I became a dad at 50 – I lost my freedom and never felt so lonely

Although I adore my son and have no regrets, I wasn't prepared for the seismic shift in my lifestyle after half a century child-free, says Jim Foster

Back in 2002, my best mate Tim and his wife Carol had their first child when they were in their 20s. A second followed, three years down the line.

“Jim, I envy you,” Tim told me on a rare lads’ night out, shortly after the arrival of number two. “You have an amazing lifestyle. You travel the world doing what you love. You can do what you want, when you want.” By inference, he was saying he couldn’t do the things he’d like to do, because he had a young family.

I shrugged my shoulders and thought little of it. I had a dream job as editor-in-chief of a dozen fishing magazines which, for a mad-keen angler, saw me get paid to indulge in my hobby.

We were just two mates on different paths in life.

Girlfriends fitted around all this. Rarely, if ever, did the topic of having kids of my own crop up: perhaps because of my selfish lifestyle, but also because I never met the right woman. Then, in April 2016, Daisy’s face popped up on my dating app.

We started talking, went on a few dates, moved in together, got married (Big Tim was best man) and – in October last year – became parents to Wilfred.

I was 50, Daisy 37. Much has been written about the growing numbers of people putting off parenthood until later in life – with recent examples including Gordon and Tana Ramsay, who have just had their sixth child aged 49 and 57 respectively, and Victoria Coren Mitchell and David Mitchell, 51 and 49, who had a baby this month. We were about to find out what being late starter parents would mean for us.

It is, of course, a cliché to say that becoming a dad changes your life. But with me, it absolutely has – and in ways I never expected.

We talked to friends who were parents, of course, and dutifully attended our NCT classes. But none of this could prepare me for the impact becoming a parent would have on my life – especially, the impact on my mental health.

With all my life experience I thought I was ready for the challenge and responsibility of being a father – but I’m not afraid to admit that the past 12 months have probably been the toughest of my life.

There’s a photo of me standing next to Wilfred as he was weighed, immediately after his birth by c-section. The look on my face tells a thousand stories. It’s like I’d suddenly, at that precise moment, realised the magnitude of what had just happened. An “Oh s***t, what the f*** happens now?” kind of look.

It’s important to stress that I love my son unconditionally and know how lucky I am. There are many would-be mums and dads out there who’d love children but cannot have them. We’ve been truly blessed to welcome Wilfred into our lives.

But at times in the past 12 months, I have felt lonelier than at any other point in my life. I feel a huge loss of freedom, and identity: I’ve had to learn fast that I cannot be the person I used to be.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 21: David Mitchell and Victoria Coren Mitchell arrive at the V&A 2023 Summer Party at The V&A on June 21, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Shane Anthony Sinclair/WireImage)
Victoria Coren Mitchell and David Mitchell, 51 and 49, have announced the arrival of their second baby

My life has seen huge upheaval in a very short period, and it has been hard to adapt – perhaps more so than it would have been if I was in my twenties or thirties. The arrival of Wilfred presented a seismic shift where the habits and lifestyle choices I’d built over half a century crumbled and disappeared in the blink of an eye.

There were so many entrenched personality traits and habits I’ve had to undo. For example, I used to play piano and was a keyboardist in a successful prog rock tribute band, gigging regularly. Music was a real escape for me – now the band has split, largely because we can’t find time to practise or perform together. Even just popping out for a pint with my mates, or going to watch my beloved Portsmouth Football Club play, is tricky.

One of the biggest shocks has been the change to the dynamics of my relationship with my wife. I used to be the centre of Daisy’s world. Now I’m not. That honour, rightfully, goes to our son.

Intimacy has largely left the playing field. We love each other no less than we did before, we fancy each other still (my wife is stunningly beautiful), but with a 13-month-old who wakes frequently through each and every night, the chance to get close would be a fine thing.

Having a baby has put a crazy strain on our relationship. I sometimes feel unwanted and unable to do many of the things today that made me the person I was yesterday. Daisy used to do romantic things like put little surprise handwritten notes in my lunch saying how much she loved me.

There used to be cuddles, laughs, talking and jokes. Pub quiz on a Thursday night. The simple things solid relationships are built on. Now, they are gone – but I do know – from watching so many friends have children – that these challenges are temporary and we’ll have more time for each other as our son gets older.

I also know I should enjoy this time because it passes so quickly. As time passes, I’m bonding more with Wilfred. And occasionally, something will happen that transcends all the stresses of parenthood and reminds me how brilliant being a dad is.

‘Occasionally, something will happen that transcends all the stresses of parenthood and reminds me how brilliant being a dad is’ (Photo: supplied)

The other evening, I got home and opened the front door to hear Daisy say to our little boy, “Who’s home?” As I walked in, my tiny human saw me and squealed in excitement. He was pleased to see me, a huge smile etched on his face. He then looked up and said “Daddy…” for the first time. My heart melted.

Though I feel I’ve turned a corner mentally in recent weeks, I do worry increasingly about what the future holds for him: what the world will be like in 20 years and whether we’ll be able to provide for him.

This is a common worry for all parents, and I suppose one of the upsides of being an older dad is that, financially, I’m reasonably secure. So, we invest as much money as we can for Wilfred, which we hope will pay for his further education, or maybe help him buy his first house.

One of the biggest negatives, however, is health – mine hasn’t always been the best, and there’s no getting round the fact that when Wilfred turns 21, I’ll be in my seventies.

Six years ago, I had an internal bleed that saw me spend a week in critical care. My blood pressure was so high (260/158) that one doctor said it was “incompatible with life.” Heart problems run in my family and my GP kindly informed me back in the summer that I’ve a 11 per cent chance of having a “significant” medical “event” within the next decade.

In an effort to ensure I’m around as long as possible, I look after myself more today than I ever have. I run half marathons and do parkrun every Saturday morning, pushing Wilfred around the course in his buggy in 24 minutes. I’m stacking the decks in my favour as much as I can. I am fitter now than I’ve ever been.

I often get asked what my advice would be for an older bloke if he’s thinking of having children in his fifties, or maybe even older. The four things I’d say are: 1. Go for it! It’ll be the best thing you’ve ever done, but…2. Be under no illusion. Mentally, it’ll likely be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, especially if you’ve not had children before 3. Get yourself in good physical shape – it’ll help in so many ways and 4. Talk. All the time, with your partner and mates. Don’t bottle anything up.

I caught up with Big Tim again the other day. He told me how his second-born had just left home to go to uni. He and Carol now had the house to themselves.

“Oh I envy you!” I said. “Now you can do what you want to do, when you want to do it!”

“Yeah,” he replied, telling me they were off for a long weekend in Prague soon. “Funny how things have worked out, isn’t it?”

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