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elizabeth renzetti

What is that incredibly loud ticking noise? Is there a bomb somewhere that Bruce Willis forgot to defuse? Oh, wait – it's just the mournful beat of men's biological clocks.

It's always seemed unfair that men (or at least Rupert Murdoch) could procreate into their dotage without a care, but there is new evidence that the aging father carries with him a certain liability. We have always known that women's eggs have a best-before date; now we're learning that sperm might, too.

Children born to older fathers (as in over 45, which hardly seems ancient) are more likely to have mental-health problems and trouble in school, according to research on thousands of families conducted in Sweden, released this week. This follows on previous studies that have indicated a link between older fathers and children with disorders such as schizophrenia and autism, possibly due to random genetic mutations in dads' aging swimmers.

"The older the fathers, the more pronounced the effects of the risks," the lead researcher, the University of Indiana's Brian D'Onofrio, told The Globe's Adriana Barton. While more research is needed, Prof. D'Onofrio said his team's study "adds to a growing body of literature that suggests that parents need to weigh both the pros and cons of delaying childbearing."

Imagine a world in which it's no longer women who are reminded at every family gathering that biology's Big Ben is sounding just for them. Hey men – you, too, can join in the fun as society keeps a close watch on your gonads, and asks when, exactly, you plan to use them.

  • As times goes on and you show no signs of procreating, well-meaning friends (especially the ones with kids) will e-mail stories with headlines like, Increasingly, Babies With Tails Born To Older Fathers, and Mature Dads Produce More Losing Game-Show Contestants, Study Shows. And your friends will write in the subject line, “Don’t shoot the messenger!” followed by a smiley emoticon. Then they will stop inviting you to dinner parties, because it’s all couples with kids and you clearly don’t like children, or you would have had some already.
  • You will be told that you are doomed to end up on romance’s scrap heap if you don’t get your act together soon. In fact, there’s a greater likelihood of being killed by an exploding video-game console than finding someone to marry, unless you settle for the first woman on OkCupid who spells her own name right. “Better settled than sorry,” someone will say (possibly someone unhappily married, looking for a drinking partner), and for a moment, it will seem like sound advice.
  • Many wise people, barnacled with debts and children, will write about the pitfalls of trying to “have it all.” Feel free to ignore this. They are just very, very tired and cranky. It’s fairly likely that “all” is not what you’ve ever asked for, and were quite content to settle for “a little bit of a few nice things, some of the time, and the occasional nap.”
  • Perhaps you will begin to doubt yourself and wonder if you’ve waited too long, even if it hasn’t exactly felt like waiting – more like going to school, working and generally having a life. Medical experts will weigh in with variations on, “Don’t wait or you’ll lose out,” and you may wonder, how can it be called waiting when I’ve gotten so much done?
  • You will begin to notice that every celebrity magazine has decided to take up your cause. One will feature George Clooney, staring glumly into the Lake Como sunset under the headline Lonely George’s Baby Blues. The world will cheer, though, when George adopts an infant from Azerbaijan and Ryan Gosling throws him a baby shower. Later, Ryan will be found weeping next to a tower of lime-basil macaroons as he realizes that the sound he’d heard was not the salsa band, but the infernal ticking of his own clock.
  • One day, you may turn on the television to see a professional man like yourself dancing with a terrifying baby hologram, which represents unfulfilled paternal desires. When you realize this is not a tequila-induced hallucination, you may want to switch the channel.
  • Your country’s declining birth rate will likely be blamed on your waffling, ambition and/or selfishness. Old people will be left on the street when there’s no longer a sufficient tax base to support them because you, mister, forgot to have babies. And when you finally did decide to have babies, it was too late, because all the good women had been snapped up, and now you will be left alone with your dog and your ramen noodles and your decaying spermatozoa.

Welcome to our world, fellas. It's noisy as heck sometimes. Feel free to borrow a pair of earplugs.

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