Friday, June 06, 2008

Got kids?

updated 2008-06-08
I was chatting with a recently-frocked manager the other day, and the subject of child-raising came up, since management and parenting have their points of similarity. "Got kids?" I asked. He did not; he asked me the same question. Without sounding too proud and insufferable (I hope), I announced that I have two teen-aged daughters.

He and his wife are still considering the "offspring" thing.

I encouraged him to go for the gusto. "The upside is far beyond anything I could have imagined," I told him, but I allowed as it was a risk.

Well, he knows some people who have experienced more heartbreak than anything they could have imagined. Which is certainly possible -- that's why we call it a risk.

So allowing that different people have different tastes, different propensities to take risks, different levels of empathy and so on, here's why I think they should do it.

If they take one path, they'll put away the contraceptive drugs and devices, and if all goes well they'll have a few kids in a few years. (Or they won't, and there will be heartbreak, and learning, in that.) Probably most things will go well, but they'll worry about someone other than themselves or each other; they'll see parts of their personalities they've so far been able to avoid seeing; they'll stretch and grow in ways they hadn't imagined.

Maybe some things won't go well, maybe there'll be heartbreak and misery beyond measure, and again they'll experience growth. Because they'll run into lots of things they can't control -- things that don't impinge as much on childless couples.

On the other path, maybe he'll get a vasectomy or she'll get her tubes tied, or she'll do the norplant thing. They won't adopt. Probably their chosen method of "permanent" contraception will work and they'll grow old with each other but without kids. On that path, what will they avoid?

Nothing is certain, but they'll likely have a more predictable, less emotionally risky life. And if things go well, they'll arrive, at the end, safely to... their deaths.
Re-reading this a few days later, I realized that I've made, well, a judgment—a guess without actual information. I don't actually know my colleague's personal situation. They may be caring for an elderly and/or disabled relative, maybe long distance, or some other heartbreak I haven't imagined may already be coloring every moment of their lives. So I must here beg forgiveness from my colleague (you know who you are). Please accept my apologies if these paragraphs offend you. But I'll be delighted if you find anything here useful.
Because ultimately, every one of us will die. And different people want to see different things when they look back. And although I'm generally a proponent of "staying safe until you die," I really did not want to miss out on having kids.

What is my point? Some single high-tech professionals suffer from the illusion that they control their own fates. Oh, they know that they'll die some day, there are people they love and sometimes worry about, but most of the time they imagine themselves masters of their fates (as some silly poets have written) or masters of the universe (as the silly main character in Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities imagined himself). I used to think that way myself.

Over time, as I became a husband (quite difficult to do) and a father, that illusion wore away, and I grew less foolish.

Now because I believe in a God who loves me, I believe he would have caused me to grow no matter what I did. But I think it was wise to, ah, in the words of Leonard McCoy (from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock), "choose the danger."

Would I say the same thing if we tried unsuccessfully to procreate, or if we had multiple "special-needs" kids? I do not know. As Lewis's Aslan says, "Nobody is ever told what would have happened." But from where I sit, my advice to successful high-tech professionals is to marry and raise children -- natural or adopted -- because of the growth potential.

Am I saying that a childless life will be boring or meaningless? Absolutely not! But I will say that without children, many of us would choose lives of comfort, amusement and distraction, rather than lives of growth and challenge.

Art Hoppe wrote a memorable column a few decades ago where a rich guy and a middle-class guy both appeared at the pearly gates. Now Hoppe's theology is Eclectic, but his point is a word to the wise-wannabes: the guy whose life was filled with boats and other expensive toys -- that guy had missed the point of life; he hadn't learned anything worth knowing, hadn't grown in patience, tolerance, compassion. The middle-class guy in the story was welcomed into the next life, having seen it all: late nights in the hospital wondering if his kid would make it, the joy of seeing his child graduate, etc.

By the way, any successful high-tech professional, especially a childless one, would meet Hoppe's definition of "rich." Mine too.

I don't think Teddy Roosevelt was speaking of children when he wrote these words, but I think they are apt:
preach, not the doctrine of the life of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life.
Or in the words of my friend Carl: "Parenting isn't for sissies."

To which I would add as a corollary: If you want to remain a sissy, don't become a parent.
And again, just because you aren't a parent (or haven't tried), that doesn't necessarily make you a sissy. But if your goal is the life of ignoble ease, well, then the old adage about shoes fitting may apply....

No comments: