The Fear of Fatherhood

by Elison Alcovendaz

FACT: Of the 90 or so members in my extended family, I am the oldest one without a kid.

FACT: Of the 50 or so members of my friend groups, I am the oldest one without a kid. 

FACT: I am scared of being a father.  

 

People are amused when I say this. They look at me as though I am a child who said something funny, like the time I asked my mother why I couldn’t grab the little people in the TV. For many men in this position, it has something to do with their fathers being terrible. Not so with me. My father has been consistently great, from birth to now (see picture below). So what, then? Is it because, as a recent  Time article suggested, in order to "have it all," you shouldn't have a child?

Me and my dad, mid 1980s.

Me and my dad, mid 1980s.

I don't know. My thought process goes something like this: I want to be as prepared as possible – emotionally, mentally, financially, etc. – to give the child the best chance of becoming a successful, happy adult. Or, to put it more truly, I want to be as prepared as possible to lessen the opportunity that I will do something to screw the kid’s life up.

Here are some of the responses I’ve received when I mention my fatherhood fear:

“There's no point to waiting. There’s never a good time.”

All you parents out there are nodding your heads. I can see you. But while I agree there is probably never a “good” time, or what people probably think as a “perfect” time, isn’t there a “better” time? Isn’t it better, say, to be able to provide health insurance for your child? Or, say, to have a dependable means of transportation? Or a stable job? Or, hey, any job? And those are just the financials. Isn't it better to be in a supportive, loving relationship rather than be in an abusive one, or be alone? Isn't it better to have found a way to take care of yourself before you take care of someone else? Isn't it better to have more life experience than none? 

There might be some truth in that, Elison, but you know…

"Nothing is ever perfect." 

Well, unless you believe in God (but that's for another blog, sorry). I would answer this the same way I answered the first statement. Of course nothing is ever perfect, but does that mean you shouldn't try to make your life as great an environment for a child as can possibly be?  

Well, I'll grant you that's probably logical, Elison, but... 

You have always been an overthinker.”

This is absolutely true. I think about things way too much. No argument there. But would most of you agree that having a child is probably the most important decision a person might ever make? If so, shouldn’t it be thought about? And not just thought about, but thought about a lot? I’ve known people who do more research deciding what outfit they're going to wear on a Friday night then thinking about their children’s future. I don’t mean to sound judgmental. I’m really trying to understand. 

But you are sounding a little judgmental, Elison. Still, I think...  

“You just figure it out as you go.”

I am absolutely positive that this is 100% true. No parent preparation book, no amount of thinking, no amount of advice from all the parents in the world can truly prepare you for what you will have to do. But this is not a parenting quote, it's a life quote, right? It's a... duh...  quote. Again, I think most people would say having a child is the most important decision you might ever make. So, are we just going to rely on the little trite saying to get by? The quote itself suggests zero preparation, zero thought process. I don't know where everyone gets their confidence from. If I'm going to prepare for a Powerpoint presentation, I should probably at least try and prepare for raising a child.

You're sounding a little bit more judgmental now, but I'll forgive you. I can see why you are thinking so much about this. Let me ask you a question:

"Are you willing to give up everything for your kids? If not, you're not ready. "

Now we're getting somewhere. I've heard this many times and I'm not sure I fully understand it. I mean, I understand the concept, I just don't understand the necessity of it. Is it really necessary to drop everything for your children? There are many individual passions and ambitions I want to pursue, a lot of which will take lots of time, energy, and money - time, energy, and money that won't go to the kids. Eventually getting a PhD, writing books, traveling the world. My worry is that if I do this, my family will suffer for it. My worry is that if I don't do this, I will carry resentment in my chest, probably forever (or until I have that epiphanic release in old age I keep hearing about). 

I had lunch with an old friend recently who was going through a messy divorce. Her main complaint was that her soon-to-be-ex had personal ambitions that took up some of his spare time - he was trying to start some kind of car business, which was his passion - and that had gotten in the way of time with his children. The whole time, I couldn't stop thinking that, even if your day job is something that you do just to pay the bills, it's probably good for your kids to see you pursuing something that makes you happy, that life doesn't have to be about punching in a clock just so you could perpetuate that existence for your kids, and their kids, and so on. Maybe I'm crazy.

I'm starting to think you are. But seriously, Elison:  

"Do you even want kids? "

I do. The problem is, I can't think of a reason that isn't selfish. I've asked numerous parents why they had a child, and most of them said some version of: I. Want(ed). To. Maybe it was a natural feeling, a biological clock; maybe it was the next step in a relationship between two people who cared about each other; maybe it was wanting someone to love who will love you back; maybe it was because of societal pressure; maybe it was because your religion says this is what you are supposed to do; maybe you had a passionate night that ended up in the miracle that is currently annoying the crap out of you because he/she won't stop crying. I honestly believe that every child is a miracle, but that's not the point. I want children, but why?

Even if I say it's because of my religion (which it isn't), it's still because I. Want. To. Please. My. Church. Even if it's because you had that night of hot sex, it's still because I. Wanted. It. Or if I wanted to have one with my beautiful wife (which I do), it's still because We. Want. One (or two). There is no reason out there that isn't some version of an "I" desire. It's about me. It's about us. It's not about the would-be children, and I believe that, to some extent, it should be.

You're off your rocker.  The ultimate truth of it is... 

"Having a child changes you." 

Okay. I see. No, really, I've seen it. The people who say having children isn't going to change them are the people who it changes the most. As the childless friend/family member who has seen countless friends and family disappear once they've had children, I know this to be true. But that is a superficial point. What people are saying is that it changes you internally. It changes your core. Life suddenly becomes not about you at all, but those little darlings who are now in your charge.

But, what if I don't want to change? And, how can I trust that when I hold that baby in my arms for the first time, the man I've been for this long will suddenly be different, somehow be "better"? It's the proverbial leap of faith. A leap over a widening chasm. I'm scared of losing myself. I don't want to give up those ambitions. I don't want to put them on hold (which is something else I've heard). So... what happens if this doesn't happen to me, or, if it does, I fight it?    And if I fight it, and it somehow affects the kids, how will I be able to deal with that?

You shouldn't worry about that too much...

"Every parent screws up their kids somehow. Most of us still make it just fine."

So that's what I have to hang my hat on, huh? Why am I thinking about this so much? What does it mean? 

Well, Elison, it probably means one of two things. It means you're not ready, or it means...

"The fact you worry about it so much means you'll probably be a good dad." 

I certainly hope so. If not, can I use the "reproduction for human survival" argument?

You could, but the earth is already overpopulated as it is. Good night, Elison.

Good night, Elison.