I’m just scratching the surface here. There are probably a bunch of other reasons for not becoming a parent that I haven’t mentioned. But whatever the reason, there is one result of this circumstance that is pretty much unavoidable: The comments, questions, and suggestions from family and friends.
If my friends’ experiences are typical, it’s a lot worse for women than it is for men. They seem to hear comments and questions far more than men do. It’s as if there’s a tacit assumption by some people that becoming a mother is a “normal” woman’s duty, while avoiding fatherhood is a “normal” man’s birthright.
It’s even worse if they’re childless while married or in a long-term committed relationship. Then the questions begin turning into accusations, either regarding the dereliction of one’s supposed duty or vague allegations as to one’s physical or spiritual health.
I was luckier than many in this regard. The only comment I can recall is one back in the mid-1990s from my late mother. She didn’t phrase it as a question, or even as an accusation, exactly. She simply sighed one day and said, as if to herself, “I don’t suppose you’re ever going to have children, are you?” We didn’t have a big discussion about it; she just wanted to air that one quiet disappointment.
I suppose if I were an only child being depended upon to propagate the family name, there might be a bit more pressure on me, but as it is, I’m one of eight siblings, three of whom have had multiple children. Frankly, I think my mom just thought I’d make a good father and she’d have loved to have a few more grandchildren to dote upon.
It’s also possible that I don’t entirely understand this business of making babies, in light of some comments from my friend E. She is the mother of three beautiful daughters, and she has passed along this discovery to me: According to E, babies are NOT made the way we’ve always been told; they are actually made through a combination of rainy nights and Long Island iced teas, and the man has almost nothing to do with the process. Fascinating research.