Kicking and Screaming: Tales from my losing battle with Fatherhood.
K&S Pt 3
I haven’t been completely honest with you. No, not about not wanting kids. That I’ve been completely honest with you about. I don’t want kids with the same intensity that a soldier in a foxhole doesn’t want the enemy grenade that was just thrown down on him. But that doesn’t mean I’m not willing to want them.
Let me try and unpack this for you.
My wife naturally wants/has-the-urge-for-kids, and I respect that. I also think it’s tantamount to the process, because, let’s face it, if there wasn’t some inner desire pulling you along in the matter, if you just went by the pure financial logic of it, no intelligent person would ever reproduce, as the equation for having kids in the modern world almost always computes a net loss. Unless you plan to sell your kid on the black market—always tempting—or teach it to pitch left handed, the intangibles will most likely outweigh the tangibles, so you’d better be damn sure you like those intangibles.
It’s not that I don’t understand natural urges or needs, I just have a different set of them. Like sex, food, a clean bathroom, violent video games, and this compulsive drive to achieve and be recognized for it. When my natural feeling runs into my wife’s natural feeling, they don’t go together naturally (besides the sex part, that stuff is the bee’s knees!). What I mean to say is, she wants kids because they represent an ultimate sacrifice of self. I don’t want kids because they represent an ultimate sacrifice of self.
However, if I could learn to want that sacrifice, if I could harness that natural inclination to be a dad and throw caution to the wind… well, I’d rock the hell out of some fatherhood. And I say this not because I’m waiting for the right moment to have kids, or because I’m trying to time the baby market, but because there once was a time in which I wanted, more than anything, to be a dad.
Cue the flash back effects, and journey with me back to my high school years.
I was dating the valedictorian. I know what you’re thinking, “she obviously wasn’t all that bright if she was dating you!” Hey now, I was an athlete with long hair, a letterman’s jacket, and a car—what mortal female could resist?
We also shared the same faith. Well, we were both Christian-ish. Her family was Catholic, but her mom drank beer on occasion, and they did non-Catholic stuff on other occasions, which, if you asked me to qualify that for you I couldn’t since they also did a lot of Catholic stuff on occasions. Looking back, I’m not really sure what was post marked Catholic Jesus and Non-denom Jesus. I just assumed it all showed up to the same heavenly address. Their church served a lot of cake, so I went with it.
There was one thing they did do that was very non-negotiably Catholic: have as many children as possible.
She was the oldest of twelve. Twelve! @!#$($!*&! Twelve! Suddenly you can forgive that mother her occasional beer, huh? By comparison, I was the youngest of two. But, my older brother, … he was enough to even out the amount of drama eleven siblings could generate. In fact, my family unit as a whole, despite being a fourth the size of Miss Valedictorian’s, was one hundred times more potent when it came to insanity.
By the time Miss Valedictorian and I started dating, my home was a warzone. My Dad had fallen off the roof of our house and gotten fired from his job on account of permanent nerve damage form the fall making him too “inefficient” to keep in the company to employ. Then he fell again, this time into a deep, volatile, bipolar depression. My mom, hailing from a long line of assertive, obsessive, argumentative women, worked hard to pick up the slack, but even at her best, she couldn’t handle my dad’s wallowing depression. Thus, their two natural urges collided and they fought, about everything and anything, from money, emotions, behaviors, cars, dogs, food, and politics. But their favorite subject was my brother.
At the time my brother was drinking. A lot. And wrecking cars. A lot. And wandering around the house naked. A lot. I’m not sure what the naked part has to do with any of this, but anytime I use the flashback narrative—POW—Naked Brother.
When he fought with my parents, my brother was usually nude. I think because, after a night out drinking, he’d come home late, pass out, wake up late for work, panic he wasn’t ready, demand my mother to assemble everything he needed—almost always included clean underwear—which prompted my mom to assail him about his lack of responsibility, usually in front of my dad, whose fragile psyche would breakdown under the drama. A three-way feud—two clothed participants and one naked participant, the latter usually twirling his pubic hair with one hand while the other held a long-ashed cigarette to his lips, barking about what he need to get work done.
I ‘d go over to Miss Valedictorian’s house a lot back then, even if she wasn’t home. Sometimes I’d go just to see the family, to whom I played a big brother like role. We’d swim and wrestle and play games. I’d tell them stories. Go to church with them. Help them with errands. Unpack groceries and help with homework. Go to more Church with them. Watch movies. Make them cry from playing to rough, then patch things up, then do it again. We’d color and craft, build snowmen, make pizza, shoot baskets and go to concerts. And, every night before bed, they’d share family prayer time, during which all the kids—usually one crawling on my shoulders or on my lap— were asked to say something they were thankful for. And, each one would close their eyes and thank God that I came over that day, because it made it better.
Man, it was special. So special I’d tell my folks about it and they’d roll their eyes like I was recounting the plot of The Partridge Family or the Brady Bunch. “What else did The Perfects do, Dirk? Perform an impromptu Christmas musical to raise money for a condemned orphanage?” No, but that’s because they practically were an orphanage since only 5 of them were natural and the rest were adopted. Oh snap!
You can’t put a price on a family experience like that. You can’t itemize it into a budget and plan it’s deduction out over 18 years. I know it. I know my logical, sensible, financial approach to having kids always breaks down in the face of it. But you know what, you also can’t measure the cost of what it’s like to go back home after prayer time at the Perfects, get woken up by your brother stumbling in drunk, raring to fight mom. You can’t measure what it’s like to make it down stairs just in time to see him hit her while your dad is collapsed in some corner, crying about how he wants to die.
That stuff goes into a different kind of prayer.
Miss Valedictorian and I didn’t last, obviously. We both went on to bigger and better things. Me college. Her… something. We broke up. Got back together and broke up again. Some days I can still think of reasons I want to punch her dad in the face (perfect my ass!) which I guess is how you know it was a good thing, at least for a while. It became more trouble than it was worth. I don’t talk to anyone from that house anymore, and haven’t for years, but I don’t regret any of it.
No sooner was that chapter closed in my life then I’d go off to play pro baseball. I got shipped out to the minors and, well, if you want to know more about that, you can read anything else I’ve written, ever. That experience started me on a whole new track in my life—an intensely selfish one, but because it had to be.
The money in the minors was (and still is) so abysmally awful, and the lifestyle so brutal, kids are the furthest thing from your mind. I could barely survive myself, let alone raise a kid. The money—or lack thereof— my family life, and my personality more or less ensured the only chance I’d have of meeting a girl was if God took out one of my ribs and turned it into a woman for me. But I considered it all loss for the sake of gaining the pro-uniform. It was all that mattered. It was all that could matter if I was going to make it to the Big Leagues. So began the mantra of focusing on goals and accomplishments, and cutting out distractions. So began being selfish to survive, to get out of the families gravity well and on with my life.
And it’s kinda paid off. It’s also allowed me to give Mrs. H and I (and our dog, he’s totally pampered) a great quality of life. The kid thing, well, that feels like a roll of the dice. It could be a blast, a total thank god for this experience. Or, it could be naked, smoking, pubic-hair-twirling nightmare. All I know is, selfish has kept me safe and comfortable.
My wife had a great family experience, so she sorta gets where I’m coming from, but mostly in theory. Seriously, her family is good people. Not The Perfects, but close behind. They’re a little ditzy and naive and times, but I still love em’. That’s not to say my own family isn’t good people or that I don’t love them (I’m obligated to say this since, as discussed above, my mom will go right for my neck if I don’t). And I’m thankful for all they’ve done for me, especially since they’ve went through hell for it. Really. (Really, mom!). But, gosh, they have had a hard go of it. Even now I wonder how long my dad is going to just threaten to kill himself and not actually try for it. During the winter it’s nearly nearly every weekend… That’s terrifying. Think of trying to explain why grandpa Hayhurst isn’t around anymore to your kid under those circumstances. Worse still, I struggle with depression myself (thank you, heredity, that and a receding hairline, how sweet of you). What if I kids really are the best and I still can’t enjoy because I’m all in my funk? I mean, lots of things can go wrong. Like, really wrong.
I guess I tell you all this because my fighting against having kids is not just me wanting to focus on me, it’s because I know what I am and what made me, and I’m afraid I won’t be able to change when someone really needs me to. What if I suck at it? What if I break down. What if I’m an asshole dad? <–virtually assured, me thinks.
So, yeah, I joke about it—a lot—but humor is a great way to hide fear, both of what you don’t know, and what you do…
To be continued…
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