Guest post written by Kevin Saunders.
Two dear friends of mine, each partnered, capable gay men of relatively sound mind and body, have recently decided to become fathers, and I could not be more unnerved. The expense, the risk, the potential for disappointment, the logistical complexity that they must navigate leave me baffled and at times enraged with the lingering question that I have, out of respect, refrained from asking, "WHY, WHY, WHY do you want to do this?!" These feelings toward what most would consider a happy occasion beg a reciprocal enquiry: "Why do you care?" The answer is rooted in a disposition and a history that has left me skeptical of the innate right to biological parenthood that many, gay or straight, seem to feel entitled to.
I've never wanted to be a father. Ever. Well, there was that frantic 48-hour period during graduate school (I'll get to that later), but as a 52-year-old gay man I can honestly say that the prospect of rocking, diapering, schooling, disciplining, worrying, and waiting for some genetic iteration of myself is deeply, existentially unappealing to me. Many have told me, "You'd be a wonderful father!" Friends and family have said that I'm so calm, so patient, so grounded. Loyal and reliable like all fathers should be. (Be damned the biosocial somersaults and private loans I'd have to endure to make this happen.) But what they don't seem to get is that, though I may on occasion possess these admirable parental qualities, I don't really like children. I'm not fond of any biped who can't hold a conversation. One who can't see beyond his/her own narcissistic needs. One who will invariably be disappointed in my failures and shortcomings. Of course, this could apply to any adult as well, but I assure you, I wouldn't like them either.
I recently watched a 3 year old have a bone-shattering meltdown in a cafe because his sleep-deprived father cut his blueberry muffin in half. Not charming. Not interested. I've seen women literally drag truculent children by the wrist through airports and shopping malls. What profound joy is this? I've heard stories of teens with broken bones, totaled cars and baby mamas. No thanks. Sorry guys, I can't make it to dinner; I have to bail my daughter out of jail.
A bit of background information: I'm an adopted only child. My adoptive mother told me, from the moment I could understand what she meant, "You're not like a lot of kids. You were chosen. You will never have to think that you were an accident." For a long time, I was proud of being adopted. I told everyone. And then, some time around 10 or 11, I started to wonder about my first family. I wondered why I was given up. Why was I unchosen and then chosen? The truth of it I'll never know, but more than likely it had something to do with being the product of mixed race parents in the late 60′s, right on the boundary between miscegenation and free love.
From my very particular point of view, there are plenty of children walking the earth right now who need love and caring. Why make more of them? I was fortunate. I was rescued from a life of foster care and group homes, and having worked with these unwanted kids for many years as a therapist, I know firsthand the enduring consequences of abandonment.
Which brings me to my temporary psychosis in graduate school. My first year I was assigned to a therapeutic after school program for "problem kids." Some were autistic or neglected. Many were socially awkward, at risk for foster care, selectively mute, smelly, biting, kicking and cursing little monsters between 6 and 12 years of age. I was utterly terrified of them all at first. But by the end of my internship, I had found my paternal wings and realized that all they really wanted, all they ever needed, was to be seen and heard and loved. There was one in particular that I fell for. Andre. He was quiet, polite, with deeply intelligent eyes. And though he never showed me any favoritism at all, I began to plan how I would adopt him, despite my mounting debt and joblessness. Needless to say, I came to my senses.
I think the lesson I learned was that fatherhood was an abstraction without a living and breathing being in front of me. I've fallen for people big and small, but even then, the responsibility of meeting their needs overwhelms me. All people aren't meant to be parents. I'm one of those people.
I enjoy my childless life. I like my lazy Sundays. My brunches. My vacations to child-free resorts. I want to be able to cut my muffin in half without enduring armageddon. Call me selfish. Or call me sensible.