: For a far less convoluted response, I suggest checking out FFF Andrea’s great post on this weekend’s debate, over at her blog, the Quill.