I am not a natural father.
I’m also not an unnatural father. In fact, as far as I can tell, I’m no kind of father at all. The instinct for paternity seems to have been left out of my makeup.
Most people, at some time in their lives, apparently look upon a cute baby and the sight magically triggers a biological imperative. They feel a deep urge rising to have one of their own. The sight of a baby suddenly ignites something visceral inside them that says, okay, it’s time. The biological clock’s alarm just went off.
Despite the thousands of cute babies I’ve seen, despite the fair number I’ve held, no magical bell ever rang in my head…or my guts.
Oh, well, most of us are imperfect.
Perhaps you have the vocal talent of a Canada goose. Perhaps you view the world through glasses made from old Coke bottle bottoms. Perhaps you have an amazing number of thumbs when it comes to household tasks or the same number of left feet when it comes to dancing. Or perhaps you love to tell jokes but always disremember the punch lines.
These are common human handicaps. They are shared by enough of us that we can view them in others with a certain amount of wry sympathy.
But suppose you have some impairment rare enough that you can hardly find anyone to share it with. The kind that others hide as if it’s a deep, dark secret.
Like mine. In our culture, children and parenthood are revered. When it comes to children, it’s like I’m sort of color-blind. Other people see something irresistible there that I’m apparently blind to. And if I admit it in public, I’m likely to get a pitying stare.
Mind you, I understand, as a kind of academic fact, that I’m the odd one out about all this. That not having that urge to procreate is out of the norm. I even understand that if it were shared by too many others it would be bad for the race.
But I can also assure you that, for those of us lacking that biological urge, the decision to have children seems rather strange. The logic of signing up to have your life turned upside-down for the next twenty or so years never made sense to me. And while I enjoy the company of kids, for a while, anyway, choosing to have them take over my entire life and budget always struck me as a little bit nutty.
And if I’m going to be really honest, I’d have to say my own empiric evidence has only reinforced that notion. I’m not sure which comes first, but I’ve observed a psychic lapse, a sort of mental hiccup in my friends who have children.
For instance (and this sort of thing has happened more than once):
I am talking to my friends. They are bemoaning their fate as they give me a blow-by-blow of the latest incident with their teenage kids, a wrecked car, an unfortunate visit from their local police, and screaming and tears all around. I suitably commiserate, making sympathetic noises and shaking my head.
Without apparent awareness of any non sequitor, they turn to me and ask, in total sincerity, “Bill, aren’t you ever sorry you don’t have kids?”
“Uh, excuse me, but didn’t you hear that horrible story that person who looked exactly like you just told me? I thought you were trying to talk me out of ever having kids.”
“Oh, no. You just don’t understand. It’s all worth it.”
And, who knows (I certainly don’t), maybe it is. If it isn’t, then this conviction is certainly a very useful delusion.
Otherwise, why would anyone sign up for a commitment to reeking diapers, years of deprived sleep, picking up every disease your little vectors bring home from school, nursing them no matter how sick you are yourself, and having to create elaborate plans for so much as a weekend away? And that’s not even considering puberty!
Sorry, but I just couldn’t see it.
And yet, that’s not the whole picture. Some more recent evidence has led me to revise my whole theory of my peculiar defect.
I have a long-time friend who is a grandmother of two. I’ve been an outside observer from their birth, their learning the basic skills like walking and talking, right up to learning to read and going off to school.
Over those years I’ve observed there are some things you can say as a grandparent that you can’t say as a parent. Sort of escape clauses from the worst of parenting.
● (With a wrinkled nose) He/She is wet. Here, you take him/her.
● Sorry, honey, I’ve got a cold. I’m afraid I can’t sit for the kids today.
● I’d love to, but I didn’t get much sleep last night.
● I think she may be coming down with something. You’d better check her temp when you get home.
● I’m going away for a nice, long vacation. See you when I get back.
So my revised theory is based on my observation that being a grandparent seems to be a lot like being a parent with the bad parts taken out. So perhaps my total lack of a desire to be a parent isn’t really a defect. Maybe I’m just highly evolved.
My new theory is that maybe I’m just a natural-born grandparent.