Contrary to popular representation, it’s not the babies that do it. I can hold babies by the dozen and feel only the same warmth I would towards a puppy. A little less, if truth be told.
It’s the uncoordinated little ones. Crowding into each other backstage, ruthlessly costumed. Taking on whatever comes their way though everything is larger than them. Recklessly committing themselves to dubious heroes and imaginary friends. These definitely tug at unsuspected umbilical cords. But, interestingly, this emotion seems to be uterus-optional. I did an impromptu survey in my office and found that a lot of the childless men my age and older felt this too. And again, not with babies, but the older ones. Which is another reason not to believe anything you read.
Maybe it’s because of my age and the fact that if it had been some other doorway I went through, I may by now have been the keeper of something in this age group, but I think it’s more fundamental than that. As friends and family become parents, I feel more and more disadvantaged, perhaps as a mere graduate might feel among PHDs. It is increasingly clear that it’s an essential rite of passage, the not doing of which makes one in some way weaker and insubstantial.
Pat generalizations like “the ticking clock” as usual miss the point. The nonsense about unfulfilled wombs is just that. No mere biological function, no matter how transcendental in the moment, can transform you. When you come down to it, it’s not being pregnant or giving birth that’s the life-changing experience, it’s becoming a parent. Emotionally, fatherhood is not less momentous than motherhood. (There are other examples of this strange social focus on the small step rather than the giant leap – the hoopla around losing your virginity, when the irrevocable crossing is actually your first real relationship; the fuss over the wedding, when the true growth lies in the building of a life together.)
So why is this on my blog when I know that it will probably start a rabid search for “suitable boys” in some quarters and inspire much needless heartache on my behalf? Perhaps a little bit because this blog has become an almost compulsive force, but mostly as a rebellion against popular culture that has made it taboo and pathetic to express such things. It should be perfectly acceptable to acknowledge that you feel the lack of a whole world of important experiences.
I have a non-smoking friend who had the habit of asking for a cigarette after a few drinks. I used to object vehemently enough for her to never do it around me. Two years ago, she did it by accident and looked at me in consternation, but I just told her it was okay because she’d become a mother by then. I felt that that made her better equipped to choose for herself, and the elder sisterly sense of responsibility I felt (still feel) was irrelevant. I should be able to talk about that here, just as I can to her, without the tedious emotional and social baggage.
Instead, I’m expected to hide behind the responses dictated by magazines and sitcoms. Well, I refuse.
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