The phrase every newlywed couple dreads. Although my wife and I have only been married since March, we've been together for over 16 years, so we've heard different variations of that statement countless times during our relationship. Now, there have always been many reasons why we chose to remain childless. At the beginning, it was because my wife was in college and was pursuing her degree and knew that having a child would likely force her to abandon that goal, a goal that ended with her getting her BA and now having a great career. Also, I knew I wasn't emotionally prepared to handle the responsibility of raising a child. I was chasing my dream of being a professional musician and paying the bills was hard enough when it was just the two of us trying to get by. As time went on, it just became easy for us to continue not trying to have kids. We enjoyed the freedom to do what we wanted whenever we wanted to, we liked not having the pressure of raising children and hoping we were teaching them the right things and that we weren't going to end up raising a douchebag, an asshole or, worse yet, a conservative (I keed, I keed). It sort of just became a given that we weren't going to have kids, we'd just be one of those couples where we were "aunt and uncle" to all of our friend's kids and we'd just have our incredibly spoiled dogs to fuss over.
Getting married this March has definitely been a new beginning of sorts. It has sparked the conversation between my wife and I of "Do we want to have kids ever?" Now, there are still reasons why I'm reluctant to take that plunge, but many of our old reasons aren't a factor anymore. My wife got her degree and has a good job, so getting pregnant and having a baby now wouldn't force her to sideline her aspirations or prevent her from continuing on her career path. I feel like I'm more emotionally capable of taking care of a kid now, that I can handle the demands of a baby, the needs of a toddler, the wants of a child and the stress of a teenager. So, much of the concerns that were roadblocks to parenthood for us before have been alleviated. However, now there is a new, glaring concern. Actually it's less of a concern and more of a bone-chilling fear...
Other people's kids.
There, I said it. Other people's kids are one of the biggest reasons why I don't want to have kids of my own. I'm not talking about my friend's kids, who are awesome for the most part and so enjoyable to be around because at the end of the day we can go home by ourselves and not have to worry about taking care of them. I'm talking about other people's kids. You know, the asshole kid down the street who thought it would be a great idea to make up a game where he throws rocks at your car in the driveway? The jerkoffs who live behind you who think it's so much fun to sit on top of the fence and make your dogs go ape shit barking until the next door neighbor comes over and complains to you about your dogs barking? The kids who will try to talk your kid into giving his or her toys to them because that would make them "so cool" if they did? The kids who will just take your kid's toy if they don't give it to them and send them home crying so that you now have to have that incredibly comfortable and easy conversation with their parents about their kid being a fucking thief? The kids at school who encourage your kid to talk back to the teacher, blow off their homework, bully kids on the playground and generally be a douche? The kids who ask if your kid can ride bikes to the store with them, then you end up getting a call because they got caught shoplifting? I'm telling you, my mind goes crazy thinking about this stuff. It overwhelms me, the fear and uncertainty.
Now, I have friends who have amazing kids. When I say amazing, I mean these kids are brilliant, they're gifted, beautiful, just truly special and awesome kids. They act incredibly well, they respect people, they conduct themselves in an appropriate manner for wherever they are. They love each other and respect their parents. I see these kids and I say "Could I ever raise kids half that good?" My friends all say the same thing. "You could totally raise great kids, you two are smart, caring and loving people." To which I say "Ok, sure, maybe we are, but what about other people?"
See, my parents busted their asses to raise me well. My dad was about the best example you could hope for of a responsible, caring, friendly and respectful guy. He treated everyone with respect, he never met a stranger. If you knew my dad, you liked my dad, period. He was gregarious, outgoing, extremely intelligent and had a great sense of humor. He taught me about honesty and integrity. He taught me to treat everyone with respect, especially girls. He taught me to be responsible, to take care of my responsibilities. He never missed a day of work, never ducked out of his obligations. In fact, he would be the first one to volunteer to help out a friend, neighbor, co-worker or family member if they needed something. He was without question the perfect example of how you would want your son to grow up.
So, what did I do? I hated the guy from age 14-19. I did everything I could to contradict what he told me. I lied, I was irresponsible, I was lazy, I was disrespectful. I was the worst. I went out with my friends and got drunk, got stoned, vandalized shit, stole shit, got in trouble, did everything I could to be a total fuck up. I stole cars, I broke into homes, I broke into a school. I broke into cars and stole stereos. I destroyed thousands of dollars worth of people's property just for shits and giggles. I should have gone to jail at least a dozen times during my late teens. It was only by sheer, dumb luck that I didn't. I remember following a "friend" of mine who I had just taken to a nearby town to steal a car as he was driving in the car he had stolen. We were driving back to our town so he could strip it down and then find a place to park it and burn it. We were heading down a back road, around 3 in the morning, and we drove right past a sheriff going the opposite direction. Of course, the cop hits the brakes and flips a U-turn because it's 3am and the only people out at that time of night are cops and crooks. The two of us spontaneously decided to turn opposite directions at the same cross street. The cop decided to follow home cheese in the stolen car, and I hauled ass back to where we were supposed to meet back up in town. The dude had managed to lose the cop, who ended up not lighting him up and trying to pull him over, but what if he had decided to follow me instead? What if he turned left instead of right and thought maybe I should check this guy's license just to make sure he's not up to something? If he would have pulled me over, he would have found amps, stereos and speaker boxes from 3 other cars in the backseat and trunk of my car. He would have found me completely spun out on meth and I would have done some time for theft, DUI and possession of stolen property. And that was just ONE night...
Now, see, I was raised right and this happened. My dad taught me all the right values and this still happened. I knew better than to do any of that shit and it still happened. They say we learn from our mistakes, but I made mistakes in my life that could have ruined my life if I had been made to pay for them. Getting stopped in a car full of stolen property while driving away from the scene of multiple car burglaries where that exact property was taken, while under the influence of a controlled substance will get you prison time. I know this because when those "friends" of mine eventually did get caught, that's exactly what happened to them. It's only through sheer luck that I wasn't out with any of them on a night that their luck finally ran out. It was sheer luck that the cops didn't show up the night I decided to break into my old school with one of those guys. I see how their lives have turned out after having to serve time for grand theft auto and various other charges and that could easily have been me if I wasn't so lucky.
So, what if my kid isn't as lucky? What if my kid gets talked into throwing rocks at a parked car and the owner catches him in the act? What if my kid gets talked into breaking into a car and a cop comes driving around the corner right as they're breaking out the window? What if my kid turns right and the cop decides to light him up? What if my kid isn't smart enough to realize "What the hell am I doing? Why am I doing meth and hanging out with car thieves and running around like I want to be a fucking criminal?" Like I finally did and stopped doing all that shit just weeks before the guys I used to run around with started getting arrested? What if my kid doesn't have the willpower to stop doing meth just because he knows it's a stupid, dangerous drug? I have friends who have lost a lot in their lives, including their freedom, over meth and still can't stop doing it. What if my kid ends up like that?
I've dropped acid, I've eaten shrooms, I've smoked crack, snorted coke and meth, I've smoked opium, snorted oxycotins and drank myself unconscious on too many occasions to count. Why did I not end up an addict? Why was I able to just realize that what I was doing was dangerous and stupid and then just stop? The first time I smoked crack, it was like I was having a 20-minute long orgasm, followed by the worst, most depressing crash ever that made me almost fanatic to smoke some more so I could get that initial feeling back. Smoking crack was the closest thing to a feeling that I could seriously become addicted to that I've ever felt, and yet I was still able to quit, cold turkey, and never look back when a good friend of mine who's opinion I truly respected told me that I was a "Fucking loser" for smoking crack and that he would have absolutely no respect for me as a person if I kept doing it. On many occasions, it has been the positive, "tough love" of friends that has helped me to stop doing dumb shit and make the right choices, but it was also the negative influence of other friends that persuaded me to make a lot of bad choices in the first place. What if I wasn't lucky enough to know people who cared enough to tell me when I was fucking up? What if I didn't have the ability to look objectively at myself when they did tell me that and see that I needed to make better choices and give up those bad habits?
I've said and done some horrible things to people because of the influence of "friends." I've been intolerant, hateful and cruel in the name of peer pressure. I've hurt people in ways that makes me ashamed of myself to think about today. It's especially hard because I was bullied relentlessly as a kid. I was constantly teased for my weight, my appearance, my family... you name it, someone would give me shit about it. I was picked on, beat up, humiliated, terrorized and tortured. I was chased home by bigger kids just because they thought it was funny to watch me running and screaming in sheer terror. I used to sit in my room at night and imagine going to school with a gun and killing everyone who ever made fun of me. I used to wish death on my bullies, literally wish death. I would play scenarios over and over in my head of how I wanted each one of those assholes to die. Shotgun to the head for you, stabbed in the chest, stomach and neck for you, run over by a car for you, set on fire and beaten with a baseball bat while you burn, and you... you I want to put a noose around your neck and throw you off the roof in front of the door to the school right as the bell rings at 3:15... I wanted so badly to take violent, bloody revenge on my tormentors in school, but I couldn't because they were bigger and stronger and they had their friends with them to back them up. So, I picked on kids who were smaller than me. I carried on the sadistic bullshit by projecting my anger and frustration and hatred onto kids who didn't deserve it anymore than I did. Since then, I've said a lot of apologies to people who I have always regretted treating that way, but it can never take away what I did. I know this because some of the kids who bullied me have apologized and as good as it feels to know they regret it, it doesn't erase the pain of what it felt like to go through that shit back then.
What if my kid gets bullied by some asshole? Worse yet, what if my kid is some asshole bully? I wasn't raised to be that way, but at times I was. What do I do when my kid comes home with bruises because some kids at school are beating him up? What do I do when I get called down to the school because my kid beat some kid up?
All you parents reading this right now are probably thinking "You just do the best you can, you deal with these problems and that's part of being a parent." What happens when you can't deal with it? What happens when you tell your kids not to be assholes but they don't listen? What happens when you tell your teenagers to be safe if they're going to have sex but they end up getting pregnant, or getting someone pregnant? What happens when you tell your kids not to steal and then you get a call from mall security because they got caught shoplifting, or a call from the police because they were picked up in a stolen car? What happens when your kids decide they don't give a shit about school, they don't want to learn, being smart is for suckers? What happens when your kid says he hates fags and wetbacks?
My parents spent every waking moment trying to teach me right and wrong. They worked constantly to instill in me a respect for myself and others and a desire to be educated and strive for success in my life. They taught me the dangers of drugs and alcohol and smoking. They endeavored to lead me down the right paths in life. In spite of all this, I was an asshole at times, I was a thief and a liar, I did drugs and drank, I fucked off my education in favor of partying and screwing around with my friends. I made terrible mistakes that would have ruined my life as I know it if I had got caught. People might say "Well, you aren't doing those things now. You saw the road you were heading down and you made the right choices to avoid that fate. Better late than never!" And yeah, those people might be right, but what if I hadn't made the choices I did when I did? What if it wasn't so easy for me to just stop doing drugs and hanging out with the wrong crowd? I'm sure the world is full of drug addicts who, at some point, realized what they were doing was bad and stupid and dangerous, but they were too addicted to stop. Why didn't that happen to me? Why did I decide to stop running around with car thieves just weeks before they all started getting arrested? Am I psychic? No. I'm just lucky. Well, what if my kid isn't so lucky? What if my kid isn't able to just say "Ok, this sucks, I'm going to stop doing it now." and quit? I'm telling you, this shit keeps me up at night.
I've always been the kind of person who thought that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing right. I don't even want to take on a task if I don't think I'm going to be able to do an exceptional job at it. If I can't write a masterpiece, I don't even want to sit down at the computer. If I can't play a symphony, I don't even want to pick up an instrument. So, what if I can't raise kids that are as amazing as my friend's kids? What if I can't raise kids who are just as smart and inexplicably lucky as I was? What if I can't do an exceptional job at it? What if my obsession with having to be an exceptional parent makes me an even worse parent? What if I try so hard not to screw up that that makes me screw up? There's an old saying, often found on t-shirts, bumper stickers, coffee mugs, etc. that goes "Insanity is hereditary, you get it from your kids." Well, I haven't even had one yet and they already make me nuts.
So, when am I going to finally break down and have a kid? Just as soon as I can think about doing it without all those thoughts and hundreds more flooding my brain and pouring out my ears. As soon as I can stop worrying about shit that I know is completely out of my control and just accept the fact that, as parents, you do the best you can and just hope they listen and do the right thing when the time comes. As soon as I can believe in myself enough to know that I'm too smart, too caring and too responsible to not do everything I can to be the best father I can be.
Oh, and as soon as I can medically guarantee my kid grows up to be gay.