One of the less-quoted lines in When Harry Met Sally is about Charlie Chaplin having children at 73, the notion that men don't have the same biological clock as women. "Yeah," Harry says, "but he was too old to pick them up."
Not that anyone quotes that movie anymore, except people like me—old people. People who can barely pick up their kids.
I'll be 43 in just over a month. That's 15 years older than the average American first-time father. Children born to guys like me have a greater risk of autism, low IQ, mental illness, and having to explain electronics to their fathers. Everything bad, really, including unattractiveness—yes, like old fish and mercury, environmental toxins accumulate in the body and mutate men's sperm, and uglier children are apparently the result.
This is a lot of baggage to carry, especially at my age. Even if Pepin is at least as attractive as me, I'm not going to be one of those dads playing one-on-one hoops, chasing around the soccer field, or getting tickets to the One Direction reunion tour. I'll be retirement age when she finishes college. If she marries, we'll have to dance to "Puttin' on the Ritz," with canes.
I don't know how this happened, or didn't happen sooner, except that I didn't marry until 40. I was busy, shy, uncertain, broke, and plenty happy. I rode camels in India, climbed volcanos in Guatemala, hiked to Machu Picchu, checked a lot of boxes I wouldn't gotten around to if I'd had kids. And now here I am, with a lot of souvenirs and no jump shot.
Youth are dismissive of experience because they don't have any, but also because it's often accompanied by cynicism, and people with their whole lives in front of them don't want to hear that the game is rigged. My eyes have opened considerably as I've aged, but it may be good for me to look through Pepin's eyes for awhile. Not to regress. Not to ignore reality, but to perceive it differently, to realize that my experience has been mine alone.
Pepin doesn't know any of this yet, and she doesn't care. But eventually it'll be obvious—her old man is old—and we'll have to come to an understanding. I'll know that her favorite animals are quickly being driven to extinction because of simple superstition, and she'll know that she can beat me at horse. I'll know what it was like to write a letter, with a pen, and she'll know how to work the teleporter. The sum of this shared understanding will be the generous gap of our ages. Like trees across a wide boulevard, we'll have that much farther to bend toward each other, and if we don't topple over we'll be the broader for it.
(Photo: Pepin with her inert father in the one outfit he picked out for her, in which she looks like she jogged off the set of Fame.)