[Editor’s note: Every week New York City’s own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions, and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose or — no surprise here — a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]
My wife is keen to have a child. She often asks me, “Do you want to have a baby?” and I tell her yes, but then I quickly change the subject. The truth is, I’ve never imagined myself as a father, and if I was to answer the question honestly, my answer would be no. I love my wife. What should I do?
– Indecision Personified
Dear Indecision Personified,
You don’t have to make a baby if you don’t want to. Just like the other notches on the traditional life-belt, “go to college, get a job, get married, buy a house,” having a baby is a choice many people take for granted without deeply considering all it entails. It’s good you’re thinking honestly about what you want, rather than just blindly following what society does or what your wife thinks you should do. It’s always helpful to deeply consider big life choices, and there are few bigger moves you can make than forming another human being.
Making a person is probably the most intense and mind-blowing act a human being can participate in. The fact that we’re all a result of the magic of birth actually makes it harder to appreciate — it’s so commonplace that the miraculous aspects of forming new life can be difficult to appreciate. It’s actually so intense that we tend to water it down into something less incredible. People are having children every day, but ideally it should never be reduced to an “every-day” experience. Each and every person we see around us was just a baby formed by two other people. It’s so incredibly pervasive that it’s often hard to zoom out and consider the miracle of life with proper perspective — getting distance is hard when we’re immersed in something.
And just like death, forming a human is mysterious and otherworldly. Making a life and taking a life are the two most mind-boggling things we can do as humans — it’s only right to be intimidated by the weight of either experience. Let’s really think about it — we’re literally making another human being from scratch, or we’re ending that life in an instant. Because these two extreme poles of creation and obliteration are so overwhelming, it’s pretty much impossible to fully prepare for having a baby, just like there’s no way to fully prepare for death. You can imagine what it will be like, but until it happens, all you can do is speculate.
Some people’s main interest in life is having a baby. The act of forming and raising a child becomes their life’s work and passion. This is wonderful, but somewhat rare. Other people have a personal passion that consumes all their energy and time, such as pursuing a particular dream or career — this leaves them without much inclination to build a human being and make it their primary effort. Remember that, in a very real way, your own dream or passion is a type of child. Your own life and interests can count as your baby. And in turn, someone’s baby and family can be their life’s dream and primary project.
Some people fall into both categories or neither. No matter what, there’s usually a hierarchy to one’s life — with one’s “self, family, work, hobbies, entertainment, etc” getting ordered in some way to make them manageable and comprehensible. It’s good to consider how your life is stacked-up at the present. How do you want to keep it ordered, and how will other events re-order it? Sometimes cataclysmic life occurrences like illness, disaster, or a baby, can forcibly reorder your life’s hierarchy, and it takes an exceptionally strong person to give themselves over to a higher calling when they’re time and energy has been previously dedicated elsewhere.
These days it seems more couples are not having kids, or at least waiting to do so later in life. In the old days, couples usually had kids as quickly as possible, 1) because life expectancy in general was short (you were lucky to live past 40 so you better get a move on), and 2) because kids could really help a family survive thanks to the children’s ability to work, bring in money, and support the family in general. But that’s not really true in Western civilization today. Having a child nowadays can be a choice based purely on the joy (or torment) of being a parent. In some ways, this is a great step forward, but as with many types of increased freedom and prosperity, it can also make the decision more complex and puzzling.
Despite all this, you shouldn’t have a baby only because your wife wants to, nor should you have a baby just because it’s part of the “normal” life trajectory. You should have a baby because it’s something you want to do, deep down inside. Just remember, there will never be any other experience in your life that can compare to forming a new human. And there’s not really any other prior experience that will help prepare you for it — so you may never feel “ready” in the same way as you do with other life experiences, like moving to a new place or getting a new job. The best you can hope for is a feeling of readiness for what you’ll never be ready for — a readiness for the unimaginable.
If you do go through with it, I’m sure it’ll not only be beyond anything you could have imagined, but it will constantly be changing and blowing your mind for the rest of your life. You’re creating a new living being and it will rely on you 100% for everything — its life is literally made of you. Despite the fact that it’ll be harder and more challenging than just about anything else you’ll ever do, it’ll probably be the most rewarding as well — “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” Whatever you decide to do, don’t stress about it. Plenty of people don’t have kids, and billions and billions of people do – and if they can manage it, I’m sure you’ll be fine too.
More:Ask Andrew W.K.