A co-worker of mine is having a baby -- her first. It's a thrilling time for her and her husband, and I am thrilled for them, even if I cannot relate.
I do not have kids, nor do I want them. Luckily my wife agrees with me, or it would make for stressful dinner conversations. My reasons for not wanting a kid range from the complex -- aren't there enough people already on the planet? -- to the basic -- I don't want to be a father.
When I hear my friend talking about her baby, it's like listening to someone speak Klingon. I recognize she is communicating, but I have no idea what she is saying. I can't relate.
I've talked to people who think it is selfish to not want kids, but I think it is more selfish to have them for the wrong reasons. If the reason is not, "I want to be a dad," then you've made a poor choice.
I used to validate my decision by telling myself that it usually doesn't work out. Being a parent is a crapshoot. You can do everything by the book, and there are no guarantees.
Barack Obama's dad left when he was a kid, and he grew up to be president. Meanwhile, the prison system is full of boys without father figures, and their lives did not turn out nearly as well as Obama's. What's the difference?
George W. Bush is a son of privilege, with a mother and father who groomed and supported him. But how many other sons and daughters of privilege have squandered or embarrassed their family names? Anyone think Paris Hilton will be president some day?
I look at my own family. You could not have three different men than my two brothers and I, but all three of us were raised by the same parents. How were the cards dealt?
But maybe I'm getting less cynical the older I get, because my view on parenting is softening. Not the part about "not wanting them," that still stands, but the idea that it's impossible to get it right.
At Christmas, I was able to visit my brothers and their kids -- my nephews and nieces. My older brother, Randy, takes his son to guitar lessons in a neighboring town every Saturday afternoon. Since his children could walk, he has always driven them to a practice or a lesson or school.
It's a little thing -- taking a kid to guitar practice -- but it's no small feat when you work a full-time job and have little free time. I know I could not be as selfless of a person as my brother, but I'm touched that he does it so well.
My sister-in-law recently separated from her husband, but the two spent Christmas together with the kids. I was not privy to every conversation, but I did see genuine affection between the couple. I'm not sure what the future holds, but I was moved that they're trying hard to work on this new relationship for the sake of their children. Divorce and separation are difficult, and, again, it takes a selfless person to put aside the pain for the good of the family.
In fact, when I think of it, I don't know any "bad" parents. I see examples every day of decent people working hard to provide a life for their kids. Granted, I'm pulling from a relatively small sampling size, but I prefer to think the world is full of good people trying to do good things, and not the cynical headlines we read every day.
Life is more complex than reality TV highlights and Lifetime TV movies. We're so used to hearing the bad examples that it's easy to overlook the good in the world. It can be something as simple as a guitar lesson or a hug shared between two people going through a separation, but it's no less beautiful than the grandest of grand gestures.
I've never understood that "children are our future" nonsense -- until I am "the past," I'd prefer to think of myself as "the future" -- but maybe I should cut the cynicism completely. Looking around at all of the positive examples, it gives me hope that there's a path to a better tomorrow.