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.