Wednesday, March 12, 2014

ZPG ... and Little Beasts

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I learned my dad, whose chief pride, joy, and commitment in life were his kids and his love for mom, actually worried a lot about having children.  He was extremely concerned about global overpopulation – and this was fifty years ago, kids, back when the world’s population was a mere pittance at just over three billion (we’re around seven billion now, if you believe The Internet).  He had no such qualms about marriage itself, interestingly enough – my parents were wed within three months or so of meeting one another – and the story goes that he was asking my aunt (his sister, married before he was) “Is it true two can live as cheaply as one?” very quickly once he met my mom.

I had a bit of the good, old-fashioned population fear myself when I was younger, intermingled with the “do I want to bring a child into *This World*” angst I think many of us get, without really allowing it to take concrete form.  But, above all, my failure to procreate stems from the lack of desire to do so.

My mom and I were antiquing one day, and somehow it came up – a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon, and I learned that dad had once been very concerned about global population growth.  Coming along well after this question had become moot for him, of course – I knew only a dad whose greatest fulfillment was in his kids and wife.  I can’t honestly remember whether she asked me, but I told her I had not had children because I never experienced that driving desire some people have, and it seemed to me that, lacking that, it would be incredibly unwise to have kids anyway.  She seemed to accept this; either because she knows me well, or because she herself has not endured the world’s most painful urge for more grandchildren (she does have two), it’s always seemed to me that she wasn’t het up about my providing them.  I can recall a time when people pushed me a bit about having children, but I can’t recall my mother being one of those to whom it seemed to mean a great deal to dictate my procreative habits.

Mom’s strongest guidance in that department, in fact, always came in the form of explaining in no uncertain terms the very negative consequences of my becoming pregnant out of wedlock, and the expectations of my continence in this department.  (Indeed, she was still having nightmares about my showing up on the doorstep knocked up after I turned forty, though I haven’t heard about such a dream in the past year or two.  Heh.)

Truth be told, I used to have a potent fear – and I’m not really cured of it, though the point is to my mind clearly moot by this time, aged forty-six – that I would be abusive.  This is not owing to any such example, but when I reached twenty or so I just had an instinct about my impatience and temper – my twenties were not good years for equanimity and tolerance – and this stuck with me even to the point I still feel guilty about the way I treat my poor pets sometimes.  Pen doesn’t behave like an abused child, but I’ve given her a shout or two – partiuclarly during the house-training months - not proud to remember.

It doesn’t come up much anymore, that people find me unnatural for not having children – but, at this point in life, I do sometimes catch the glimmer of strangeness when people realize I have not.  The discomfort is hardly what it was during my “child bearing years”, but it remains an unnecessary awkwardness I wish people could avoid, even those who don’t know they’re reacting to it.  At times like starting a new job and so on, the failure to be a participant in a 4-member nuclear family in the correct neighborhood does come up again and again.  Given the photos of my nieces at my desk, too, there’s always the explaining to do.

So after all these years of the subliminal layer of my life, in which dealing with my unnaturalness in this regard is a perpetual, but very quiet, buzz in my eardrums, it was interesting to consider my father … as a man who wasn’t perhaps completely sure he wanted to be a father.

Well, he WANTED that.  But he was capable of questioning it.

Let it be said, once he plunged into the wide world of parenthood, there was no way to tell if he ever questioned it again.  My suspicion is:  no.  He was committed to us, to my mom, in a way I’ve rarely seen anyone commit to anything.  The worst memories are the confirmation of this – the time I verbally beat him up when he all but did a term paper for me – and I didn’t like the way he did it.  (Eesh.)  The time I rejected a present he was so pleased to have bought for me.  That one still makes me queasy, and it’s been probably twenty-five years.  The fights I picked, with my brother and/or my mom.  I wasn’t a nice kid any more than I was a nice twenty-something, and if his devotion EVER flagged, he concealed it utterly.  And dad is the person in this world who knew more about me than anyone living except for Mr. X.

I think about the generosity of his love, its limitless capacity and tolerance and patience and bounty, and it makes me weep and I am humbled.  I’ll probably never love like that in my life – though what I felt for and wished I could give to Mr. X is more than I ever would have imagined when we met.  What I have given.  I may not love like my dad, but I am damned steady, maternal instinct or no.

Years on, and ageing somewhat now, it’s hard not to look back on my thinking when I “could have” done this or that, and not think I was making excuses.  But the omission of parenting has never been in doubt.  I can remember naming babies when I was eighteen years old, with my First Love.  But I cannot recall a single moment in my life, hearing the tick-tock of the Biological Clock, nor wishing anything had been different in this.  I’ve never regretted not becoming a mother, either.

Maybe my omission is the balance to dad’s allowance.  I held off where he sallied forth.

Or maybe I’m just my own odd and lonesome beast, wandering the plain on the margins and enjoying untrammeled grass.  It can get lonesome – and even scary, knowing jackals pick off the loose ends.  But I seem never to have needed to contribute more little-beasts to the herd.


Mo said...

Notably, Dad did not exceed his replacement allotment for offspring.

I'm pretty sure I caused him to question the choice to have kids (if choice it was in the first place), but the man was king of the optimistic stoics.

DLM said...

The tale I always heard about thinking twice about spawning twice was from *mom* - after your Big Giant Head, she was entirely unsure she wanted to go through that again!

I'm no pinhead myself, but am happy they let me join the party. Somebody needed to pesky your idyllic childhood away for you.