At the coffee shop, Stephen, a 26 year old software engineer and his older mentor, Ben, transition from small talk to bigger things. For Ben, there’s a point he needs to make. Reluctant though he is, he can’t wait any longer.
Stephen (single 20-something man)
Ben (An older mentor)
Ben: Well, so what’s new? Still working at that software company? Any ladies on the radar?”
Stephen: Ha! The million dollar questions. Yep- still working there. It’s a good gig, man. Pays well enough. Plenty of vacation time.
And the dating situation?
Nothing big there. I mean, I’ve been on a few dates in the last few years, but honestly- I think part of me doesn’t want to ‘find the one’ just yet. I mean, last weekend me and some friends did a weekend trip to Boston- on a whim! Watched some baseball, hit some breweries. Next weekend, we’re doing a camping trip up north. I just don’t know if I’m ready to give that up.
Do you want the whole marriage and kids thing?
Oh, for sure- wife, kids, picket fence. The whole nine yards. It’s going to be great- but just not quite yet.
Because I’m your mentor, I have to ask- have you thought through… the timeline on that one?
What- like some kind of life Gantt chart? Ha! Not exactly.
I mean like working backwards from your desired goal. So you you want to have kids- plural. Say you have two kids. You’ll probably want em a few years apart- say three years or so. Throw in 9 months of pregnancy on the first one and a few months to even get pregnant before that.
Before the kids, were you hoping to have a few years of time with just your spouse?
Oh yeah! Travelling together, figuring out friend groups… and, honestly, probably learning about one another and what it means to be married- getting all the big fights out of the way- that kind of thing.
I think that’s pretty wise. How many years do you think that’ll take?
Well with all that- maybe buying a house… I don’t know- three or four years?
Not a bad plan.
Wait so I think I see where you’re going…
Hold on! We’re not done yet! Let’s keep working backwards.
An engagement is usually between six months and a year. And so how long do you think you’d want to date someone before you asked them to marry you?
Obviously marriage is a huge thing- I am getting older so things can move quicker but probably one year at least.
And how long do you think it would take to meet this special someone? I mean if you were seriously looking?
I’d like to think that it would just happen- but then again it’s taken 26 years and there are no current prospects. I mean I should probably give myself a couple years. I get where you’re going, man. Maybe if I want marriage and kids in my future, I should start taking some steps now.
I’m saying the “Gantt chart” you just laid out puts you at fourteen years til you have your second baby.
Stephen smirks as he resists the increasingly dour logic of his mentor.
Stephen: Well, Ben- you sound pretty smart. But what’s wrong with being an older dad? Lots of people do that nowadays. And we were just talking in ideals, right? All the steps wouldn’t have to take that long.
Well, Stephen, which part of that process would you like to rush? Picking your spouse? Dating them? Getting to know them as a person once you’ve committed to them? Which of those sounds unimportant enough that you could just fly through the motions?
The smirk is fading as Stephen looks out the window. What if there is something to this?
And sure- plenty of guys are older dads. But there are plenty of guys who wanted to be older dads- and weren’t.
What do you mean?
Well we hear about our friends and all the actors in Hollywood having kids in their 40s, right? But have you ever read actual statistics on it? [Cite stats from Defining Decade] Given this timeline, the odds are that you’ll have to spend significant money and time to get pregnant- and while everything might workout great- there’s a very good chance you’ll end up with less kids than you were hoping for. Our generation is filled with those people- they’re just the stories you don’t hear.
And what if everything goes right- you spend tens of thousands, you defy the odds, and you succeed? Weren’t your parents in their thirties when they had you? That means that they’ll be at the hospital meeting their newborn grandson when they’re pushing 80! You’ll be managing a toddler and a newborn in the middle of your prime working years with the energy level of someone in their 40s.
Would your kids know their grandparents? Or even remember them? You yourself in this scenario will be about sixty by the time your kids are finishing up high school. If you have a picture in your mind of playing catch with your son or playing basketball in the driveway with your daughter- make sure that picture includes a 60 year old shooting jumpshots and running down a fly ball. Yes, Fenway park is great- but what’s the cost of these decisions that seem so inconsequential right now?
Stephen: What do you want me to do, man? I’m trying not to get defensive here. But it seems like you’re ambushing me a little, Ben.
Stephen- I’m not attacking you. I know how much fun it is to be young and spontaneous and how unique a moment this is in history where the average person can afford to rent a nice apartment, delay commitment, and travel the world in search of experiences. It’s great that you’ve got to take advantage of that.
The reality, Stephen, is that I love you too much to not bring this up. I want you to do the math now- to paint a realistic picture now– rather than letting you make this realization when it’s too late.
Yes, my generation was a little crazy in the pressure we put on ourselves to marry and have kids and all that. But I kind of think this generation is a little crazy to have no pressure to get going on starting a family. I don’t think the average lifestyle choices line up with what people are really hoping to get out of life.
I’m not saying you have to go and try to get married to the first girl you see. I just want you to think through the whole picture- ask yourself the hard questions now so you can start working towards what you really want out of life.
As Stephen stares out the window, something- or the start of something- is shifting. After a long sigh, he opens up.
Alright, where do we begin?