Noah Brand explains how he admires fathers too much to become one.
A while back, my longest-term girlfriend and I got a dog. Big fluffy wolf hybrid who devotes her life to demanding that strangers scratch her ears and tell her she’s pretty. Well, that and snatching food whenever she thinks she can get away with it. We’d wanted a dog for a long time, and when we’d coo over friends’ canine companions, they’d always ask why we didn’t get one of our own, and our answer was always the same. Getting a dog is easy, we’d say, but taking care of one is hard. Unless you have the space for the dog to live and exercise, the time to devote to raising and caring for it, and the money to spend on all the endless nickel-and-dime expenses, getting a dog is tantamount to animal abuse. Once we were in a position where we actually had all those things, we got our little fluffball.
For folks who are bad at subtext, I should point out that the dog, while literally real, is a metaphor.
My father has a laugh line he uses in his lectures on futurism: “If you live in a modern city, you have a choice to make. Which would you rather have: a child, or a million dollars?” There’s always an initial laugh as people giggle at the silly line, and then a second, more nervous laugh as they realize it’s not a joke, that amortized over twenty or so years, that’s what having a kid costs.
Having a child is not a small deal. It is a responsibility that should be taken with the utmost seriousness, and you had better be goddamn certain that you’re ready before you do it. Me, I’ve got no such certainty. Heck, I’m never entirely certain, on waking up in the morning, whether I’ll be sleeping in my own bed that night. I’m perpetually just a little short on my bills, and I work anything up to seventeen hours a day editing some damn website I forget the name of. Me having a kid right now would involve lifestyle changes that I simply can’t afford, not to mention bills there’s no way in hell I could afford. Right now, I would be a shitty, shitty father, and that’s one thing I refuse to be.
Am I opposed to having kids ever? Not at all. But I’ve seen good fathers and bad fathers, and I’ve got too much respect for parenting to do a lousy job. The way I see it, if you haven’t got the space to have kids, and you haven’t got the time to devote to being a good parent, and you haven’t got the money it’ll take to keep them fed and clothed and healthy and educated and perhaps even occasionally out of your hair, then you shouldn’t be having kids.
That’s not the call everyone makes, by any means. But it’s mine. Fatherhood is something I take very seriously indeed, and not something I will undertake on a lark, or a whim, or while behind on my bills and severely sleep-deprived. Severe sleep deprivation comes after the kid is born, I know that much.
There’s a problem with what I’ve written in this post that some of you have already noticed. Due to the limitations of the English language, when I say “you shouldn’t have kids without XYZ”, that reads to many folks as “you, personally, reading this, should not have had the kids you actually had.” Which is not what I mean. We are terrible, in our culture, at distinguishing between What I Think Is Right For Me and What I Think Is Right For Everyone. There’s a terrible Kantian layer in our thinking that says that if we think something is right in one case, it must be a moral imperative that is right in all cases.
This is why folks feel pressured by other people’s decisions. When I see people my age raising kids, there’s this terrible 1950s image of a “normal” life path that says I ought to have some kids by my age. No doubt when they look at me, they feel some MTV-influenced pressure that they shouldn’t be tying themselves down to a family, they should have… whatever they think I have. A wolf, possibly. Neither of these feelings of inadequacy is cool. They make the choices they think are right for them, I make the choices I think are right for me, and we both do our best with what we’ve got.
I do often think about raising kids, and when I do things like posing for nude photos to be widely disseminated, I imagine myself laying traps and land mines for my hypothetical future offspring. Someday, the little bastards will find those pictures, and be profoundly mortified and say I’m gross. Just the image makes me laugh after the manner of Lex Luthor. I feel one ought to take the time to set traps for one’s children; they’re going to call you an asshole at some point anyway, so might as well give them a reason that makes a good story later. And that is, in a weird way, kind of the point: when and if I raise kids, I want to be able to do it with a plan, with full attention, with all my time, and with backup plans in case things don’t go the way I fancifully imagine them. Right now, I can’t do that, so my choice is to not have kids. I have too much respect for fatherhood to be a father.
Photo—Businessman asleep on laptop from Shutterstock