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Second Family Parenting Self Help Advice

Written by Jennifer Strailey

Fathers successfully creating a second family. Their friends are retiring; they're just starting a family. Why being a dad is better the second time around.second parenting

When Warren Beatty accepted the lifetime achievement award, the world saw a very different side of the one-time legendary bachelor.

Fathers creating a second family reportedly "feel younger." They also see their priorities shift.
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He was sentimental, vulnerable, appreciative; but the softer side he revealed had less to do with the teary-eyed reflections of an older man and everything to do with an expectant father pacing in anticipation on national television.

While a lifetime achievement award may sound like an ending, Beatty was just getting starting in the fatherhood department. And he's not alone. Tough guy Clint Eastwood and entertainer Tony Randall, both in their 70s, became dads.

It's not surprising, really; we've come to expect it from the celebrity set. But the trend is no longer reserved for the men of the silver screen. A growing number of everyday silver-haired men are having children later in life.

The trend, says Martin Carnoy, a Stanford University professor of education and author of the book Fathers of a Certain Age, is due in part to the fact that more college-educated women are postponing child bearing.

These women are more likely to marry a man in his mid-40s or older, and then start a family. While many of these middle-age dads are first-time parents, a good number of them are second-time fathers with grown children from a previous marriage.

It makes for a complicated story. I should know. My father is now rearing two small daughters with his second wife, whose age, as you might have guessed, is dangerously close to my own.

It's complicated, not because my brother and I feel our new sisters have taken our father away from us, or that we're angry our dad remarried a younger woman because we don't feel that way. It's complicated because society tells us it should be.

In reality, dads with children of two generations often enjoy more meaningful relationships with their older children than they would have had they not sired a second family. They also report greater involvement and pleasure in rearing their second families than they experienced as first-time fathers.

Carnoy, who is a dad to two generations of children himself, says the fathers he interviewed for his book claimed other benefits as well, such as feeling younger.They also gained perspective on what's important and what isn't in life, and as a result, spent more time with their young children. "They tended to be less driven by testosterone and more driven by a greater sense of family," says Carnoy. "And they felt good about discovering this side of themselves."

"I think I'm taking being a father more seriously this time only because I have more time to think about it," says my dad, Donald Strailey. When he had my brother and me he was in his 20s, struggling to establish his career as an illustrator. At that time, he thought being a good father meant being a good provider. Getting a second chance at fatherhood has given him a new outlook. "Now my image of a good father is someone who can be there with his kids as much as possible."


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Men like Carnoy and my father have a chance to become a different kind of dad, not only toolder dads and their two families their second families, but also to their first children. Far from damaging their relationship with their older children, the arrival of the second generation is rarely a hindrance and, in some cases, helps to grow the bond between fathers and their first kids, says Carnoy. "If they had a good relationship with the father before, then they do after."

Some fathers said that being in a new family incited important discussion about the past with their older children. Unexpressed guilt, anger and emotions rose to the surface and were resolved. In Carnoy's family, the birth of his new daughter sparked discussions with his two older sons and forced them all to address "stuff that wouldn't have been brought up otherwise."

Such frank talk often strengthens the relationship between fathers and their older children. The fathers begin to think of their older children more as adults and less as kids, and the older children see their fathers more as people and less as dads. "I feel that you and Jonathan are more than my children," says my dad. "You're these really great grownups, people that I want to talk to, people that I'm really glad I know."

Is it all as happy and uncomplicated as that? Nothing in life ever is. As young as the fifty- or sixty-something dad may feel, he still has Father Time to contend with. The moment comes for every one of us dads, says Carnoy, when you go to the school to pick up your kid and the other kids think you're the grandfather.

Most men get past the initial blow to their self-esteem quickly, as their attention must turn to the concerns of their young child. "Will you see me get married?" Carnoy's little girl asks him. He tells her he will. He plans on being around for a while.

In the end, fathers of two-generation families grapple with the same issues faced by dads of any age. For my father, it's the cool factor. He wants to be someone his kids can relate to, he always has, he always will. "My only concern is that I don't want to be an old parent, whatever that means, to not have energy to do things with my kids, to be out of touch and just be this old fogy, which, by the way, I'm not going to be."

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