*Greg is on his cell with me as he pulls into the school parking lot to pick up his 14 year-old son. “Well, I don’t care what the Lakers do,” he begins. “I think they…” Suddenly, he is distracted.
“Wow, man…here comes my son, walking toward the car.” Greg words wade in an introspection that sounds almost euphoric, part giddy wonderment and part grown man enduring a dreamy crush, without an ounce of hubris.
“Kids are talking with him…they don’t want him to go…look at that profile. What a handsome guy!” I can hear Greg grin. “This is my son coming to me, man. Me and my wife created this dude. It seems so surreal….”
Sure does. Consider it long enough and the concept rivals science fiction: Two human beings come together and create another human being who grows and swells and expands and develops surprisingly decent opinions regarding politics, devours food like a furnace and wants Nike and American Girl for Christmas.
I attempt to imagine Greg’s pensive jubilation. However, try as I might-–and I have tried over and again in my life, with some measure of success, I tell myself-–they are emotions I can never completely grasp, because I don’t have children.
I don’t know what happened, really. When I was in my 20s and 30s, living with women, I was too busy learning about life and where I fit into it to consider kids. Frankly, I don’t remember ever giving the idea serious thought, although I’m sure it must have crossed my mind–-to which I probably told myself, “I’ve got plenty of time to think about that.” As years passed, reality stepped in and made the decision for me.
Oh, physically, I’m pretty sure I can still create a child. Just the other day in Hollywood I ran into a friend my age I hadn’t seen in years who actually did it. He pulled out his iPhone and showed me the digital image of a gorgeous little boy playing in a garden.
“We had him when I was 51,” he said, with a prideful lilt that sounded a bit weary. “He’s four now.” I assume the “we” was in reference to a younger wife. I praised my buddy–-and in my head immediately went to that infamous childbearing cliche of a guy throwing a football to his kid from a wheelchair.
Indeed, the adult of a certain age who doesn’t have children encounters a lot of cliches. For instance, there’s the reply by people with children to the statement, “I don’t have kids,” that goes, “…That you KNOW of.”
It’s usually accompanied by a mischievous chuckle—as if I wouldn’t have some sneaking suspicion the moment something like that happened. As if bringing a human being into the world is an event that would somehow get by me.
“You’d make a good parent,” is something else people with kids tell me, almost in consolation. How do they know this? Well, I seem even-tempered and patient, they say. And, they’re parents; having kids qualifies them to know these things.
As good a parent as they think I’d be, I often wonder if my own sense of logic and discipline regarding my child would evaporate into thin air, as has that of some parents I know. Would I continue to believe, as I do now, without child, that straight communication and loving authority is how you nurture? Or would I let my kid routinely get away with bloody murder simply because I was seduced by seeing my cheekbones on the face of a human I helped make?
I must at least look like a Dad. On Father’s Day, it never fails that a good-natured stranger-–a supermarket check-out clerk, waiter–will wish me a happy Father’s Day. I used to smile and correct them. Now, I smile and say thank you.
Because, I COULD be some type of parent. I mean, I love kids and they love me (often heard from childless adults). I do believe I know what it takes to raise one. If you reach your 40s and beyond, are single and without kids, you’re bound to date a single parent or divorcee or two. I know it’s not the same as being a card-carrying progenitor, but I’ve had the distinct honor of being that Strong Male Figure in more than one youngster’s life. I treasure the experience.
They say it takes a Village to raise a child. Maybe I’m the Village Dad, on 24 hour call to, at the invitation of a frustrated single Mom, have that “chat,” with the rambunctious son or daughter whose biological dad has neglected the responsibility.
Perhaps, like the universal remote that didn’t come with the TV, I’m Universal Parent, interchangeable and available to offer a kid an open ear and resonating voice of reason. Maybe I’m a proud member of the National Guard of Parents: adults who never “served”–-bore kids-–but who stand at the ready to do their part for the Village.
You’d be surprised at the number of wonderful kids who’d love an interested adult sitting in the audience on their behalf while they’re onstage at that school assembly, ballet recital or university commence . You’d be equally surprised at the childless adults who want to be that person.
These adults don’t feel that by not having kids, they missed out; most of them made the clear decision not to have any. Personally, I’ve never awakened in a cold sweat to the Almighty Yearn. The only clock I’ve ever heard ticking is the one on which I routinely press “snooze.”
However, that’s not to say people like myself don’t feel a responsibility and have something valuable to offer. In the paraphrased lyric sung by Whitney Houston, I believe the children are MY future. I have a sincere interest in each and every crumbsnatcher I encounter, albeit, for me, that kid is now about 20 or so.
All this said, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit occasionally questioning why the superpower called procreation is a divine option in which I never partook. When I leave here, that’s the end of Ivory Model 10/24/55. When I go, I leave behind nobody. If I really concentrate on that fact, I can become melancholy, even though ultimately I appreciate the decision I made.
However, there is this momentous event of co-creating another human being who walks like you, talks like you, who is, in many ways, a mini-you, inextricably connected.
This earthly phenomenon forever changes and, more often than not, completes another human’s life in ways my friend Greg and nearly every other parent I’ve talked to about this insists they simply cannot fully explain. And it is a feeling I shall never know.
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected].