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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

What first-time fatherhood looks like in your senior years

Aug 25, 2023 12:55PM ● By April Fitzgerald

Seven years ago, John Schmitz was living out of his backpack and traveling the world. The retired combat veteran never thought he would eventually become a dad, let alone a first-time father in his 50s.

Then he met Ami while working with the National Park Service in Utah. They married in 2016 and moved to Montrose two years later. Now Ami teaches writing at Centennial Middle School while 56-year-old Schmitz is the main caregiver during the week for their two children: 6-year-old Orion and 4-year-old Cassi. 

“I went from carrying a military backpack to a traveling pack to slinging a pink diaper bag,” said Schmitz. 

Recent stories of older celebrities like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino becoming fathers in their 70s and 80s have brought attention to older dads. While these birth announcements aren’t the actors’ first rodeo with kids, a 2017 analysis by Stanford University researchers revealed the age of a new father in the U.S. rose from 27.4 to 30.9 years from 1972 to 2015. The percentage of new dads in their 40s doubled during that time, to almost 9 percent, AARP reports. But still, fewer than 1 percent of first-time fathers are over 50. 

While most dads Schmitz’ age have kids leaving the nest or are welcoming grandchildren, he was thrown into the world of dirty diapers, nap times and fussy eaters.      

“I always felt I was meant to be a father,” he said. “I don’t move as fast, but I know I’m a lot better at this than I would’ve been 20 years ago.”

No doubt there are challenges and benefits to being a dad later in life, said Schmitz, who became a first-time father at an older age than both Pacino and De Niro did. If anything, he believes that time and age has better prepared him for both the joys and sacrifices of fatherhood.



Schmitz’ journey into fatherhood was quite the change after 20 years in the military. 

“Just a few years ago I had people listening to me. Now nobody listens to me!” he said with a laugh.

Unlike his own childhood, with a somewhat absent military father, the fact that Schmitz has already had a career, earned his degree and traveled the world has allowed him the freedom to be more present with his kids. 

“I’ve already done all my selfish things in life,” he said. “I’m also in a wiser position now and things don’t bother me as much. I don’t get upset when my kid writes on the wall, or when my daughter ‘helps’ me paint.” 

When Schmitz discovered he’d soon be a dad, he knew very few men he could turn to for advice. That’s when he stumbled upon Life Choices Family Resource Center in Montrose. 

“They were amazing to us,” said Schmitz’ wife Ami. “We got free clothes, a free ultrasound, parenting classes...” 

And Schmitz found support for new fathers as well. 

“I realized I wasn’t alone. There were other dads asking for help who had no resources,” he said.

Schmitz started a blog to help encourage dads to do things with their kids and to start a community where dads could help one another. But as his blog grew, he started noticing that those conversations weren’t always positive. 

“The blog started gaining traction, but I started seeing dads who weren’t getting good advice,” he said. “They were getting advice from other guys who were telling them, ‘Forget her!’ or ‘Take the kids and run!’” 

Around the time he put his blog on hold, Schmitz came into contact with Hilltop, which had recently received a grant to start a new fatherhood program in Montrose and hired him to start it. 

Schmitz got certified to lead the Nurturing Father’s Program, a 13-week evidence-based course designed to teach parenting and nurturing skills to men. Each class teaches effective skills for healthy family relationships and child development, and the course utilizes visualization exercises, goal setting, personal assessments, home activities and more. 

For Schmitz, the program has been instrumental in informing his parenting.

“We father like we were fathered,” he said. “Without the program, I would have still raised my children based on the way my father raised me. Every time I taught the class, I learned something.”

The program flourished and Schmitz took it beyond his work at Hilltop. Now he collaborates with the Montrose Department of Human Services and Life Choices to sponsor the workbooks used in the class and offer the course free of charge to any men who are interested.

Men are also introduced to the program through various community sources, including churches, probation offices, schools, hospitals and other parenting groups. 



Schmitz is amazed at how the program has benefited men of all ages, including fathers, fathers-to-be, stepfathers and grandfathers.

“This program is reaching out to a lot of older guys as well as younger ones,” said Schmitz. “In my last class, I had one guy whose first-born is like 38, but then he remarried and was fostering a child. One guy was a grandfather raising his kid’s son.”

U.S. census data shows that 7.1 million American grandparents are living with their grandchildren under 18. Some 2.3 million of those grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren, according to AARP.

“There are a lot of grandparents raising kids,” said Schmitz. “As a substitute teacher, and as a parent dropping off my kids, when I talk to them, they say, ‘We’re grandparents. We didn’t sign up for this.’” 

Schmitz feels that the wide age range in the groups is beneficial because the men learn so much from each other. He says they develop a camaraderie similar to what he experienced in the military. 

“I’ve seen guys shed tears in a class. I love the beauty and edification of seeing the participants communicate and share those bonds,” he said.

Schmitz has guided over 100 men from as far away as Gunnison and Grand Junction through the program. Several have gone on to become certified facilitators themselves. 

Alex Ramirez, a father of five, became a facilitator after the program helped change his life.

“I can’t say I’m the perfect father, but I can say that I have the tools in front of me to become a better father,” said Ramirez. 

Ben McGee also became a facilitator after taking one of Schmitz’ classes.

“I didn’t have a good father figure growing up and because of that, I needed something to help guide me to be a better father,” he said. “I built some good friendships through the class and got a bunch of healing from my past.”

Schmitz’ outreach and commitment to supporting dads has certainly made a difference for many. To learn more or to enroll in a class, email Schmitz at [email protected]

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