(Hit the reset button—and burn fat like crazy with Women’s Health’s The Body Clock Diet!)
Then, in 2014, when I was 45, I sold my company and packed my bags for a trip to Tel Aviv, where I had served in the Israeli military more than 20 years ago. I was ready to relax and unwind, and I was doing just that until, one day, I ran into a cousin I hadn’t seen in decades. She asked how I was: How was my family? Did I have any kids?
“I’m 45. I think it’s a little too late for me,” I told her.
“But you’re the last of the Garden males,” she replied.
That’s when it hit me: If I wasn’t going to have kids, my family name was going to die when I did. I wanted to leave a legacy. I wanted to be a dad.
Watch these women read heartfelt letters to their fathers:
Back home in Minnesota, I told my mom that what my cousin said had struck me. Though I wanted to have a child, I didn’t think I really had a choice. Then my mom suggested I look into in vitro fertilization, a medical procedure where an egg is fertilized by a sperm outside the body, and finding a surrogate, who would be injected with that embryo and carry it to term.
As I started thinking that this dream of being a dad might actually become a reality, I decided it was important for me to find a Jewish egg donor so my child would be 100 percent Jewish.
I kept looking until I found NY LifeSpring, a Jewish reproductive service that specializes in finding Jewish and Israeli egg donors. They sent me an email full of women who would donate their eggs so that I could have a child. I chose a beautiful Israeli woman who had a great family background and healthy genetic history. She was a teacher, she liked music, and she was the one—her genes would soon be the other half of my child’s. I just had to find someone to carry the embryo.
An agency called Surrogate Steps connected me with Nicole, a first-time surrogate, who was married with four kids of her own. We first met at a hotel in New Jersey. She reached out to shake my hand and I immediately went in for a hug. As we continued to talk that day, we started to get to know each other better and feel more comfortable with each other. Shortly after that, I felt like I had known Nicole for years—she made me feel so confident, comfortable, and encouraged as I started on this journey to parenthood.
At Reproductive Medicine Associates of New Jersey, the egg donor’s fertilized egg was placed inside Nicole. T-minus nine months until I would be a father. I don’t think I had even held an infant before.
Fast-forward to a delivery room in Arkansas, where Nicole lives with her family. I flew down from Minnesota with a doula, who would be there to help me with everything I didn’t know how to do, like feed, bathe, and care for an infant.
I was petrified.
I sat in the delivery room while Nicole was giving birth, along with her husband, in a spot that wouldn’t make anyone uncomfortable. All of a sudden, I heard one of the nurses say, “Oh my God, he has a thick head of hair!”
Yup, that’s my son, I thought.
The first time I held Joseph, I can’t describe the love that I felt. And our connection has grown stronger every day as we have gotten to know each other.
As a full-time, stay-at-home dad, I get to spend all of my time raising Joseph. It’s hard being a single parent, but I’m lucky to have help from my family, and surprisingly, a ton of help from Nicole. She told me she decided to be a surrogate because she really wanted to bring another family the joy and happiness that she experienced raising her four children. She’s done all that and more. She’s a phone call away when I need parenting advice, and she always has the right answers. She even taught me how to switch Joseph from a bottle to a sippy cup.
If you would have asked me three or four years ago if I, a heterosexual, single man, would have a baby through a surrogate, I probably would have laughed at you. But when my son looks up at me and calls me “Dada,” I know that I wouldn’t change a thing.
The entire process from egg donor to delivery room took about 18 months, cost about $100,000, and was the best decision I ever made. When my son was six months old, I knew I wanted to have another child. I’m going back to New Jersey to do it all over again on June 27. Nicole is going to carry my second child, and we’re using the same egg donor as we did with my son. I still have six frozen embryos from the first fertilization, and I plan to use some of those to keep adding to our little family.
To older guys who want to become fathers, but think they need to find the right woman first, I’d urge you to rethink what social norms have taught us. Life is too short to wait to do something you have always wanted to do.
Fatherhood has been the best thing that ever happened for me, and it almost didn’t happen for me. But now that I have Joseph, my loving, strong-willed, almost-1-year-old, I can’t imagine life without him.