Our first child, Caitlin, was born in 1985. That’s when my universe completely changed. Parenthood was, for me, like a highly efficient contractor who came in, gutted my house, replaced all the furnishings and renovated it down to every detail. In a couple of hours. He also moved the house — to another planet.
I didn’t particularly want a child, until the first one arrived. Then, suddenly, the baby was the center of my world.
I grew up with babies in my house. I had a little brother. Later, my mom took in day-care infants. I was no stranger to parental chores. I understood the plumbing. I could warm formula, wipe away the spit-up and change the diaper. I knew about babies but I didn’t understand some people’s compulsion to have them. My wife, for example. She wanted babies. There was not, as I recall, any discussion of my opinion on the matter.
My blasé familiarity with babies, as a group, evaporated with the arrival of my own daughter. This was not just a baby. This was my baby, a totally different thing.
When Caitlin was born, I was supposed to call the extended family with the announcement. It was a tough job for me because I kept bursting into tears. Then I had to reassure everyone that the baby was fine. I was just so happy!
Two years later Noah was born and it was the same thing all over again for me, the blubbering dad.
I’ve been thinking about this because Carolyn and I just got back from our first spring break without the kids. It was nice to get away. We saw some terrific stuff. But it wasn’t the same without the kids.
Before I had children, I felt I had engineered a secure little world for myself. I lived in a nice place. I had a few nice hobbies. My work was interesting. I could avoid, for the most part, the parts of our world I found unpleasant. I could ignore people whose lives were not as privileged as mine. I could ignore any problem that wouldn’t reach global proportions for, say, the next 70 years or so. I could insulate my little corner of the universe.
Then, suddenly, I was connected to every part of the world, both present and future.
This was, for me, the big wake-up call. Our children — all the children we love, not only our own — connect us to the future. The world is no longer bounded by our awareness. The future is of immediate concern. Not just the future our children will experience, but the future their children will experience, and so on, and so on.
It gets personal all of a sudden.
We can dwell on the profound consequences of our actions, but this exquisite connection to all that is outside ourselves has its immediate satisfactions, also. Spring break was fun, but I only had my own fun to enjoy. Before, when the offspring went along, I enjoyed their fun as well as my own. This year, without them, I felt a loss.
So I salute the impulse (I didn’t feel) to have babies. I salute the passion that drives us to breach our small, insulated worlds and connect with the future.
And next year I’m going to try to take the offspring along.
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