Mere Old Dads

They’re so cute at that age

“Older Fathers Linked to Lower I.Q. Scores”

—Recent New York Times headline

Down at the Headquarters of Codger Pops International, otherwise known as my neighborhood bar, we took the news with equanimity. So the New York Times was telling us that our precious youngsters—the fruit of our weary loins, the pride of our wizened psyches, the joys of our rapidly deepening dotage—were not exactly the brightest Crayolas in the box. So what? Did they think we hadn’t noticed? Besides, who says brilliance is the be-all and end-all of life? Look at the geniuses who invented mortgage derivatives and credit-default swaps. Once upon a time they were adorable preschool valedictorians, and now they’ve ruined things for everyone. As far as the Codger Pops are concerned, a handful of IQ points is nothing to raise your blood pressure about, especially when your coronary-artery system resembles nothing so much as a squiggly nest of clogged and brittle Flexi Straws.

“A toast!” cried Clarence, a reasonably well-preserved 55-year-old, raising his schooner of nonalcoholic beer. “We’re old, and our kids are stupid!”

“Hear, hear!” we all chorused, clinking and sipping and chortling in the picturesque, rosy-cheeked way of venerable gentlemen who still have most of their wits about them. None of our heirs was awakened by our celebration. They snoozed peacefully, obliviously on, scattered about the barroom in their strollers and car seats and Port-a-Cribs. At such times it is indeed a blessing to have a child who’s, well, slower; the bright, high-strung ones tend to be light sleepers. One thing the Codger Pops have learned: a tavern on a weekday afternoon is a wonderful nap environment for a child. The dim lighting and the murmur of age-mellowed voices combine to produce a womblike impression on the infant mind, especially when that mind is not as critically discerning as it might have been.

“Hand me that newspaper,” said Harold, our unofficial leader, who had arrived a bit late on this day. At 59, Harold is a superannuated paternal specimen who defies medical science every time he manages to hoist himself upright and shuffle down the street. He is also the father of 20-month-old twins named Jayden and Caden. The boys are healthy, jolly, and noticeably dense, and Harold takes immense pleasure in every drool-soaked moment of their lives.

“Let’s see here,” Harold said, swirling the ice in his ginseng-and-tonic as he scanned the article. “Okay, listen to this: ‘Regardless of their mothers’ ages, children whose fathers were 50 years old had lower scores on all tests than those whose fathers were 20. And the older the fathers, the more likely the children were to have lower scores.’” Harold looked around at the assembled Codgers and said, “Anybody surprised to hear that? I didn’t think so. Anybody upset? Miffed? Ever so slightly uneasy? Anybody feeling that his manhood has been questioned by the Old Gray Lady of American journalism?”

Oh, how we roared at Harold’s whimsy—all of us, that is, except our newest member, an enviably spry character named Skip, age 49, the father of a 6-month-old daughter named Addie. I know from experience how hard it is to swim against the attitudinal tide of the assembled Codger Pops, but young Skip, to his credit, had the nerve to do it. “It seems to me,” he piped, in a voice that sounded teenaged and adenoidal next to Harold’s stately baritone, “that we ought to, um, I don’t know, consider the ramifications….”

“The ramifications of what, Skipper?” Harold asked, not ungently. “After all, you can’t unsire her. Are you concerned that your child will be at a disadvantage in school? That the escalator of success will be running just slightly too fast for Addie to hop aboard? Or are you, just maybe, feeling a wee twinge of shame over your supposed shortcomings as a genetic donor?”

After a long pause, Skip said, “All of the above, I guess.” A phrase cribbed from the very standardized testing that damned our ilk.

Harold nodded sympathetically; then, turning to the rest of us, he raised his arms and shouted, “Testimony time, brothers! Who can help our young Skip out?”

Durwood stepped forward first. He’s 57, but he looks at least 75, which is odd because he swears he’s been a lifelong teetotaler and nonsmoker, and he’s worked as a CPA for 35 years. “Let me tell you something about being a Codger,” Durwood said, squinting, almost sneering. “Being a Codger means you have no shame. That’s for starters. It means you don’t care about the shallower mores of society, with the possible exception of lawn care. You’re beyond all that. You’ve been tempered in the fires of age, so when nature hands you a child, you don’t think about report cards or Stanford-Binet scales. You think, Good Lord, if and when this kid graduates from high school, I’ll be locked up in a home. And then you just shrug and get on with it.”

“I’m not sure how that’s supposed to help me,” Skip said weakly.

“There’s a practical aspect, too,” said Merrill, 54. “You don’t want to sire some sort of prodigy who’s going to go off to Harvard and discover the secrets of the universe and forget all about her dear old Pop. You want a kid who’ll be nicely challenged by the local junior college or state school, because you, my friend, are going to need your sidewalk shoveled and your leaves raked and your seven-day medication-divider-upper box checked.”

“Now, let’s talk about success,” said Ralph, who, at 50, was Skip’s nearest chronological peer. “Stop and think for a moment about all the people you’ve worked for in your life. On average, did they seem smarter than you? Of course not. In fact, didn’t a significant number of them strike you as such colossal knuckleheads that you wondered how they managed to dress themselves in the morning, much less how they rose to such lofty corporate heights? Yes? I see you all nodding. Well, I submit that what we’re doing—not by design, mind you, but nevertheless with admirable efficiency and with extraordinary benefit to the engines of our economy—is helping to create America’s next-generation managerial class! Can I get an amen?”

An uncomfortable silence fell over the bar. Ralph said, “Look, that didn’t quite come out right, but you get my drift, don’t you?” and soon enough the air was filled with cries of “No shame!” and “Codgers rule!” and “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!,” which woke the babies and toddlers and brought the meeting to a close.

But not before Leander had his chance to speak. At 68, Leander is our Methuselah. He sat in the bar’s corner booth with his 5-week-old son, Leander Jr., on his knee, and he said, “Research? Learned papers? Statistical analyses? My Aunt Fanny.” He drained the last of his Arnie Palmer and set the glass down softly on the table. “For as long as anyone can remember,” he said, “there’s been a study going on. You can read about it in any history book. And what it shows is that human children, regardless of parentage, regardless of IQ, regardless of epoch or geography or fortune, behave far more stupidly than they ought to, particularly once they become adults.” Which gave us all something to think about as we went blinking into the afternoon sun with our sweet, beautiful, probably subpar kids, whom we so dearly loved and needed.

Contributing editor Jeff Johnson would like to remind his family that Crutchmire’s Lumbago Creme makes a dandy Father’s Day gift.