A good friend of mine found out he was going to be a parent a little over two years ago. When he told me the news, I could tell that he was still in shock. His face seemed flushed and his eyes were puffy. He looked like he hadn’t been sleeping for a few days. Truthfully, I felt bad for him. I didn’t know what to say, so I bought him another round and just listened to his story. He knew his life was going to change dramatically, but he didn’t seem to know how to plan accordingly for his son’s arrival.
His child is now running all over the place and pointing at every object in his father’s house exclaiming, “Look at that! Look at that!” I think he has a propensity to become a tour guide or a realtor at this point, but maybe he’ll grow up to be an actor or a diplomat. Regardless of what type of man he will become, he will always be one of the sweetest kids I’ve ever met. I have hardly ever seen him cry. He never complains, at least when I’m around, and he loves to laugh. He even gave me a new handle: Tattoo.
I was downtown for the anniversary celebration this weekend. My friend brought his son, tied a red balloon around his wrist, and then they sat down to listen to The Duke of Uke. When I looked at them together, they seemed to be genuinely happy. My friend wanted to stay downtown, but his son was a little listless after having spent a long day at the Sholem waterpark. I was surprised at how many kids were actually downtown with their parents, shuffling about the streets, getting their faces painted and shaking rattles to the beat of the music. It really seemed like a great place for people of all ages to gather together.
As we sat there listening to the music, my friend jokingly said, “You should have a kid.” I instantly replied, “No thank you.” It has never been a goal of mine to have a kid. My friend is well aware of this, but yet he likes to try convincing me that I need one, as though it’s as easy as choosing to buy a newspaper or a pack of gum.
What makes people decide to become parents anyway? Is it because their friends have children and they envy them? Is it truly a biological need? Is it so that their genes can be passed on to the next generation? Is it so that they can have a reality television show and some cash? Is it so that the child will become something or someone their parents could never become? I can’t even pretend to know all the questions, nor can I even imagine all the answers. What I am absolutely sure of is the fact that I don’t want to have children.
There are a lot of reasons why I don’t want to have kids and a lot of them have something to do with my own experience as a child in a dysfunctional family. My parents decided to have me when they were damn near thirty eight years old, even after having my brother. My first memories as a child were not pleasant ones either. Sure I was raised by a family with a stable income, but they sure as hell did not have stable minds. I spent most of my childhood and teenage years in fear, or in rebellion. I was raised Catholic, served my time as an altar boy and learned that I would burn in hell. At an early age, I knew that my parents weren’t the best examples for me, but I had no other option than to put up with them at the time.
Later on, after graduating from high school, I attended college, graduated and then struggled to find what I now call a career. Now I wake up each day and try to convince myself that I am working nine to ten hour days for a reason, but that reason seems to escape me. I turn on the news in the morning and what do I see? I see oil spills in the Gulf, war in Afghanistan, abducted children, corrupt politicians and a global recession. I try not to let this bother me, but how can it not? On my way in to work each day, I see parents dropping their children off at daycare and it makes me think to myself, “I wonder if they know what they’re up against?”
I am not clinically depressed. I am realistic. I think that this world has a lot of senseless suffering in it. Eventually the children that we have are going to have to deal with the problems that we’ve created; problems like insurmountable debt and a potential shortage of water. They will have to make decisions to make this world a better place, or to let it go to shit. Some of them might be content with a modest life. For some though, they will live the new American dream of winning the lottery or a lawsuit. They will view Mega Millions advertisements on University Ave. and pray to some higher power so that they have a better chance of winning 168 million dollars. If that doesn’t work, they’ll find a way to sue their employer, or maybe they will sue a fast food chain for making them need gastric bypass surgery.
Sure, some of the children will be raised wholesomely. Maybe some will even become doctors or professors at our university. But, eventually they will die. Isn’t the only absolute we have in this life is that we will die? And when we die, no one really knows what will happen? Children are curious creatures though, so their parents have to tell them lies about heaven and hell, or some magical place where all pain goes away, but in reality, when our eyes close and our heart stops beating, we draw one last breath and then we start an even slower deterioration than the one we had while we were living.
The reality of our lives is that we spend a great deal of time toiling away or sleeping. There are times when we get a fun night out on the town now and again, but the percentage of enjoyment that we experience is minimal. When people make the decision to have children, they usually celebrate it, as do the grandparents or even great grandparents. You can’t fool me though. I know what that kid will go through. The lucky ones will be born rich and will eventually enter rehab 30 times. The unfortunate ones will deal with birth defects and rising health care costs. Some of them might even have to go to the Crisis Nursery for shelter.
Even though he or she might get to be wheeled around county fairs, petting zoos and apple orchards, they will still have to go to school and then work until they basically die. Before they die, they might get a few years where they shit themselves and survive on food that doesn’t require much chewing, but is all that struggle worth a ride around the country in an RV?
Sometimes, when I drive in to work and it’s raining outside, I see the same group of children standing on the sidewalk, waiting for the bus, and none of them have an umbrella. They just stand there, looking, waiting and hoping for shelter to come. What they don’t know is that the rest of their lives will involve the same types of feelings. They will hope that they don’t get cancer, they will pray that they can pay off their bills, and they will always wonder what lies ahead of them.
Maybe I am wrong though. Maybe my own reality has led me to be riddled with doubt and uncertainty. Maybe no one else feels the way that I feel, but I highly doubt that. I know that I am not alone here.
Even though I did see numerous kids and parents enjoying their time together on REO Speedwagon Way, there were just as many parents who handled their kids disdainfully, smoking cigarettes, slamming draft beer and trying to ignore the realities of parenthood. While I didn’t see any parent hitting their kid, which usually happens every time I go to Wal-Mart, I did see one parent who seemed to be more concerned with their cigarette than with their baby. When the ashes fluttered through the air and fell on the baby’s face, I wondered if the father would ever notice. And if he did notice, would he even care? I didn’t stick around to find out. I moved on to another bar, ordered a beer and went on with my night.
Now, as I write this article, I look over at my cat, Franklin. He’s asleep in the chair, oblivious to the fact that Spain has just won the World Cup. He is possibly dreaming about catching mice and rolling around in a bed of catnip. I am not sure, but what I am certain of is that there are times when I feel that having a cat is a huge responsibility, even though he cleans himself and sleeps 16 hours a day. If I feel this way about having a cat, then I’m pretty sure my attitude towards having children won’t change. I know that people will continue to have kids, and I’ll never really be sure what motivates them to do so, but I have to accept it. Maybe I should be grateful that people have children. After all, when I die, I want to be cremated, so maybe one of these kids will end up preparing my body before it is consumed by flames.