Recently a friend of ours said something to my wife and I:
“You two are such nice people. It’s really surprising. Most of the people we know that don’t have kids are jerks.”
We found this to be quite funny. I mean, what about all the people who are jerks who DO have kids. But let’s set this aside for the moment.
Today I was looking up some background information on the song When I Die. We use it as one of the songs for people entering to see Exit the King. As I was looking around I found that it has been covered by a lot of people. Peter Paul and Mary did it first. Then others. The Blood Sweat and Tears version was the most famous. More recently Billy Childs and Alison Krauss did another cover. Honestly I prefer the Blood Sweat and Tears version. It’s the one I grew up with. To me it will always be the quintessential version. It’s always going to be a tent-revival song that tells mortality to fuck off. The others, especially the Allison Krauss version just seem slow, mournful and more than a little bit creepy. At heart it’ll always be a happy song.
In reading about the song I came across a blog called Jeff Meshel’s World where he discussed the song. Now his post’s a little ‘churchy’ for my taste, but then that may have come from the lyrics of the song. He also prefers the slower versions of When I Die over the Blood Sweat and Tears version, which he refers to as “criminally vulgar”. I guess to each his own, but I can’t even listen to the Krauss version.
Early in his essay though in reference to the line “and when I die there’ll be one child born in our world to carry on”, Meshel makes the following statement:
But when I think on the people I’ve known who do not have children, there’s a pinch in my heart. A discord. An arrhythmia. A missing link. Sorry, I’m a child of OzzieandHarrietLand. If we don’t contribute a link to the chain of life, what was it all for? What is it all about?
Really? That someone else decided to not have kids makes you feel strange? Like there’s a discord in the universe? Like its all meaningless? Why does it matter to you? Some people want kids. Others don’t. Isn’t it far better for the latter to not have them. The alternative is for them to have them and then raise them badly because of resentment or incompetence.
You see my wife and I are in our fifties now. We don’t have kids. When we decided to get married, nearly thirty years ago, we sat down and discussed all sorts of things. Money, responsibilities, long term plans, and children. I made it clear that I didn’t want any. I wasn’t a parent, I never would be a parent, I had no desire to try to learn to be a parent. Fortunately my wife was of like mind. As I’ve joked for three decades: I didn’t want to raise them and she didn’t want to bear them. We fit well together. We’ve had nieces, nephews, a few god children, but none of our own. Their visits were always temporary and brief. Once they left the house could return to the peace and quiet we prefer.
As I was growing up, kids, even my peers, were noisy, messy, and above all irrational. I was regularly embarrassed by something one of my peers did that made no sense to me. I went all the way through High School wondering if there was a set of rules, an instruction book, or something I had missed. I just didn’t understand the kids around me or what they did. As they were playing baseball I was reading about relativity. As they were fishing, I kept feeling sorry for the fish. When they made plans to get married and settle down after graduation to a job in the mill and a bunch of kids I kept wondering why could not see the bigger world out there. I never saw myself as having a family. Indeed I just didn’t understand why anyone would. I still don’t. There are things each of us want to do while we’re here. Kids prevent you from doing anything else. They are a full time job. So unless you really above all want kids, why have them? It’s not just that I didn’t want to have kids. I can’t even understand why anyone would. It’s an utterly alien concept for me. People who dream of growing up to have a family aren’t even talking the same language as I am.
I have a nephew who got married about seven years ago, and last year they had their second child. They’re thrilled. Both him and his wife love being a family, teaching the little ones to do things, watching them grow up, even cleaning up various, uh, leakage they produce. More power too them. If they’re happy then we’re happy for them. But I’ve never changed a diaper and I never will. I do not want to deal with that. I do not have the patience for temper tantrums, or potty training, or adolescent brain rot, or two in the morning trips to the ER. I just was never willing to deal with that. That is not me on any level. Just after we got married my mother kept saying “It’s different when they’re your own.” Yeah, because then you’re trapped. I was smart enough not to fall for that one.
The trouble is that even when kids are not making a mess, they still do things. Things that make me uncomfortable. Embarrassing things. Unpredictable things. Weird things. And that is the biggest issue. I don’t understand children. I’m not comfortable around them. But culture says you grow up and have a family. That’s what you do. If you get married and don’t start popping out kids within a few years people start to look at you funny. Society expects that. There must be something wrong with you if you don’t. You have to be selfish, a jerk, or worse. Or there’s a medical problem. The idea that some people just don’t want to have kids doesn’t sit well with some people. Worse, some people cave into this pressure and have a family they don’t want. I’ve seen a lot of misery that comes from taking that path.
Fortunately as I was growing up my parents taught me something fundamental: To do what I wanted to do, not what others wanted me to do. I learned that other people could spend all my free time if I let them. I was encouraged to chart my own path and let the others pass “like water off of a duck’s back”. It let me not be afraid to walk away from that kid in school who wanted to do something illegal. To just say “no thanks” when the guy in college offered me drugs. And to decide for myself whether my future involved a bunch of kids. I made my path. I’m happy with it.
So the fact is, I just never wanted to have children. I didn’t have the desire in any way. Indeed I’ve had a long lasting aversion to having children. So far from being a problem or unnatural, not having kids was and is the right path for me. To have done otherwise would have been “A discord. An arrhythmia”. Nothing good could have come from it. I, the world, the universe as a whole, is better for my not having children.
Most people remember the line from the song “And when I die there’ll be one child born to carry on”. I always focussed on the line earlier “Give me my freedom for as long as I be. All I ask of living is to have no chains on me.