Letter to An Expectant Dad

Positive pregnancy test stick

About a month ago I read in Yahoo News about a man who got his wife pregnant after they both agreed not to have children. He was furious with her, and threatened divorce. My initial reaction was, “this is news?” To me it was part of an ongoing conflict that’s had its roots in the Stone Age if not earlier. A man and a woman get together for a little whoop-de-do, and before you know it, a little one is on the way.

The Details

If both parents-to-be want the baby, that’s fine and dandy; if not, it can be a big problem. They were married, and “agreed” they would remain childfree. (Although I suspect it was more like he demanded they don’t have kids, and she went along with that because he wouldn’t take anything else for an answer.) He was using a condom each and every time, but one time he ran out; so he asked her if she was using birth control herself. She said yes, but she was lying and could have been planning this for a long time.

You can guess the rest. All of a sudden she’s announcing that she’s expecting, and he blows his stack.

My letter to him

Now let me point out that Yahoo News didn’t provide any contact information, nor did they even mention names. And no one asked for my opinion anyway. But if I were asked, it would have gone something like this:

Dear Expectant Dad:

Raising wine glasses in celebrationFirst of all, I won’t congratulate you like so many other people are doing. Many people are pro-life and think a baby on the way is a fabulous thing. I don’t mean all people are like this; but the ones who aren’t rah-rah about reproduction have learned to keep quiet — because they’re afraid of being treated like something’s wrong with them. And your parents are probably wanting you to make babies too; after all, they did, didn’t they? (If your parents didn’t have children, you wouldn’t be here to read this.)

But the baby is on the way and you can’t send it back where it came from. If your wife won’t agree to an abortion, you only have two real options:

Choice one: embrace your role as a new father

If you do this, your time and money will no longer be your own. Junior’s needs come first, at least that’s what your wife will say. It costs upwards of a quarter million dollars, pounds, or euros to raise a child to maturity, and there’s always a possibility of your wife getting pregnant again.

Expect her to come home one day and announce she’s quit her job. She has a more important job now, and paying the bills is up to you. That means less income at a time you need even more. If there’s not enough money at the end of the month, she just might make it your problem to try to earn more.

A suburban commuter train stationMaybe you live in the city now, with your job just a short walk away. But she is likely to suggest the family move to the suburbs, where it’s more child-friendly. Getting from your place of work to where your wife and child have settled in will be a hassle, but you’d better get used to it.

Choice two: go ahead with the divorce

Now here’s the rub: If you go ahead with the divorce, all the things in the above list are likely to happen anyway. Judges are not very sympathetic to fathers who attempt to escape their procreative financial responsibilities, and are likely to award her both alimony and child support — and for a wife that has had to quit her job to raise the little tyke, and for a baby whose needs never seem to end, that can be an awfully lot.

As a child grows, he or she will get into mischief. I can’t say what sort of mischief, but kids always seem to find some sort of crisis to get into. I know; I was a child once.

Maybe you can look forward to a clean house and a hot dinner on the table when you come home, but don’t expect a lot more from your wife. Most new mothers spend a lot of time caring for their children and have little or nothing left over for their husbands. She may even ask for your help with the baby on days when she can’t handle it alone.

Yes, she betrayed you and the agreement you both made, but someday she’s going to hold Junior up to you and say, see? Wasn’t it worth it? You will say no, and she’s going to look at you as if you were from another planet. As time goes on, you will increasingly loathe each other.

After all the shouting dies down, she will probably move to the suburbs anyway — most likely to where her existing close relatives live. She’ll tell everyone, especially Junior, what a louse you are, and you will rarely ever see her (them) again. I’m sure you loved her on at least some level before, and that that loss will hurt someday. Do you really want the kind of relationship where every time she sees you she asks you for money?

In any case, you’ve been caught in the trap, and there’s no way out (that isn’t illegal). You said you considered getting a vasectomy, but it’s too late now, and you can’t blame anyone else for your procrastination. In this case, the price of procrastination was high, and now you have to give the fruits of that procrastination a name.

So why did you wait? I have this theory that deep down inside there’s a hidden part of ourselves that wants to make babies — to have little copies of ourselves running around carrying our DNA into the future. And that this hidden urge (I’m not talking about the sex drive) is there regardless of what our higher, thinking selves want. Could this be why you kept putting it off? Because even if you didn’t want to impregnate her, you enjoyed knowing you could? That’s a pretty awesome power to wield.

How did this get to be so difficult? Nature has given us ruthlessly efficient reproductive systems and the will to use them. (If you like, substitute “evolution”, “God”, or “intelligent design” for “nature”. It doesn’t matter which you choose because the results are still the same.)

Do men want sex and women want children?

This is one of the underpinnings of the war between the sexes. When a woman gives birth, her body is flooded with the feelgood hormone oxytocin, and this is what causes her to fall in love with her baby — all part of nature’s plan that life should never end. (New fathers also produce oxytocin, through their Leydig cells, but to a lesser degree.) However, let me be quick to point out that it’s not always the woman who wants children — in my brother’s case, he was the one who wanted kids, and it was his wife that couldn’t be bothered.

It’s not all bad

A happy family togetherHaving kids of your own is not all bad. The Harvard Study Of Adult Development showed that the most important factor in long-term happiness is strong relationships. And a spouse and children make for some of the strongest relationships possible. At the very least, having children means that there will be someone there to bury you when the time comes — like I did for my father 14 years ago.

So what am I really trying to say?

The take away of all this simply this: if you want kids, then have kids. If you don’t, then don’t. And try to be sure your partner really feels the same way.