One of my friends was recently mistaken for a grandfather at a playground with his 2-year-old son. This is part of a mini-renaissance of old dads I have been observing in my social circles, a proliferation of 50-something men having babies. While their friends are bundling their kids off to college, they are perusing strollers. Some are perennial bachelors—restless, social, flirtatious men—who have somehow, in their 50s, obtained a child or two. Others simply took longer to find it in themselves to try fatherhood.

Of course, there will be disapproving onlookers who note that this is not necessarily in the best interest of the children. That these kids are losing out on parental vigor. That there is something selfish about giving a kindergartner a 60-year-old dad. A recurring concern among the old dads I know is the vision of themselves as septuagenarians, carrying boxes up flights of stairs and assembling furniture for their children when they are moving into college dorm rooms. This, I think, stands in for larger anxieties about their mortality. “I feel a certain sadness,” one of them told me, “for not being there for more of his life.”

But there may also be some pluses to being older and calmer when you are hanging out with a tiny child. It may be that you can relax and enjoy them more. You can sit on the floor and play because you have let go of some of the frantic, ambitious energy of earlier years. As one old dad put it, “At this age it’s less deranged ambition, more humble purpose.”

In general, it seems like the age factor is decidedly a mixed bag. For every downside—not being able to do as many sports with your kid, your back hurting when you carry a toddler—there seems to be an upside. Being buffeted and banged up a little by life may bring a richness to parenting. Experience transmutes the atmosphere the child is raised in. One of my old dad friends feels that he is able to talk his kid through interpersonal struggles in a more sophisticated way than he would have when he was younger.

Being calmer, more settled, steadier, helps with parenting. Several of the old dads said they felt the constraint and sacrifice of staying home with a child less than they would have in younger years. They no longer care about going to parties or spontaneously taking off on a trip.

I found it interesting that these men felt some of the same social stigma of childlessness, and familylessness, that single women feel. We tend to think men are immune to these types of pressures, that they glide through life doing whatever they want. But one of the old dads said that having a baby “actually improved my standing with my friends and family. People are skeptical and judgmental when you are without a family. Having a child gave me a certain amount of credibility. It made people think I had finally grown up. I was no longer this Peter Pan figure.”

Another of my friends, with a newborn in his mid-50s, noted that after his male friends had babies 20 years earlier, “I was a curiosity, bringing adventure stories of the single life. I was living their escape fantasies. I didn’t realize how superficial our friendships had become until I had a kid and they initiated me into their intense private club of dads.”

Some may be tempted to argue that behind every radiantly happy old dad is a woman who is doing more of the day-to-day child care. This is true for many of the old dads I know, but definitely not all of them. The novelist Akhil Sharma, who wrote a gorgeous essay about deciding to have a baby in his early 50s, does more of the child care than his wife, who is finishing an advanced degree. He has felt a blow to his productivity: “It’s like they say. You sleep when the baby sleeps. You write novels when the baby writes novels.” But he is grateful to get to love her. He has become a new person.

In some sense, this is a twist on the traditional midlife crisis. Instead of a car or an affair disrupting everything and giving you a fresh start, there is a baby.

As a new father, one gets a burst of energy. John Updike once wrote that having affairs gave him a glimmer of immortality. He wrote about “bending odd hours into an unprecedented, and unsuspected second life.” Having a baby so late can do this too; it can give one the feeling of fresh beginnings, newness. You are not young, but you are doing a young thing. The other parents in your child’s class are young. A little of that youth brushes off on you.
It is rare, deep into adulthood, to be able to reinvent your life. To totally shake up your identity and forge a new one. To embark on a great new project that remakes you.

The other day I was shopping for a baby gift for a 50-something new father. Outside it was raw and cold, and as I picked a tiny red sweater from the racks, I felt a brightness. I was happy for my old friend who has stumbled on this joy after nearly missing it. I felt a little spark of the newness, the energy, the freshness myself.