‘I’m like the proof that everybody has at least 1 more miracle inside them’
There are 75 men currently serving in the United States Senate, but only one of them happens to be a 71-year-old with a nearly 4-month-old baby. That distinction belongs to Sen. John Hickenlooper, who joined wife Robin Pringle in welcoming son Jack — nicknamed “Lug Nut Jack” thanks to weighing nearly 11 pounds at birth — via surrogate last December.
“I think in a funny way, by having a child so late in life, I’m like the proof that everybody has at least one more miracle inside them,” the Colorado Democrat tells Yahoo Life of becoming a dad again at age 70, just two months before his 71st birthday.
Jack is 20 years younger than Hickenlooper’s older son, Teddy, from his previous marriage to journalist Helen Thorpe. Teddy, he notes, was born at the “beginning of my political career,” and was about 6 months old when the then-brewpub founder announced his 2003 bid for mayor of Denver, and 10 months old when he was elected. “He kind of grew up around politics,” Hickenlooper says.
Similarly, little Jack has already popped up on the Senate floor. In February, the senator was seen introducing the infant to his Senate colleagues, to much amusement.
“The parliamentarian and the clerks on the dais, they thought it was so much fun and [were joking] that he was going to vote,” Hickenlooper recalls, adding that the staff “got a real kick out of” Jack’s appearance. “Does he have his ID?” one fellow senator cracked.
While paid family leave for male lawmakers has been a hot topic of late — with former Vice President Mike Pence criticizing Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for taking time off to care for his newborn twins, who were born prematurely, during their hospitalization for RSV last year — Hickenlooper had no qualms about using parental leave to bond with his new baby. Because Jack was born on Dec. 8, the senator was able to take off two weeks and then go straight into his holiday break. He took another couple of weeks at the start of January before easing back into work while the Senate was in recess — a state work period typically spent working with staff on a bill or doing constituent services back home in Colorado.
At the time of his conversation with Yahoo Life, Hickenlooper’s wife was nearing the end of her own 16-week-long parental leave and was “dreading having to go back to work” and leave Jack behind. Though the couple have help at home — the nature of traveling back and forth between Washington, D.C. and Denver for work, he acknowledged, makes traditional childcare options like day care tricky — Hickenlooper now prefers to not come into the office as early as he once did. He’d rather pitch in at home and help deal with the morning “chaos” that comes with a new baby, he says.
Does he feel optimistic that paid family leave on a federal level — which was once again scrapped during Congress’s Build Back Better/Inflation Reduction Act negotiations last year — will ever come to fruition?
“The public sentiment isn’t with us yet,” the 2020 presidential candidate says. “There are a lot of reasons for that. But once you have a baby and you see … I mean, my wife is convinced that that baby Jack likes me more than he likes her, which is certainly not true, but he fixates on my eye when I’m in the room. He will hold eye contact with me for three or four or five minutes, even if she’s holding him and she’s snuggling him and talking to him. He and I have a special relationship, and you really get an understanding why most pediatricians, most child psychologists believe that having both mother and father able to spend important quality time in those first three months, why that matters so much.”
The challenge, he adds, is figuring out “how to let more of the American people realize the importance of that quality time, and how it has a lot to do with whether a kid has a fair shot at being … lined up to have a really happy life.”
Something he’d also like to see is more financial support for Americans looking to start their families through in-vitro fertilization, or IVF. Citing his and Robin’s own experience with assisted conception to have Jack, Hickenlooper would like to discuss having that “expensive” process be covered by Medicaid. “I think the miracle of life is something that we should be willing to invest in as a country, for everybody,” he says.
With one son in college and another in diapers, Hickenlooper is also trying to do right by the next generation. The former governor of Colorado points to the gun safety legislation he signed into law in response to the 2012 mass shooting in Aurora.
“Part of the reason anybody does a job like this is because you care about the next generation, you care about our country,” he says. “And what that really means is that you’re really caring about the people that come after [you]. And once you have a baby in the house, boy, that hits you right in the face,” he laughs.
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