People tell me I should have kids all the time. “Phil, you're so patient," they say, “you should be a father." Strangers randomly hand me their children. Female friends have offered up their eggs and wombs for the day I'm ready to make a baby.
This, despite never having uttered the phrase, “I want children," to anyone. But when a bunch of people start telling you you'd be good at something, you start paying attention. Recently, I finally realized that the people in my life were all picking up on the same thing:
I have a very obvious need to nurture. I'm maternal AF. The evidence is all around me.
When I say “all around me" I mean that quite literally—I have surrounded myself with living things that require my assistance to survive. Over the past 5 years, I've gotten into houseplants—probably a little too into houseplants. The words “obsessed" and “addicted" may have come up. Frequently.
Most mornings I do a lap around my apartment and check on the gang—all 59 of them. I congratulate them on their new growth. I check on the quality of their soil. When they need water, I water them. I mist the plants that need misting. I fret over a leaf that's turning yellow. I make sure everyone is happy.
For the 15 minutes I spend taking care of them, I stop thinking about the rest of the world and of the other things going on in my life. My houseplants have my full attention. Taking care of them is meditative.
A while ago, I also tried my hand at taking care of something slightly more complicated than a houseplant; before I turned 30, an incredible, gnawing urge to nurture something caused me to get a pet. I knew I didn't have the time or space to give a dog a happy life, so I tried my hand with a cat.
I visited a nearby animal shelter, and was instantly drawn to this orange tabby in the corner. The woman helping me politely tried to explain there might be better fits for me, and tried steering me towards their young, playful rescues. But I held my ground. When I opened the cage door to pet him, he ran toward me, and head-butt the center of my chest.
“Oh," the woman helping me said, surprised. “Why don't you spend some time with each other?" I named him Lou.
Lou and I ended up spending a lot of time together. But not nearly enough. After 6 years of head-butts, early morning wake up calls and chilling out together, I learned he had an advanced cancer and we had to say goodbye.
Looking back now, I'm painfully aware of how much time I spent making sure he was happy. And compensating for the role Lou played in my life has been interesting. The number of plants in my life certainly increased, but that's pretty much been a constant. I also began obsessively checking in with friends who were having a hard time. I'd check to make sure they were eating, sleeping, and hydrating. Not all of these people were even good friends, but once I'd identify a problem I'd worm my way into their lives. I'd make sure they were okay.
It was after the third or fourth, “Phil. I said I'm doing okay" that I realized, “Ooooooh, this is probably why people say I should have kids." I have a compulsion to take care of things. When I don't have an outlet, I create one. I need to be needed.
But out of all of my idiosyncrasies, my constant need to nurture isn't one that bothers me. I don't see any conflict with wanting to care for things, not kids. There are so many things in this world that need attention and love and devotion. It could be a houseplant that needs water once a week, a cat that constantly needs to know you aren't going to abandon him, or a friend who's going through a break up. The entire world is full of things that require loving attention.
Do I really need to have children to satisfy my need to nurture?
Feature image credit: Bráulio Amado
Check out another gay man's musings over fatherhood: A Gay Athlete Asks, is Fatherhood in my Future?