Like most ’80s geeks, Tom Burns spent his childhood coveting the ability to time travel. But, once he became a father, everything changed…
When you become a parent, there are a lot of little things that you lose—sleep, personal freedoms, the ability to use the bathroom without the threat of unflattering household commentary afterwards—but, the one thing I didn’t expect to have ripped away from me when I became a dad was my steadfast belief in the overall awesomeness of time travel.
But that’s exactly what happened. I absolutely hate time travel now. The very idea makes me shudder.
I grew up as a geek in the 1980s, which means that I spent an inordinate amount of time day-dreaming about what I would do if I had access to a time-traveling DeLorean. (I’m sure I’m not the only one.) People love time travel stories—The Time Machine, Doctor Who, Somewhere in Time, heck, even Dickens’ Christmas Carol counts—because time travel makes life feel less fixed.
The concept of traveling through time allows you to look at your life and say, “Hey, what if I didn’t have to move in a straight line?” Sure, there would be the initial “tourist” phase—“I’m going to have lunch with Genghis Khan!”—but, soon thereafter, the impulse for self-improvement would kick in and you’d find yourself saying, “I’m going to buy a winning lottery ticket… get a better job… go back and put some money on the Cubbies…”
And those little life-tweaks sound like fun. UNTIL, in my experience, you have children. And that’s when time travel gets scary.
About a year ago, I was drifting off to sleep, dreaming about going back in time and course-correcting old regrets from my past. And, while choosing to go to a different college, for example, probably would’ve meant that I wouldn’t have met my wife, my brain could compensate for that. My wonderful wife existed long before I met her in college and, down deep, I rationalized that I still would’ve “found her” out there in the universe. I had nothing to do with my wife’s creation. I benefited from it, for sure, but it wasn’t my responsibility.
Suddenly, my daughter flashed into my head. Uh-oh. I actually WAS responsible for her creation. So, if ANYTHING changed in my past, it could cascade forward, altering the tenuous mixture of variables that led to my daughter’s conception and…
… that’s when I had the panic attack.
Yep, Ebola doesn’t make me bat an eye, but thinking about TIME TRAVEL gave me a panic attack at 1 am in the morning.
I am a ridiculous man.
But the idea truly terrified me as a parent. What if my daughter was conceived a year earlier? Five years earlier? Five minutes later? Would she still be the same person? If she’d been born in 2003 rather than 2006, maybe she wouldn’t love to read as much or be as funny as she is. Heck, one sperm turns left instead of right and she could’ve been a boy.
And I don’t want a different daughter. I want MY daughter, the daughter that was created, in part, by every single thing in history that happened before her. That’s incredibly selfish, sure, but it made me realize that I don’t just want to protect my daughter from electrical outlets and water bottles with BPA—I also want to protect her very right to exist within time and space.
Once I calmed down, I found myself with a forever-altered opinion of time travel.
Without an exact series of historical variables, there’s a decent chance that my daughter would not exist. OR, if she did exist, she wouldn’t be precisely be that same little girl—Daughter Prime, Earth-1 Kid, whatever you want to call her—that I so desperately, desperately love. Fine, I probably would “love” those other versions too, but the idea of THIS version never existing… it’s unthinkable.
So, every indignity, tragedy, and insult I have ever suffered HAS to remain a fixed point in time in order for Daughter Prime to exist. Wonderful. Lucky me. Isn’t it great to be a dad?
AND don’t even get me started about OTHER people time traveling. Because they might not have my ridiculously-specific sense of time travel scruples. They could haphazardly go back, make me miss meeting my wife, and… it’s MADDENING.
I’m just going to put this out there—I am now actively working against the creation of time travel.
If I hear of any scientific body doing theoretical work in the field, I will vote to defund it. If I meet a kindly old professor looking for plutonium for his chrono-experiments, I will turn him into the authorities. If an alien in a blue box asks me to go visit Pompeii with him, I’ll do my best to sneeze and hope that the whole War of the Worlds germ gambit actually works.
And, if time travel ever does get invented, oh man, I’m going back to 1994, picking up Jean-Claude Van Damme, and, together, we are going to Timecop the shit out of the time-space continuum. If you even THINK of going back in time before my daughter was conceived, Jean-Claude and I are going to give you the most ironic kickboxing/time-travel-related death EVER.
The 80s sci-fi nerd in me can’t believe that I now feel this way. I mean, I’ll still enjoy those classic time-travel stories, but, as a concept outside of the realm of fiction, time travel is dead to me.
In my geeky mind, my life had always been scrawled down in pencil, with time travel sitting off to the side as the theoretical eraser that might come in handy one day. But, as I look at my daughter and realize how perfectly imperfect she is, how much I like her EXACTLY how she is (warts and all), I find myself mentally tracing over that pencil with pen and resenting the very existence of the eraser itself.
Yes, I had to tell my wife that I had a panic attack about time travel. (She’s a very patient woman.) And now, when those old time travel fantasies come to me unbidden, I have to accept that they cause me more anxiety than escapist relief.
But, if that 1.21 gigawatts of conceptual angst means that my timeline is protected and Daughter Prime remains just the way she’s always been, I’m OK with that. Because, as a wise man once told me, “the power of love is a curious thing…”