Dear Old Dad

What it’s like to be a first-time father—of twins!—at 61.

By Michael Yockel - December 2015

Dear Old Dad

What it’s like to be a first-time father—of twins!—at 61.

By Michael Yockel - December 2015

The writer with his wife, Betsy Boyd, and his sons Tex and Miner. -Photography by Christopher Myers

One afternoon this past May, my friend Mark and I chatted and sipped coffee in a panoramic window seat at Atwater’s in Belvedere Square. Outside, in signature if-you-don’t-like-the-weather-wait-five-minutes Baltimore style, the skies seesawed wildly between blazingly sunny and threateningly stormy. On our table, along with the salt, pepper, organic sugar, and Splenda, rested two child car seats, propped side by side, in which a pair of 10-month-old twin boys slept peacefully. After a while, I noticed that more than a few people entering and leaving the restaurant glanced at us with warmth, bemusement, curiosity, or a mixture of all three. More intimately, our twentysomething waitress treated us with what seemed like a winking understanding. As Mark and I remarked upon this what-the-heck phenomenon, its likely catalyst finally hit me: “They think we’re gay granddads,” I told him, at which we both chuckled.

The strangers’ apparent perception was understandable: We were two going-gray guys (we’re both 63) minding slumbering infants midweek at 4 p.m. Add to that the fact that Netflix had just streamed its much-ballyhooed show Grace and Frankie, starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as not-so-chummy women of a certain age whose law-partner husbands (Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston) announce that they’re leaving them to marry to each other. Here we sat, a seemingly real-life manifestation of the Sheen/Waterston characters.

“I became a first-time father at 61, an age when many men dote on their grandkids.”

But Mark and I are neither gay nor granddads, although his daughter certainly is old enough to be a mom. The babies are my sons Tex and Miner, now 17 months old and zipping around like pixelated penguins, yammering to each other in a distinctive twinspeak, and conducting long-term research into parental sleep deprivation.

To my astonishment, I became a first-time father at 61, an age when many men downsize their households, regularly check their 401k accounts, and, yes, dote on their grandkids. Two years before Tex and Miner floated down the Patapsco in a wicker basket, I was equally astonished to find myself becoming a first-time husband, married to my girlfriend of several years, Betsy Boyd. After four-plus decades as a serial boyfriend with few responsibilities outside of my editor/writer job, I finally overcame my skittishness regarding matrimony, persuaded by my undiluted love for Betsy and hers for me. Ditto having a kid, which she indicated from the start was on her wish list. Marriage and parenthood, it turns out, have been the most rewarding—and the best—decisions I’ve ever made.

Still, both commitments, particularly dad-dom, came bundled in my most daunting challenges to date—and those challenges started right away. Even before the daily multiple diaper changings, feedings, and interventions to prevent the twins from killing themselves (or killing each other), Tex and Miner Boyd (at my insistence, they took Betsy’s surname) required an enormous amount of work, almost all of it on Betsy’s part. That’s because they were conceived via in vitro fertilization (IVF) with the aid of a sperm donor, made necessary after a urologist informed us that my sperm had been zapped into “immaturity” by radiation treatments for cancer 10 years earlier. Two IVF procedures (the first failed), plus four earlier unsuccessful attempts at intrauterine insemination, took an emotional and physical toll on Betsy.

Not surprisingly, however, the twins have provided a profoundly positive payoff. (They’re fraternal twins, by the way, who barely look brotherly these days: Tex, the scampish, blue-eyed, long-locked pop star; Miner, the sheepish, brown-eyed, fuzzy-headed boy-next-door.) First discernible word from both: “Dada,” which, as you might imagine, gave me a thrill, regardless of whether they meant me or the convention-flouting early-20th-century art and literary movement.

“The available resources fail to address men who held out until their 60s to become parents.”

Admittedly, I continue to adjust to my new role, frequently all over the place emotionally: delighted, resentful, proud, and depressed, sometimes all within the span of an hour. Raising children, in this case a same-age double whammy, is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and available resources, either people I know or go-to guides, fail to address the peculiar situation of men who held out until their 60s to become first-time parents. (Famously, Steve Martin did so in 2012 at 67; regrettably, he doesn’t accept my calls.)

Caregiving comes somewhat naturally to me, I’ve learned, when you consider my six-plus years attending to the needs of my mother—dementia-addled, physically debilitated, and yet relentlessly wonderful—and 40 years rescuing and raising stray cats, including feeding them, obsessively scooping/cleaning their litter boxes, ferrying them to the vet, and petting them affectionately. In fact, my cat-guy DNA took over during the first several months of Tex’s and Miner’s lives—their inert “blob phase” (a spot-on descriptor introduced to me by my friend Jim, a real gay granddad)—when I treated them as if they were kittens. It often irritated me that after the boys had been fed, changed out of poopy diapers, and adoringly rocked and stroked, they didn’t just curl up and nap for five hours, allowing me to get on with some undisturbed reading, listening to music, writing, or whatever else appealed to me at the moment. Why all the seemingly irrational crying? Couldn’t they see that I was busy?

Given that Betsy works two part-time jobs (teaching at the University of Baltimore and serving as an editor at Style magazine), I have spent a lot of time alone with the twins—a stay-at-home, seldom-leave-the-premises, wearing-my-pajamas-all-day dad performing various quotidian baby-related tasks in a zombified state, the result of the Beastie Boyds’ aforementioned parental sleep-deprivation study. They usually wake up hungry several times nightly, at which point Betsy and I divide and conquer: She nurses Miner, while I coax Tex to take a bottle. While I’ve never slept well, I’ve slept even less well in recent times, frequently leaving me a wreck the next day.

“‘You’ll be a great father,’ Betsy used to tell me during her pre-twin pep talks. We’ll see.”

As a result, a kind of Fog of Fatherhood enveloped me for almost a year after Tex’s and Miner’s births, disconnecting me, an avid news consumer, from the outside world. It took me months to understand the magnitude of ISIS and Ferguson. And for the first time since I turned 18, I missed voting, dumbfounded the day after the November 2014 election to learn that the Republicans had secured Maryland’s governorship.

This past summer, around the time the boys evolved from commando-style crawling to drunken waddling, that fog began to lift, thanks, in part, to the take-charge nanny we hired five hours a day twice each week, freeing me to gradually reacquaint myself with the world. That baby step away from the twins, oddly, has allowed me to appreciate them—I’ve always loved them—more than before. Increasingly, I find it kind of cute, as opposed to kind of annoying, when each boy grabs one of my pant legs and shakes it vigorously while I’m tending to household chores; when they gleefully empty their toy chest item by item after I’ve carefully put away those same toys; and when they ceremoniously dump a meal, prepared by their mom or me, on the floor beside their highchairs.

We regularly listen to music together—not simpering kids tunes, but 45s r.p.m.s blasting from my vintage jukebox, with the boys clinging to its chrome grille as they rock out in tandem to, say, Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tristessa,” Uncle Tupelo’s “Gun,” or Superchunk’s “The Breadman.” (We’re in the midst of an early-’90s bender.)

“You’ll be a great father,” Betsy used to tell me during her pre-twins pep talks. We’ll see. Right now, I’m as much a work in progress as the babies. I definitely will be an old father. No one needs to point out that I will be on the cusp of 80 when the boys graduate from high school. And let’s be frank: I will probably not still walk among the living if one or both of them marries and has kids of his own, especially if they wait until they’re 60-plus as I did. Already, I’m a happy father. So maybe I should just embrace this mistaken-for-grandpa experience and enjoy it. At least Tex and Miner know I’m their dad.





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