Nappies, sleepless nights and toddler tantrums are tough enough for any parent to cope with. But when you're 59? Sally Williams meets three older fathers, part of a growing breed
Men, unlike women, can become parents into old age, and more and more are doing so. The proportion of births in Britain to fathers over 40 rose from 5.4 per cent in 1980 to nearly 8 per cent in 1990. Increasing numbers of older men are launching into parenthood, firstly because they can - men, in theory, remain fertile for as long as they remain potent. And secondly, later paternity reflects a general trend for later childbearing for both men and women. Lastly, many fathers breeding into their dotage are sires of second or third broods. Many mature men opting for nappies and night feeds at a time when their peers are settling into slippers and afternoon naps are doing so because they are living with younger women.

Each year many more children are born to men over 40 than to women over 40 (50,000 compared with 8,000 - and even that is substantially more than 20 years ago). Yet it is middle-aged mothers who are usually the subject of "Parenting after Thirty" books and discussions on the moral implications of breeding in middle age. Little, on the other hand, has been written on middle-aged fatherhood.

So, what are the joys and frustrations of being an older father? Does being older make any difference?

Jeremy Hamand, (59), (pictured, left) has a daughter aged 30 and a son of 25 from a previous marriage. He also has three sons, Edward, 11, Toby, nine, and six-year-old Frank from his second marriage with Maggie, 41. He is the author of Father Over Forty (Optima, pounds 6.99).

The fact that I had already fathered children was attractive to Maggie. She probably wouldn't have married me if I'd had a vasectomy. I knew Maggie wanted children and I wanted to have children with Maggie. I think it was a genuine advantage for her that I had already lived with young babies and was more relaxed about illnesses and accidents. First-time mothers do tend to panic quite easily and worry if the baby is going to stop breathing, that sort of thing, and I was able to reassure her. Small babies are exhausting whatever age you are. The difference is that younger parents recover from sleep deprivation more easily than older parents. But deep sleep starts to decrease with age anyway, so some older fathers can cope with broken nights better than their young wives. Also, when you have been through it before, you know that sleepless nights and endless crying are awful at the time but, like nappies, they don't last for ever.

Obviously, 20-year-old fathers are going to beat 50-year-olds in the sports day sprint, but older men often have considerable reserves of stamina. I never play football with any of my children as a matter of principle. Cricket, maybe, but football never. In fact, if Edward is going to play football with anyone, it will be with his 73-year-old grandfather, who is much more sporty than me.

In many ways it's easier the second time around. I think men, in particular, learn from dealing with small children and getting used to their funny ways. I am around the children more this time than last, which is typical of older fathers. Younger men tend to work long hours, travel a lot and are generally more self-absorbed. Many men are late maturers and are ill- suited to fatherhood in their twenties and thirties. Older fathers have lived out their wild side and are more ready to settle down and accept responsibility. It wasn't that I was irresponsible before, but by 45 I had made a more realistic assessment of what I was going to achieve. I was more sorted out and at ease with myself, which in turn makes for a better domestic environment which is bound to have a positive effect on the children.

I don't know about children keeping you young, but they certainly keep you interested in making a living. From the financial point of view, having a second family has been almost entirely negative. I look at my contemporaries who are contemplating grandparenthood and they've practically paid off their mortgage and can afford to travel all over the place. I have the prospect of schools and university, and Normandy is about as far as we can run to.

Jack Mackenzie, 54, has a son, David, 32, and a daughter, Nicola, 30, from his first marriage; a daughter, Sophia, 10, from his second marriage; and an 18-month-old son, Max, from his third marriage to Rosemary, 25.

At the time of David's birth, fathers absolutely weren't allowed to go anywhere near the hospital. You were called in once it was all over. It was the same with Nicola. I was much more involved with the births and early years of the subsequent children. With the first two I was off to work in the morning at 7.30 and back at 6pm. There was no paternity leave then. Perhaps only one or two days' holiday. Sophia was born in hospital, but came home within a couple of days. I was working from home then, so I saw her a lot. With Max I took two-and-a-half months off - I work for a Scandinavian company that encourages mothers and fathers to split the year-long maternity leave.

I appreciate babies more now. We plan to have more children, but this is definitely my last family, so perhaps I am more tolerant of the crying this time because of that. I know that babies aren't babies for very long. It all goes so quickly. Also, Rosemary works full-time - neither of my previous wives worked at all, and so I have had to do more shopping and changing nappies than before. I am definitely a better father now. I get a lot of pleasure from Max because I think I understand a bit more about how babies grow and develop; when they need attention and when they don't. I am more patient than when I was in my twenties; more sorted and happy.

I have already been mistaken for the children's grandfather. I just found it amusing. Sophia is at that age where she asks why I am so much older than the other fathers at her school. She asks why I have grey hair and I just say, "that's the way it is". It's much more of a problem for the children than for me. It's something they will have to deal with. There is nothing I can do about it, so what's the point in worrying? Max definitely keeps me "younger" in outlook. I haven't got round to playing golf and all the other things 55-year-olds are supposed to do. I'm too busy visiting toy shops, reading Babar and wiping his bottom. But I like it that way.

I do worry about how my history will affect David, Nicola and Sophia. The first two have taken it very badly. Nicola especially feels very left out. When you get to my age you are supposed to be propping up the bar, mowing the lawn and smoking pipes, not pushing a buggy and keeping up with a young wife. She resents the fact that I'm giving more time to Max than I did to her. On top of that, Rosemary has a problem with the amount of attention I give to Sophia. So there are tensions, but not among the children - they get on well - it's all directed at me.

What can you do? I wouldn't have chosen for it to work out the way it has. I come from a family where my parents clearly didn't get on. I think that affected me. I wish they had divorced. If a relationship has broken down, I think it's far better to finish it and take the consequences rather than struggle on for the sake of the children. When David and Nicola were young, divorce became easier and was much more socially acceptable. I guess I took the selfish route and did what suited me best.

David Scott, 54, has a nine-year-old son, Peter, and six-year-old twins, Isabel and Daniel, from his marriage to Charlotte, 39. He has also fathered another son, 27, from an earlier relationship. The child was adopted.

I first met Charlotte in 1973, so by the time Peter arrived we'd had many years to ourselves. We both wanted children, though, and it wasn't hard at all to adapt to being parents. In fact, becoming a father was much more wonderful than I ever imagined. I love it. My body may be old, but I am very immature and love looning around, so my personality is totally suited to parenthood. My parents, on the other hand, were lousy parents. They were cold, obsessed with outward appearances, and oppressive. The same is true of Charlotte's. She was brought up by a series of uncaring nannies and au pairs. Her mother and father were very distant. We both had unhappy childhoods, which is one of the reasons we were attracted to each other and why I left it so late to become a father - I really wanted to get it right. I am very aware of the responsibilities of bringing up children. They need a supportive emotional environment in order to become happy grown-ups and more than anything I want my children to grow up happy.

I have never met my first son. His mother was a dancer, had a great wit and was a wonderful person. We were together for six months and then she ditched me. It was only when I bumped into a friend of hers two years later that I discovered she'd had a baby boy who had been adopted.

Having my second son brought all the memories of my first child back. I know where he is and who he is and what he is. He wrote me a letter which the adoption agency passed on to me. But my present trio of children are so wonderful and mean so much to me and if they discovered I had another child it may throw them into a state of confusion, so I decided not to do anything about it. My principal concern at the moment is to protect the emotional development of my children. Children don't want any insecurity in their early years. My wife and I are not rich - being broke and living long enough are the only downsides of being an older dad, but I do believe that my children have a sound emotional basis in their lives and I don't want anything from the past rocking the boat.

The names in the last two interviews have been changed.