I’m not going to have kids

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I’m not going to have kids.

When a male writes that sentence it tends to mean one of two things: either they’re about to start a screed about how a child-free life is superior to fatherhood, or take a richly personal journey into the psyche-shredding agony of infertility.  This is neither: I love kids (I am tediously excited about every damn thing my nephews do, as my friends can eye-rollingly attest), and – as far as I’m aware, at least – my guys are perfectly capable of doing the necessary business.

My opening statement is neither a reflection of choice or of medical reality: it’s a realisation that the window in which I could have started a family has closed. It wasn’t dramatic and it wasn’t deliberate but, having just slipped past my fourth decade of life, it just hasn’t happened. And at this point, it’s not going to.

Now, women can justifiably slam this position as self-indulgent whining. The constraints on female fertility are a grim fact of biology, and while we can extend them by years – indeed, decades – treatments are invasive and extraordinarily expensive. Meanwhile decrepit men are siring spawn well into their 70s, much to the delight of every tabloid on the planet.

However, there is a growing body of evidence that leaving your child-causing until late in the piece is a great way to increase the risk of genetic disorders. Studies in the UK, Norway and the US have found that children of older fathers face higher risk of congenital disabilities like Down’s syndrome and the development of mental illness, as well as a host of other genetic and developmental disorders. There’s a solid body of evidence that this is due to an increased rate in mutations in the genome of sperm as men get older. And while the risks are (relatively) low, the fact remains that as men age, so too does their junk.

I’m at an age where most of the women of my demographic have children already, have already made their mind up that they’re definitely not starting a family, or are in a mad rush to do so now, dammit, before the internal egg timer goes off.

It’s an issue that more and more men will be facing in the future as, like our female counterparts, the effect of wanting to establish our careers before adding complicated extra responsibilities – as well as the effect of the extended adolescence that is one’s 20s – means that more of us will be facing down fatherhood in our forties or fifties. And that, I contend, is a problem.

At least, it is for me. I can’t possibly be the man that my late father was: an enthusiastic, hands-on dad as excited about his daughter’s netball games as his son’s weird obsession with planets, who’d respond to a question like “how do bridge builders dig holes for pylons underwater without them filling up?” with “… you know, I have no idea – let’s find out!” before bundling us in the car and racing to the library (the answer, incidentally, is mainly though vacuum pumps that suck the water and silt away – and my interest in my idle question faded a lot earlier than my father’s did).

I can imagine me sighing heavily at such a request and mumbling “Google,” before turning back to the pile of work I’d brought home with me. And there are already plenty of tired, distracted parents doing a half-assed job raising their families without my adding to their sullen ranks.

So why didn’t I get in earlier? For my part, when I got married to my long-time girlfriend a decade ago we planned to start a family in a year or so. It was a good plan: so good, in fact, that we maintained that exact schedule for the five years until our divorce. My last serious relationship ended in large part because my girlfriend realised how old I would be by the time she wanted kids. There was an opportunity somewhere in there, perhaps, and I missed it. Or maybe there wasn’t: my exes loved me, bless them, but they weren’t fools.

While it’s tempting to draw broad, society-wide conclusions based on my subjective experience, that’s not really how data work. In any case, there’s a strong argument that society is the richer without both my nature (asthma, ludicrously unwieldy pre-orthodontic teeth, tendency toward depression) and my nurture (smart-arsery, fondness for a drink, fundamental inability to understand why anyone could possibly not adore the second Mclusky album). I’m a nice enough chap, all things considered, but the future’s unlikely to hinge on the enduring presence of my genes.

And that’s what I tell the explosions of neurons that fire all through my reptile brain every time I see a giggling child on the street, or read stories to friends’ kids, or have my nephews demand that Uncle Andrew immediately come and play with them right now.

I’m never going to have children.

But I really wish I had.

 

105 comments

  • There's always this assuption that younger parents have more energy and are more enthusiastic about things. But I think it's due to personality rather than age. My husband plays a social game of touch football. One of the fathers, who is in his mid fifties plays everyweek with his teenage son. He would have had him when he was over 40. I don't think over 40 is too late to be a father
    I hope you report back if you do end up having a kid.

    Commenter
    Les
    Date and time
    November 13, 2012, 9:33AM
    • I agree, Les: "It's never too late to be what you could have been" (George Eliot)

      Younger fathers do not necessarily make better fathers. My father was 21 when I was born and even as a child it seemed that I was missing some of the guidance that other kids received. It certainly wasn't my father's fault - how can you teach what you haven't yet learned?

      Being an older father has many benefits. Don't write yourself off yet.

      Commenter
      Keiran
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      November 13, 2012, 3:00PM
  • afraid that the main ting I took from this piece is that the writer is into much younger women - young enough for the girls to be freaked out by how old he'll be when they want to start a family. No sympathy here. Besides, it's more than alright not to have children. Beyond that, I'm not sure what the point of this piece is.

    Commenter
    Jenny
    Date and time
    November 13, 2012, 9:33AM
    • I can't understand how you could read that in. Yes, it's fine not to have children, but to suggest this is article is a smoke-screen for dating younger women, I just don't see it.

      Commenter
      Hamish
      Date and time
      November 13, 2012, 10:02AM
    • I can't help but think you must be bringing your own baggage to this; there's exactly one line in this article that reasonably suggests he had one serious relationship with an age gap, and the only clue to the relative ages is that he may have been too old for children by the time she was ready. This could well mean she was in her late 20s and he was in his late 30s, unless you're celebrating your 20th anniversary, that's not exactly cradle-robbing.

      Commenter
      DisDis
      Date and time
      November 13, 2012, 10:10AM
    • I think the point is that men, as well as women, feel the pain of missing out of having children. And that despite society's approval of men in their late 40s and 50s fathering children, some men don't think its appropriate, while some men just miss out due to other priorities.

      It doesn't just happen to women.

      Many of us go through our younger years with the vague notion that we'll have kids at some stage, when the time is right But for some, it just doesn't happen - for whatever reason. And when you reach the tail end of your fertile years, its natural to feel the pangs of regret.

      In my view, there is nothing wrong with not having children. Not everybody wants them and not everybody should have them - there are plenty of happy child-free couples and individuals. There is plenty more to life than having kids.

      But for some, not having them is a regret.

      Commenter
      Bug
      Date and time
      November 13, 2012, 10:11AM
    • Jenny, I didn't read that at all into the article - quite the opposite. His partner was worried about what HER age would be by the time HE was ready to have children. Sounds like they were about the same age.

      Commenter
      bornagirl
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      November 13, 2012, 10:53AM
    • o.k. - just re read it and I'm wrong, too. More haste, less speed.

      Commenter
      bornagirl
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      November 13, 2012, 10:55AM
    • The article I can identify with, but I'm not sure what the point of your comment is. Can you elaborate on why you are unsympathetic?

      Commenter
      JohnnyJJ
      Date and time
      November 13, 2012, 12:08PM
    • I spotted that too and was mildly grossed out. Dating women so much younger than yourself is not a very fatherly thing to do, but I guess that's the point, isn't it?

      Commenter
      CamillaMacCauley
      Date and time
      November 13, 2012, 12:19PM

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