Men age and die, while cells in their germline are programmed to be immortal. To elucidate how germ cells maintain viable DNA despite increasing parental age, we analysed DNA from 24 097 parents and their children, from Europe, the Middle East and Africa. We chose repetitive microsatellite DNA that mutates (unlike point mutations) only as a result of cellular replication, providing us with a natural ‘cell-cycle counter. We observe, as expected, that the overall mutation rate for fathers is seven times higher than for mothers. Also as expected, mothers have a low and lifelong constant DNA mutation rate. Surprisingly, however, we discover that (i) teenage fathers already set out from a much higher mutation rate than teenage mothers (potentially equivalent to 77196 male germline cell divisions by puberty); and (ii) ageing men maintain sperm DNA quality similar to that of teenagers, presumably by using fresh batches of stem cells known as ‘A-dark spermatogonia.