With every passing year, I see more and more of my peers starting families. Personally, though, I don’t know if that’s in the cards for me. Sure, there’s a part of me that would love to have kids—but at the end of the day, I just don’t think I can morally justify knowingly bringing children into a world where their dad would be me.
Some might call it pessimism, but to me it just feels like pragmatism. Kids deserve to grow up happy and healthy, excited about the future, without having to live under the constant threat that their dad is weird and sad and underemployed again. If I can't confidently provide that for them, it seems like the kindest choice is to just opt out of the whole thing.
It’s hard for me to imagine being able to look my future child in the eye and tell them, yes, I chose to have you, even though I knew full well that one of the two people primarily responsible for raising you would be me, someone who hasn’t been to a doctor in five years because every time I open my insurance’s web portal I get overwhelmed and have to go lie down. I’m sure they’d resent me for it, and frankly, they’d have every right to.
Believe it or not, back when I was growing up, I took it for granted that I’d have kids one day. Admittedly, the situation already wasn’t great at that point, but there were still feasible pathways to turning things around. For example, I could have taken a meaningful camping trip that would have helped me develop essential elements of grit and self-reliance. Or I could have parlayed my interest in RollerCoaster Tycoon into a lucrative career in engineering. But none of that happened, and now any children I have will be forced to inherit the consequences. I don’t think I can bring myself to do that to them.
20/20 hindsight, right? It’s frustrating to know that so much time was spent sitting idly by, not acting on viable opportunities to make a different present—one where my kids’ dad could be financially and emotionally stable enough to support them, as opposed to the bumbling, self-pitying mess I am now.
But this is the reality we’re stuck with. Everything I read these days paints a bleaker and bleaker picture: my bank account, my Google search history (“how often wash pillow”), my diary. At this point it’s basically impossible to ignore, not to mention downright irresponsible. I can’t pretend that my children’s lives won’t be defined by the apocalyptic circumstances in which they would inevitably live: lying in bed unable to sleep while their dad inadvertently brings himself to tears with the Phoebe Bridgers song he’s trying to sing them as a lullaby.
We’ve been seeing the frightful signs for years. Remember California in summer 2018? I got that awful sunburn at the beach because I didn’t put on sunscreen, even though everybody kept reminding me to. Or what about those torrential rainstorms in New York? My ceiling started leaking and I didn’t want to call my landlord because I was worried he’d be mad at me. And think back to the devastating headlines about the unprecedented heatwave in India and Pakistan last year—I blithely scrolled right past them because I wanted to read reviews of the Bob’s Burgers movie instead. Who does that? These might have felt like isolated incidents in the moment, but with a little perspective, it’s easy to see the grim story they tell. No child deserves to be thrust into a life where that’s their dad.
Yes, there are theoretical last-ditch Hail Marys that could head off the very worst possibilities, like having a near-death experience that abruptly changes my personality and priorities, or doing one of those coding bootcamps. But these solutions aren’t particularly feasible, and honestly might not even be enough to make a difference.
And look, if it seems like things are bad now, just think about what kind of world my hypothetical kids would be living in in thirty years. Their dad will be in his sixties with no retirement savings, no clue how to smoothly enter a group conversation, and fucked-up teeth from only wearing his retainer for like one cumulative week ever. On top of that, they’ll probably be dealing with their own version of this dilemma, struggling to decide whether or not to have children knowing that their grandpa would be me.
To make matters worse, my parents keep asking me when I’m planning to have kids. It’s like they completely fail to understand that it’s the members of their generation that got us here! Specifically the two of them, when they let me think it was a reasonable idea to get a degree in playwriting!
Some argue that choosing to have children anyway in the face of all this evidence would be the ultimate act of hope. “Humanity has always found a way to persevere!” they say, “It sounds like you just need to grow up a little.” I want to believe that this is true, and either way, I still intend to fight like hell to make a better future. Regardless of whether I end up a parent myself, my friends are starting to have kids, and I want them to be able to grow up in a world where their parents’ friend is a cool and well-adjusted guy who is more or less able to take care of himself.