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I Kid Me Not

February 14, 2012

They say in the old age homes, when surveyed about their life’s regrets, the residents point to the things they didn’t do, not the things they did.

And one choice — to not do something — haunts my life like a silent echo.

It began when my first marriage suffered through five miscarriages, and their cumulative impact had me telling my wife I needed to take a break before trying to conceive again. She agreed, and we instead started to look into adoption. I remember those long, crowded adoption meetings, where the social worker would walk us through the labyrinth-like procedure.

But when the call finally came, one fateful day in ’92, “There’s a baby due up in Westchester, if you want it!” we looked at each other and shook our heads. The baby would soon come into this world, but our marriage was on its way out.

Since then I’ve often wondered – what if she had been able to carry our child to term? What a hard childhood he or she would have had!

During those eight years of dating that followed, if I had made becoming a father a priority, I would have succeeded, even if it would have meant following in my brother’s footsteps and marrying a single mom. But I didn’t do it. Why? I can kick myself about it if I want, but when I take an honest look, I realize No: I now wanted my life to be for me.  Developing, improving, pleasing and taking care of myself had become my priority.  It might seem self-centered, but having children would have taken me off this path.

Fast forward to today, I sometimes find myself regretting this choice. Especially those times I peer deep into the Meaning File in my psyche and it’s empty.

This is because I lack progeny to pour myself into. So when I die, too much of me will die with me. When I’m gone, they’ll be no one of my blood to carry on. It seems wrong, somehow, an affront to the natural cycle of life, to not give back all I’ve received. Especially when I consider how much I got from my parents, especially my dad, who to this day continues to inform and inspire me, though he’s almost 20 years gone.

And when you die childless, it’s like a tree falling in the existential forest, making not a sound.

So I write.

And do therapy.

And party.

And love. Janis had these lines she added to her cover of “Cry Baby”. During a break in the song — speaking, not singing — she says:

You can go all around the world, trying to find something to do with your life babe, When you only gotta do one thing well to make it in this world. All you ever gotta do, is be a good man, one time, to one woman, and that’ll be the end of the road, babe.

Well, I can say with assurance that when I found the right woman, I gave her all I got. And if that’s not meaningful, then I don’t know what is.

But still, even still, there’s no son or daughter with whom to continue the circle of giving, the family legacy of living to give. So I feel compelled to spend and give and live it all away while I still can. This I believe will make my dying, whenever it comes, feel a bit less final.

And then there’s also the fact that children can provide a safety net to catch you as you age and become more vulnerable. And these days, ageing can be a long, slow decline. Having kids and grandchildren is probably the best kind of health insurance.

As I age, and slowly grow weaker and also more irritable and curmudgeonly, who will take care of me? Shelley I hope, as I will take care of her. But if (God forbid!) I lose her – what then? My brother has his own life, and my nephews have theirs. And it’s not like I have the money to attract a younger woman to take care of me either. I could seriously be SOL.

But tonight, in the midst of writing this, Shelley comes home late from seeing her son, who’s 30 and going through a major crisis.  It’s clear that his pain goes right through her. And I think of some other people I’ve known the past few years and what they’ve endured watching their kids either fail to launch or totally fuck up or even reject them as parents. So the safety net children can provide can also helplessly ensnare a person in great anguish.

For all my regrets, and missed joys, my choice to be childless has also spared me from some of life’s pain.


7 Comments leave one →
  1. Roy Alexander permalink
    February 14, 2012 1:19 pm

    As I travel down life’s road in a kind of stimulus/response fashion I continue to be awed by your introspection and zest for life. Your blog today was very touching. Don’t stop writing. Roy

  2. February 14, 2012 3:00 pm

    First, you forgot about your cat. He/she will carry your legacy.

    And B, on your tombstone, which you may as well order now in case nobody’s around to do it for you, just have them inscribe, “Charlie who???”

    since I am in the same boat, I think the trick is to try and get Alzheimer’s before you realize there’s nobody around to take care of you. I’ll see you in that forest you mentioned.

  3. Moshe ROthenberg permalink
    February 14, 2012 3:58 pm

    I profoundly disagree with you and would like to opportunity to talk to you about it.

  4. Tresa permalink
    February 15, 2012 1:58 pm

    I disagree, too, that you’ve not given back from what you’ve recieved. That is so not what comes to mind when I think about you, sir.

    What I imagine your life to be like, from reading what you write, is exactly how a person who didn’t have children should be living. People like me, living in the trenches, looking after all these kids, have dreams about living a full, whole, uninterrupted adult life, with the opportunity to go to parties and spread your wings and discover the world and all life has to offer. Feel wistful for the children that you never had if you want, but know that you’re doing the no-children life the right way, plus some.

  5. February 15, 2012 5:22 pm

    It’s never too late to love and give back to a child, and still maintain total freedom and
    independence. For a while, I volunteered at Brooklyn Hospital, feeding the “Border Babies”. These are the new-borns who cannot be with their mothers, or have been given up at birth, or are HIV positive, or something… They need to be coddled, held, fed, gazed at lovingly etc. They looked right back at me, into my soul, making their first meaningful contact and perking up.. If they don’t get this, they will not develop as they need to. it’s heartbreaking, meaningful and rewarding.
    Also Big Brother (or some similar organization) can organize weekly visits with a parentless youth- thus making a huge difference in the life of a child or teen, which could become a life-long relationship.
    There are many ways to love and help our human family, without giving up the sanctity of what we have cultivated for ourselves. Whenever I work with children, the love pours back a thousand-fold.

  6. murray permalink
    February 24, 2012 7:44 pm

    You are one lucky man. Look at the responses you have received. How you touch others.
    And please do not forget/ dismiss all the men and women you guided out of some hell.
    This and the relationships we have are your legacy.
    I also love your honesty introspection. Don’t stop

  7. John permalink
    March 7, 2012 5:57 am

    Tonight, when I put my little 5 year old to bed, I told him he was the best little boy in the world. I could write volumes about how far we’d come – from the frustrating years when he seemed eternally unhappy and determined to include us too – to how, incrementally, drop by drop, we have learned how to structure our life together, learned to understand and love our little boy for who he is (not what we’d like him to be), to “see” through what was going on in order to see what was really going on. It’s come down to one simple principle: approaching childhood and parenting as a physical exercise rather than the warm and fuzzy feel-good time we’d once hoped it would be. I’ve had to adjust and adjust and adjust.

    So in that sense, the only thing you’ve missed is more work than you could ever imagine. I think kids make us work more on ourselves – in the form of self-discipline – than anything we do for them. And without them, the challenges would be different. Kids are work. But work that pays-off (we hope!). I spend my days with hundreds of teenagers and my weekends with Pre-k’ers. I have to say I kinda like it, but I wonder too if I am avoiding something more important.

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