[Confession] I Don’t Want to Be A Father
“I didn’t think you’d ever have any kids.”
I laid on the futon at my parent’s home and let my mother’s words sink in. With ten grandchildren already, there was no implicit or explicit pressure for me to produce number eleven. Still, the difference between knowing something and hearing it was nothing short of liberating.
“I always thought you’d be with someone who didn’t want any children,” she continued, “or already had some.”
She quickly took me on a trip down memory lane. Growing up, I didn’t care much to be around babies. As an adult, I was awkward around my nieces and nephews in their early years. The stories from friends with kids don’t move me. There’s no envy or admiration when they tell me this is the “greatest job in the world.” I see exhaustion, time constraints and financial woes about paying for school, daycare or medication. I realize my apprehension is well founded.
At that moment, I felt free enough to tell a simple truth I believed placed me on an island of one. “I don’t think I want to have children.”
The thought of parenting, or worse, co-parenting with the wrong person, always gave me unspeakable anxiety. Conversations about the future in relationships that didn’t pan out might as well have been interrogations. I would think about all the articles I read that talked about the high cost of raising children and imagined all my money evaporating into thin air. It wasn’t always like that. Before anxiety got the best of me, I just opted for excuses, a temporary reprieve from the inevitable.
First, I was too young and had to finish school. That was plausible. But as we all know, Father Time is undefeated. I graduated and got older. Then, I was trying to establish my career. So that was yet another plausible excuse. But when you get your life together, people seem to approach parenting as casually as you’d offer someone a drink at the club. “Try it, you’ll like it,” they would say. And what if I don’t like being a parent? It’s not as if you can send children back and order something else off the menu if you decide this really isn’t for you. When I talk about the fear of not being a good parent, I’m usually met with, “You’d be a great dad!”
Here’s what people tend not to understand as they’re shoveling parenthood ideologies onto my proverbial plate like life is one big Golden Corral. A lack of desire should never be mistaken with a lack of ability. If I were ever to have a child of my own, I’d be an engaged dad. There is simply no other way.
But when it comes to the idea of parenthood, well, I’m just not that into it.
I belong to a small tribe of Americans boldly and not so boldly claiming a childless (or child-free) life by choice. Dating while Black and child-free brings its own set of challenges. As an educated, professional and a thirty-something year old man with no kids, that’s three checks on the proverbial “good man” box right at the opening “Hello.” I’m looked at with what I imagine is the awe one would have at seeing a unicorn prancing down the street. “No kids?” women tend to ask, to reconfirm my initial answer. Bring on the shocked emojis during online chats, and big smiles if this revelation comes in person.
Then I get the question.
“But you eventually want to have children…right?”
Navigating the already rocky terrain of dating is difficult enough. I handle the question with as much grace as a man convinced it’ll never happen, but was taught “never say never.” Telling women you’d prefer raising cats to raising kids is met with all sorts of reactions, and most of them are not good. Conversations are abruptly halted. Plans to meet are scuttled. The rejection stings. As a result, I’ve learned to avoid the topic totally, or be blunt so I’m left alone.
It hasn’t been all doom and gloom. Learning to keep it 100 with myself and the world has strengthened some relationships and opened doors for others. I get my kid fix through family and friends, fully taking in the experience of being an uncle. And occasionally, I meet a woman who is also child-free by choice. Subtle reminders that life can be rich and full, even child-free.
I don’t know what the future looks like, but with each passing day, the only desire I have to parent anything other than an animal with four legs decreases. Which increases the chances that a future Mrs. must not want kids and must like cats.
AJ Springer is a writer, questioner of everything and lover of good conversation. Follow him on Twitter @JustAnt1914.