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FIRST PERSON

'90s FAMILY : Dear Old Dad : Even well past age 40, a man has what it takes to father children. But keeping up with them? That's a different story.

May 04, 1994|STEVE HARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The men in my family generally marry late in life. One scurrilous charge is that this is because the men in my family generally are afraid of women. But let's not get into that. The point is, I was 42 when my first child was born. Sarah's 5 now and she has a brother, James, who is 1. I am blessed, no question about it. But...Every so often, I receive an unsettling reminder of how late in life I got into the fatherhood business.

Once, in a neighborhood doughnut shop, a woman asked me Sarah's age. When I responded, the woman said, "Oh, mine is 6." I remember thinking her response odd because she was in her 60s. Then, several weeks later, I picked up some pictures of Sarah and James at a photo shop and the clerk said: "Your grandchildren are beautiful." It was then I realized that the 60ish woman in the doughnut shop also thought I was Grandpappy Steve.

Then there's the gradual realization that I'm less active than, say, a 27-year-old dad. Not that I've been as neglectful as some Hollywood types mentioned in one magazine article--the ones who describe their children as "angels" because they see their tots asleep in the morning when they leave for work and asleep at night when they return.

But, unfortunately, I did identify with an older breed of parent criticized by child-rearing experts in another article. That's the dad who, upon arriving home from work, is asked to play by his frisky kids but tells them, "Not now. Daddy's tired. He had a long day at work and wants to relax."

I worry that if I'd played more ballgames with Sarah, she would have given a different answer the other day when I idly asked her to name her favorite sport. She said: "I like cheerleaders." And she resumed playing with her collection of Barbie dolls, which could fill the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Even if I were closer in age to my children, I doubt if I'd be mistaken for their father by the average stranger. My wife, Tia, is a Chinese-American, while I'm a Welsh-English-Scottish-German-French-Dutch-American. Sarah, in particular, looks nothing like me, which is a good thing inasmuch as I'm red-bearded and bald.

She and I probably make a bit of an unlikely couple in public, although I never realized how unlikely until one visit to our local playground.

It's fenced, and I let Sarah go in by herself after realizing that I'd left my book in the car. I returned a few moments later and plopped down on the park bench. I was inconspicuous except perhaps for the fact that I seemed to be alone, I was the only adult male present, and I was reading " 'C' is for Corpse."

Sarah, of course, took no notice of my arrival. She has her own idea of quality time with Dad: I'm allowed to bring her to the park as long as I don't try to talk with her too much.

Anyway, after half an hour on this particular visit, I approached Sarah to tell her it was time for kindergarten. She resisted and began shouting her vow to stay. Finally, I took her hand and told her that we were leaving. That's when a young woman stepped between us and the playground exit, blocking our departure.

Avoiding my eyes, the woman looked at Sarah and asked: "Do you know this man?" At this point, I would have accepted the designation of granddad.

But Sarah, after a slight hesitation, answered correctly: "He's my dad."

The woman accepted Sarah's testimony and, without a word to me, returned to her seat on the park bench.

I don't take murder novels to the playground anymore.

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