As we embark on this, Folio Weekly’s 22nd annual Kids Directory, I’ve got a confession to get off my chest: Kids terrify me. Not your kids. Your kids are fine (probably). Maybe even cute. But my kids — or rather, seeing as how I haven’t any, the thought that someday there might be a human being half-assembled from my genetic material, relying on me (me!) for sustenance and guidance, trusting me (me!) not to drop her on her head or screw up her forming psyche. (Just typing that freaked me out a little.)
Like any red-blooded and not always conscientious young man, I had a few occasions when I feared that an inadvertent fatherhood loomed on the horizon. Nothing came of them, though I often wonder how differently my life would have turned out if it had. Would I be here, in Jacksonville? Would I have this job? Would my wife have married me?
Until about a year ago, my wife and I planned to live our lives childless, free to come and go as we please, free to spend money how we want, free to be untethered to a steady job and its constraints, never a slave to school years and T-ball practices and piano recitals.
I don’t know what changed. But something did. We were in a bar on a weekday night — something you can’t really do when you have kids — and, in the course of conversation about some friend’s or another’s child, or maybe my niece, it came up.
“You want kids,” my wife snapped, almost accusatorily. I couldn’t blame her. This newly announced desire — really, something I’d been thinking of more and more as I got older — would fundamentally change the premise of our relationship. If I wanted kids, she told me, that’s something I should have mentioned before we got married, before we moved across the country and back together. She had a point.
It wasn’t something I was set on, I shrugged. Just a thought. No big deal. I’d never mention it again. We changed the subject.
A month later, that something changed in her, too. She sat me down and told me that she’d given it a lot of thought, and if I wanted a kid (singular), she’d give me a kid (singular). Since then, whenever we’ve spoken about baby names and parenting strategies, she’s made a point of acting like she’s just along for the ride, just acceding to my wishes, just taking one for the team. Of course, she’s the one with the secret Pinterest page of baby paraphernalia. Just saying.
I don’t know when, or if, it will happen. We don’t have a timetable (at least one that I’m willing to put in print; my mom reads this magazine). We don’t even know for sure whether, as Cosmo Kramer would put it, my boys can swim.
But as we inch along this new trajectory; as we begin to think about weird things like what neighborhood has the best schools; as my parents, in their quest for another grandchild, assure me that everyone has these doubts, something strange has happened: Terrified as I still am (and I am), I’m almost looking forward to fatherhood — to the challenge, even to the responsibility, to being forced to become a better me, to leave something of myself in this world after I’m gone.
Perhaps, to borrow a phrase, the only thing I have to fear is fear itself.