When I look in the mirror or at pictures of myself these days, the first thing that catches my eye is the patch of gray hair taking residence on my chin in my beard. The patch is like the White Walker army—slowly growing in follicle count until it surrounds the dark hairs in my beard—serving as an ominous portent of middle age (I turned 36 earlier this month).
I’ve had a recurring dream this year in which those gray beard hairs have completely overtaken the dark ones, and I’m walking toward a park on the campus of DePaul University in Chicago on a sunny, summer day. On my shoulders is a 4- or 5-year-old boy who resembles me. The dream doesn’t last long, and no words are exchanged.
I had that first dream after this past February, when my little sister and her husband simultaneously made me an uncle for the first time and mercifully ended my mama’s long-running minor drama of Lawd Jesus, is one of my chilluns gon’ give me a grandkid before I keel over and diiiiiie?!! When I held this child—who I think looked a lot like me before her daddy’s color kicked in—for the first time, the feels came rushing in faster than knuckles to a Nazi’s temple. I leaned down to my sister as she lay on the couch, healing from her cesarean section, and asked her what I could buy her that she didn’t have. She didn’t know it, but I would’ve drained my entire bank account for them.
I’ve been kicking the can of parenthood down the street my whole adult life; there’s nothing outside of abject life failure that gives me heart palpitations more than the idea of becoming a daddy. But I strongly believe, from the outside looking in, that fatherhood is one of life’s singular joys. If ever you’ve wanted something so much, but been terrified at the idea of having it, you’ll understand how I feel about parenthood—the internal conflict tears at me often.
There’s a litany of reasons behind my hesitance to procreate, ranging from the existential (Do I want to bring a kid into a country that allowed Trump to ascend?), to the practical, to the fatuous (What if they just don’t get along with me, no matter what I do? What if they consider Lil Yachty a hip-hop legend and I have to disown them?). But let’s keep it a full buck: Selfishness plays the biggest role right now.
I enjoy traveling on a whim and staying glued to HBO Go until 11:30 a.m. on a Sunday without touching the outdoors just because I fucking can. I’d rather drop my money on plane tickets, pricey electronics and my mutual fund instead of worrying about the Consumer Reports-approved, top-of-the-line Elite ZX-9500 stroller with the detachable BottleGard™ technology. And, dammit, I just don’t want Cheerios all over my whip right now. But I feel that selfishness eroding by the day.
When I was married, my wife and I were headed down the path of starting a family but put it off for years because we “enjoyed traveling and general freedom.” The truth, I believe, is that we were both scared of having children with each other—something that, unfortunately, was evoked from a place of anger during arguments. I always believed that parenthood killed my own parents’ marriage, and that it would happen to me as well (we didn’t make it far enough to find out). Now that I essentially have to “start over,” I need to determine what’s important to me in becoming a father. Can I do it outside of wedlock? Is parenting from a different state even an option?
Through no conscious planning, I’ve dated several single mothers since graduating college, and I’ve witnessed firsthand all the attendant drama connected to raising a child on your own. Absentee dads, dads who don’t give a shit about financially supporting their seed, imprisoned dads who demand an eventual explanation to the children—I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen the compromise, the tears, sleepless nights, canceled dates and hard financial decisions.
I’ve also watched most of my closest male friends beat me to the punch at having children. I gain a lot of delight from tossing my man Ed’s sons around as they attempt to punch Uncle Dustin squarely in the nuts. But his boys look like him, so I can only imagine the unmitigated joy I’d get from doing all of this with a child who looks like me. There’s also the fact that I can’t contribute to the fatherhood conversation when we’re all kicking it over beers—those niggas are quick to remind me that I lack the full marriage-with-kids family experience.
My own father is the biggest reason I want to have children at all. I lived with him after my parents divorced in the mid-1980s; he was extremely active with me—flying me around in a single-engine airplane, shooting hoops and boxing with me; showing me the vastness of the universe through his telescope—and made it so I never even considered the streets of Detroit in the 1990s. His speech at my wedding is the only thing that made me drop tears that evening, and I want a child to embarrass with a wedding speech someday, even if I’m an elderly bastard when it happens.
But I can’t have it both ways. I think having children is, at once, one of the most selfish and selfless things one can do. Though I love my life as it is, I know that the time to put it aside to do this selfish, selfless thing is coming to an end sooner than later. Besides, I see my parents getting older, and I realize that I want them to dote over a child of mine the way they do with my niece. That, alone, is worth fewer hours of sleep and giving the Apple Store all of my money.
I just have to get over the whole Cheerios thing.