Friday, July 30, 2010

Men, Childfreedom and the Myth of Growing Up

Hi Everyone

Today we have a guest poster: my hubby. Enjoy!
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Hi everyone, here's a quiz from me, 'Firecracker Hubby':

What do these very successful and envied (albeit some only previously) men have in common, despite having very different backgrounds?

Mel Gibson
Michael Jackson
Kurt Cobain
Mick Jagger
Mike Tyson
Tiger Woods

..Give up? Two things: They all had children - AND NONE OF THEM SHOULD HAVE.

Of course, this is a subjective statement; even with all the media coverage they and their families receive, one can't presume to know everything about them. But most average men inherently understand that they must work to put their children and wives above everything else, right?

Why do we believe, generation after generation, that, especially if you're male, the two things that will (despite millenniums of contrary evidence) force you to unconditionally "grow up" are marriage - and CHILDREN? Let's examine why this holds no empiric logic:

We've often discussed the misuse of the word "selfish" in descriptions of the childfree by parents. And selfishness is almost universally linked to immaturity: all children are born narcissists, and it's mainly the responsibility of parents to teach them the value of cooperation, compromise, and the give-and-take of healthy relationships. Men in western society are considered more "selfish" (i.e. 'immature') than women, because they supposedly aren't born with the additional nurturing, self-sacrificing instincts that come with the ability to grow and 'produce' life inside their bodies. This belief, of course, is bolstered by unending gender stereotypes and the assumption that an excess of intense emotional bonding is a fatal weakness if you own a penis. So, as a man becomes "mature", he is expected to relinquish the 'childlike self-indulgence' of impulse or adventure for a tradition of providing, sacrifice, and the subsuming of his youthful lifestyle for one of a 'grown man'.

Soo..how many guys do you all know who are just ENDLESSLY THRILLED, FULFILLED AND ENGAGED with this new life?!

Now, to be fair, some ARE unquestionably happy with it, and some just too timid (or intimidated by their significant others) to allow themselves to picture anything else. But think for a moment about all the fathers you've ever known, seen, or heard of: what percentage of them would you say seem to continually treat their children like the most imperative objects and endlessly rewarding subjects of their lives, despite the fact that they chose to MAKE THEM their lives? Here we are in the 21st century, where masculinity has been largely redefined, women have been elevated to opportunities and status only dreamed about just 50 years ago, and in most cases, both parents are required to work at equally taxing and time-consuming jobs to support a decent standard of living. Yet, how many men do you know who, without ever being asked upon waking up or arriving home from work, step in to help with changing diapers, nurturing and comforting, taking charge of shopping, doctor visits, day care arrangements, transportation to and from activities, homework and school staff interactions, instilling appreciation for creativity and critical thinking, or preparing meals? Now, if dad's the sole provider, one could argue that he gets a pass (and that's NOT because I think his job's necessarily harder). But that's rarely the case these days. So what's the real issue with the inequity? My theory: men who have kids can, to their parents, peers, and society, APPEAR to have grown up, but in most cases, they really haven't!!

Think about it: if procreating is THAT important, why would we often be so nonchalant and unengaged with it? Is it because it's mainly the 'woman's job'? Like almost everything else in your adult life, having (or keeping) children was your choice. But if you guys were that unengaged at your chosen professional jobs, you'd be sacked before your first lunch break. If you were that uninvolved with the football playoffs at the altar of the big screen TV, you'd be looked at as a weirdo at best, "gay" at worst. If you played drums in a hard rock band, spent money on golf outings, or were a regular at a poker game, and were as noncommittal with those pursuits as you often are with your progeny, you'd quickly be shunned like Ted Nugent at a PETA rally. And although the above activities are not inherently harmful to yourself or others, society (and likely your wife or fiance) drills into you that, once you reach a certain age range and number of kids, it's time to "settle down" and put 'juvenile' pursuits like this on a back burner, or on hold. Why? It's obvious - they're SELFISH! So all your instincts to exercise the myriad freedoms and enrichments that come with living in a vast, multicultural democracy, and having some spending money to indulge them, are suddenly wrong. And just because your honey has a "biological clock" (a myth, incidentally; but that's another post) and you have a good job, now you must subjugate all your interests and hobbies that DON'T relate directly to family, and consider abandoning them completely, in many cases. Not surprisingly, most guys can't and won't do this. Men are taught from birth that their masculinity and identity are tied largely to their force of will, self-determination, and brave (or reckless) disregard for consequences. It's against our instincts to allow so 'feminine' a pursuit as child-rearing to cramp our style..we're the HUNTERS..THE WARRIORS..THE DUDES!! ("What's that, dear? All right, all right..can't it wait until halftime?!")

So, as it ever has been, the 'civilized' guys who've chosen to breed live vicariously through men like the ones mentioned above, unless they find out firsthand what their heroes' impulses and misdeeds have REALLY brought them. Or they live in a constant struggle with their partners, kids, and themselves to reconcile fitting in with society, and truly realizing who they are or could be, and if the price of 'being grown up' was worth it. Many will divorce because of this, others will simply live in ( and cause ) misery and resentment.

And almost all will continue, despite any exclusion of their families, to seek refuge in the all-too-brief and usually harmless 'childish' pursuits that once brought joy and which now, having been diluted or abbreviated by new responsibilities, often hold no more appeal than mere ritual, commiseration, and the chance to 'get out of the house'.

For the female readers, if you think this whole rant has been a bit sexist in it's stereotyping - everything I've written really applies to you, too. The most important thing about childfreedom is universal, and applies to anything in life: If you ever make ANY irreversible decision, you must NEVER, EVER make it with the influence of family, friends, peers, your religion, your society or even a partner who claims to love you. Because any moment you aren't yourself is a moment you inch closer to being nobody, and if your identity is that easily molded, it's never coming back - or didn't exist to begin with.

You're free to decide if any and all parts of your life are worthwhile and noble enough to make you a self-sacrificing hero or as simple as the pleasure of loud rock and roll at midnight, a football game with high-fives and beer, or sitting alone on a boat for hours waiting for a fish. Character is not, and never has been, dependent upon making babies and the mindless desire to act 'age-appropriate'. The fact that we still cling to this belief is evidence of the power of conformity, religion, and the media.

Almost all men associate their heroes with some kind of fight for self-determination. Guys, here's your chance to be your own hero. If you choose kids, I wish you the best; really good parents are a vanishing breed of hero themselves. But choose wisely. Your precious identity is yours alone, and you only get one real one in this life. Deciding for yourself - what's more adult than THAT?!

Or - you could just pull the old; "I had to give that up. I'll just watch my KID do it."

11 comments:

AngieA said...

Great article! It's so nice to hear from a male on the subject. Thank you for this quote: "any moment you aren't yourself is a moment you inch closer to being nobody".

scmtngirl said...

Well written and very thought-provoking. Thank you for taking the time to write this.

Spectra said...

It's nice to hear a male viewpoint on the subject. My husband is one of those men that was very mature for his age--he came out of the womb being responsible and hardworking. He didn't need a kid to "force" himself to grow up and he realized (as did I) that having kids would only cut into the time we had together to spend on our hobbies. He works hard and enjoys going to farm auctions on weekends, sleeping in, and relaxing in his free time. A lot of his friends who have kids are very jealous of the fact that he has so much more free time than they do, but as he likes to say--they had a choice; they chose not to use a condom and ended up with a kid.

katie said...

I am a CF female. I have been so frustrated to lose my close connection with male friends who professed with what I thought was great clarity that they did not to want children. When more and more of our women friends were getting pregnant, these guys were some of the only friends with whom I could frankly express my feelings. It seemed that they shared these, but sure enough they let their (child-wanting) partners steer the course of things by "forgetting/making mistakes" with birth control, or else by manipulating and bullying them into procreation, with things like threats to end the relationship. These men all refused vasectomies for reasons ranging from "I'm can't stand needles" to "it's just not natural" to (this was a good one!) "I heard it can make your allergies worse." They now act like victims of circumstances, are unengaged and resentful fathers, and I have lost not only my friendships but my respect for them. Sad.

fanglefish said...

I've always said it's much more 'grown up' to know what you want, rather than do what everyone expects you to. People have told me I'll feel different when I 'grow up', but surely I'm much more adult in realising that severe mental health issues + dislike of children =/= time to have kids, rather than popping one out and hoping for the best!

C.S. said...

Interesting article. I've just started reading your blog, really like it.

I wrote a series of articles some years ago about the childfree life for Suite101.com, and those are still archived at this URL: http://www.suite101.com/articles.cfm/childfree_by_choice

One of my articles consists of interviews with childfree men, their opinions.

I'm now 58, a widow of 4 years and I still have NO regrets about my decision not to have children when I was a teenager. I'm extremely happy to see so many young men and women declaring themselves as "childfree by choice" and think we should all speak out, regardless of the parent-centric society we live in.

My blog, Mad, Mad World is at this URL: http://madmadworld.blogspot.com/

--Cara Swann

Bonny said...

Thanks for writing. I'm always grateful to hear or read someone who can weigh social pressures, consider them, and yet still think for himself or herself. What greater sign of maturity is there? When it comes to having children in our society, the mass conformity and lack of thinking is so disturbing. Here's to being awake!

CFVixen said...

Great post!

I think if you surveyed a large population of men, you would find that a good portion of them either don't really want to have children or are ambivalent. So many are pressured into it, or just don't even think about it. It's easier just to give into the wife's demands.

Christy said...

Thank you for bringing up the subject of the disengaged dad that I see so much irl! I think it's a defense mechanism, against the soul-shriveling doldrums of life with young children. Like Katie said, however, I then lose respect for them, when they sit around hating the wife and child instead of taking responsibility.

I wish more men would actively choose, instead of just letting stuff happen to them. There would be many more happy kids and moms in the world if they did.

I wish that becoming a parent would not preclude either sex from being able to enjoy all the things they love. Most often, everything gets replaced with Chuck E. Cheese, little league, angry flouncing, and college tuition. That's all kid stuff---so how is being involved in all of that all over again, more adult? It's like going through your summer-camp, day-care, bus-riding childhood all. over. again. Maybe that's the allure, secretly.

On the other hand, sacrifices must be made. I have seen some men sitting in front of a WoW game with their mouth hanging open, while their child hasn't been changed or is literally destroying things all around him. I wish more people got the memo, that having children doesn't make you an adult, and not having them doesn't make you less of an adult.

HarveyRequiem said...

This was a great article. There is someone in my life right now that I would like to show it to. That part about the man's former joys losing their pleasure as they become nothing more than desperate escape brought tears to my eyes, because I've seen it happen to guys I care about for that exact reason. Though you are right and it does apply to women, it often seems that women are the ones driving the baby obsession and the guys seem to just follow wherever their leashes are being dragged.

Katie: Same here. Or at least, similar. I make friends with guys more often than girls because of my interests, but I have gotten tired of losing my friends or watching them sacrifice their identities and lives to their girlfriends'/wives' "baby rabies" (as it is so succinctly put). It's heartbreaking to say the least.

fanglefish: It is so irritating when people equate "grown up" with "wanting/having children", isn't it? Silly me, I always thought that being grown up meant making responsible choices based on your circumstances, but I guess I was wrong--it's all about the need for babies! ;)

Michael said...

Almost all men associate their heroes with some kind of fight for self-determination. Guys, here's your chance to be your own hero. If you choose kids, I wish you the best; "really good parents are a vanishing breed of hero themselves."

Like I have said in another comment I made I am still conflicted on the matter of whether to be CF or have kids one day and the decision will be on the table for awhile since I am still young. Then again though that one part of that statement you made about good parents that I put in quotes, just makes me think about how happy and joyful you could be with someone that has you at the center of their world if you are a great parent of course. Still conflicted though and do not know what I will decide, eventually one day I will know. -Sunfire