Last April, a then-79-year-old Robert De Niro and his partner, Tiffany Chen, welcomed a baby girl. Ahead of next month's Oscars — for which he's nominated for Best Supporting Actor thanks to his performance in Killers of the Flower Moon — De Niro is opening up about his life as an 80-year-old with a nearly year-old baby.
“She’s such an adorable baby. So sweet,” the actor says of 10-month-old daughter Gia. “[When I] look at her, everything else goes away. So it’s a great joy and relief to just be with her in the moment.”
Gia is the oldest of De Niro's seven children, the oldest of whom is 56. “The kids all get a big kick out of her,” says the film legend, whose late-in-life fatherhood was joked about during Golden Globes host Jo Koi's monologue earlier this year. “The grandkids even. She’s their aunt — [and] they’re about to be teenagers!”
Dig into the list of celebrity fathers and it’s evident that De Niro is not an outlier. Last June, Al Pacino, 83, became a father again to a baby boy. Bernie Ecclestone, the former Formula One boss, welcomed a new baby at 89; Jeff Goldblum became a first-time father at 62 and Mick Jagger welcomed his eighth child when he was 73. Whereas women are very aware of their biological clocks, men technically are able to reproduce for the entirety of their lives. And it’s not just celebrity men making that choice.
“I did not want to be a father when I was a younger man,” shares Mike Bernos, who became a first-time dad at 64. His son is now 8. “I had anxiety all the way through [my wife’s] pregnancy. I’d go to sleep at night in a cold sweat. And then when my child was born I was like, ‘What? Are you kidding me? I was running away from this?’ Your biggest fears are the ones that offer you your greatest rewards.”
Lawrence Zeegen became a father for the first time in his 20s, but was in his 50s when his youngest child was born. Zeegen wasn’t planning to have more kids, but then he got married for a second time and his new wife wanted to be a mother.
“It’s very different from the first time around because the first time around I was 27,” Zeegen, who is now 59, shares. His youngest child, Zoe, is 7. “I’m a different dad in that I now make sure that I have more time than I did then. I don't think I realized just how rapidly my sons’ childhoods would evaporate. One minute they're being born and you step into a wind tunnel and then they're 5 years old. And you step out and in again and they’re 10 years old and so many things happen: the first time they grow a tooth, or they ride a bike without falling off. Now I just don’t want to miss any of that stuff with Zoe so I spend a lot of time with her and I’m fortunate that I don’t work as intensely as I once did.”
“I always wanted to have children and thought I would get married in my 20s or 30s, start a family and live the dream,” shares Greg Patterson, who runs the podcast Fathers After 50. “However, life happened and before I knew it, my 20s, 30s and most of my 40s were gone. I got married at 50 and had a child at 51 and another at 53. My dream came true.”
Fathers' ages are trending older across the board, and while becoming a dad at the age of 50 or after is still not the norm, the average age of dads in general is trending up. Between 1972 and 2015, the average age of a new father in the U.S. rose from 27.4 to 30.9; men over 40 now account for 9% of new babies born and men over 50 nearly 1%.
Dr. Paul Turek, an expert in men’s sexual health and reproductive urology, believes this trend has more to do with increasing lifespans than anything else. “The whole issue of being an older dad has only been around for a generation or two,” he notes, adding that a lifespan over 50 is a relatively new concept. “We were designed to reproduce at very young ages, because for many millenia we never lived past 30 years of age.”
Turek also notes that men do indeed have biological clocks. “They stop making male hormones and sperm usually in the seventh or eighth decade of life,” he says. “Termed ‘manopause’ this is a far more gradual decline than the abruptness of a women’s menopause, but real nevertheless.”
Psychologist and best-selling author John Duffy shares that he sees many more older parents now than he did at the start of his career. “When I started practicing 25 years ago, I was often dealing with parents of teenagers who were in their 40s. Now, parents tend to be in their 50s and sometimes even older,” Duffy tells Yahoo News. “That difference is accentuated even more when one considers the fact that technology is stretching the differences between generations more so than it ever has in the past.”
Fathering a child later in life does yield elevated risks to the pregnancy and the child. A 2019 study shows that men over 45 can experience decreased fertility and also put their partners at higher risk of miscarriage, preeclampsia, pre-term birth, gestational diabetes and more. Heightened complications for children born to older fathers include increased risks of autism as well as psychiatric and cognitive disorders.
Turek tries to contextualize that information though: “Think of a hockey stick laid on the floor. Now grab the blade so it faces up and lift it up so that that end of the stick is a couple of inches off the ground. That’s the shape of the risk curve with advanced paternal age. Pretty much close to flat until age 60 years and then a steep climb north after that.”
There’s also the issue of decreased energy in older people, and the boundless energy of the very young. “Raising kids takes a lot of energy, and I anticipate that fathers are going to be more involved going forward than they have been in the past,” shares Duffy. “I would expect older men considering fatherhood to really consider their energy level. A 60-year-old new dad may struggle to maintain that energy and keep up with their young children.”
In addition to the physical complexity, there are the existential grapplings that being an older father necessitates. “Every day I think of my mortality. I just pray that I can hang on until I emancipate him [when] he’s 16, 17, 18 years old, that’s my greatest wish,” shares Bernos. “That's why I take care of myself. I don’t drink, I walk seven miles a day, I exercise, I don't eat red meat. He's old enough now because people say, ‘Oh, is that your grandfather?’ and he says, ‘No, that’s my dad — but he’s not really 70, the doctors tell him he’s 50.’ So he’s even aware of my mortality. It’s not something we shy away from.”
For Zeegen, a throat cancer diagnosis in 2020 added to those existential feelings. “I was very focused on making sure I got better to be around for her as much as being around for myself,” he shares.
All that aside, becoming a father later in life often makes a person a very different parent than they were, or would have been, earlier.
“I would have been very controlling and would have been demanding that he do the things that I want him to do,” says Bernos, reflecting on what kind of dad he would have been had he had his son in his 30s and not his 60s. “It's a lifetime of wisdom; we all evolve spiritually, emotionally. While we may have the sins of our fathers, loosely speaking, put upon us, if you live long enough, you can kind of figure things out.”
“I'm generally a bit calmer. I'm less prone to losing it because things aren't going how I want them to go,” says Zeegen. “I think Zoe keeps me young.”
Duffy agrees, adding that an older parent might look at this late-in-life child ”as a gift they never thought they’d have. They often treat their kids with a patience and kindness that I often do not see in younger dads.”
“If you're real with yourself and realize you have a shelf life then it could add a tremendous amount of joy and value in your life,” says Bernos of becoming an older dad. “Look, nothing is certain in life. You read stories of fathers whose lives are cut short in their 30s and 40s. Nothing is certain.”
This article was originally published on Aug. 9, 2023 and has been updated.