“What It Was Like To Become A Dad After I Was Told I’d Never Have Kids“ originally appeared on Quora and The Fatherly Forum, and was reprinted with permission.
When I was a teen, I knew I wanted children, although I also thought I never wanted to get married. At that time, and really, for all my life, I’ve been afraid of other people’s children. I have all these ideas about how to relate to children that I don’t see many other people doing. I believe in telling children about the things they are interested in. I believe there are no topics that children should be kept from. No taboo topics. If a child is interested in something, they deserve to have me tell them as much that I know as they are interested in.
I always imagined having children that were related to me. I felt that I had a right to bring up my children the way I wanted to, but for other children, I felt I had no right, and I didn’t want to piss off their parents, even if their parents had given the child to me to adopt. I felt I could relate to children who were related to me. When they did weird stuff, I would recognize it, because I had been like that, too. This has turned out to be true, for the most part. The only confusing stuff is where they take after their mother. I don’t know what she was like as a child, so I can’t automatically understand my kids when they are like her. That’s more mysterious.
I wanted children because, on some level, I loved myself and I wanted to create new beings who were partly like me. I wanted children because I thought I could do a better job than my parents, and a better job than most parents. I wanted children because I have all these theories and ideas about parenting, and I knew I’d only get to try them out on my own children. I wanted children because creating new life is the ultimate creative act. I wanted children because I don’t want to die and I know I have to die. If I have children, then something of me will be left alive after I die.
See how much I wanted children? Perhaps you can imagine how I felt when I found out my body wasn’t plumbed correctly, and I had no way to deliver sperm to an egg.
All my life, I’d assume I could make children, and when I found out I couldn’t, I felt like an alien. I felt inhuman. I could not reproduce. It was an incredible shock. I felt guilty. I didn’t feel like a man. I suggested to my wife that she leave me for a man who could give her children. In a way, I thought having children was the meaning of my life, and now that meaning had been destroyed by some gene that got passed down for generations — a gene, that had I gotten another like it from the other parent, would have given me a full case of cystic fibrosis, and I would have drowned in my own lungs before I reached the age of 40. Perhaps it was best that I could not pass this gene on.
After 6 years of operations and attempts at creating children in a petri dish, my wife got pregnant with a child that was my genetic daughter. A few years later, we thawed out another embryo and had a son.
I love my children because I wanted them so badly. I am so lucky that I lived in a time when medical advances happened so that I could have genetic children, and I didn’t have to adopt. I don’t know if I would have adopted. It was very hard to imagine being able to identify with a child that wasn’t related to me. I felt I could understand my own kids. I couldn’t imagine understanding anyone I wasn’t related to. Had the technological advances happened even a few years later, my wife would have been too old to have children, and I would have been out of luck.
I love my children because I can relate to them. I love them because I parented them. I suffered through the uninteresting time when they couldn’t talk, and I had to change a lot of icky diapers and figure out how to console someone who couldn’t tell me what was wrong. But I knew there would come a time when they would become fascinating people, and I would get my reward. I looked forward to their teenage years. I didn’t believe those years would be trouble for me. I believed those would be a most interesting time, and they would challenge me and change before my very eyes in ways I could not imagine.
It is true. They are people I could never have imagined. They have made me proud in ways I would never have guessed in a thousand years. They are amazing people and I love talking to them and doing stuff with them. I love trying to figure out what is going on with them.
My daughter is 20, now, and she was home from college for a few weeks, and she brought over lots of friends, and we had the most amazing conversations. Finally, she told me what was happening when she was a teen. She told me about boyfriends and crushes I never knew she had. Even my wife didn’t know.
She told me about the time when she was 6, and her nose was running. We were at the park, and I didn’t have any tissues. All I had was a very well-used handkerchief in my pocket. I didn’t really want to use it, and she just told me she thought it was the grossest thing, ever. Who knew? I found the cleanest spot I could for her to blow her nose. Maybe another father would have let her blow her nose on his shirt, but she probably got her ideas about being grossed out about snot from me in the first place. In any case, it was nice to finally find out that we were on the same page on that one. And I would have forgotten that incident, had it not stuck in her memory so persistently.
My son is just about 17. He’s a wonderful piano player, but he hates playing recitals, and I totally get it, because I hated it, too. I don’t make him do it, and we’ve found a teacher who will work with him, anyway, and he loves the piano. He doesn’t love reading music, and for years, I was annoyed about having to help him with that, but now I enjoy the time I spend with him as he is learning new pieces.
His memory is amazing. He works through a piece once, and then a second time, and already he has memorized it. My memory is so horrible that I failed a drama literature class in college because I couldn’t memorize my lines for the required one credit acting “lab.” My memory is so bad that I switched from classical music to improvisation because I could never memorize any pieces, and also because in improvisation, you can’t make mistakes, and no one can judge you to have failed for one little mistake.
Like I say, I get why my son doesn’t want to do recitals, because I know what the pressure is like to not make mistakes, and I know that I only felt relief after a recital, and never any accomplishment. I didn’t want to make him do that just because others thought it was good for him. I knew otherwise because he probably felt very similarly to the way I felt.
I don’t care if no one ever hears him play. That’s not what the lessons are for. The music is for him. For his brain. So he can have something to go to when he needs to calm down. So it can help him organize his brain to help with his memory and help with math and science skills. It’s not so he can show off. It’s just for him to use as he wants.
My daughter also took piano from a young age, but she didn’t stick with it. That was ok, too, because I just wanted them to have a start on an instrument that would teach them about music, but that they could switch to their most favored instrument when they discovered it. Hers turned out to be voice, but she also decided to stop taking lessons when she got to high school. I was disappointed, but also proud because she was strong enough to follow her own path even knowing I would be disappointed. I’m way more proud of that than I am disappointed she didn’t keep on taking lessons. She still likes music, and still sits down at the piano and plays duets with my son, sometimes.
I don’t know why other fathers love their children, but I love mine because I have lived with them for all their lives, and I love who they are and who they have been, and I will love who they become. I love them because I can be free to be myself with them, and that is a gift that no one else has ever been able to give me. Only my kids. I can be the corny dad. The ad dad. The crazy dad. Whatever dad with them. Embarrassing dad. Musical dad. Theoretical dad. Even dad who knows a thing or 2. With everyone else, I have to watch myself in ways that make me tense and sad. But not with them. With my kids, I feel free, and how could I not love people who help me be myself?
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