“If I have kids,” my fifteen-year-old declared to me the other day, “I’ll just adopt. There are lots of kids who need a good home anyway.”
When I was fifteen, I would have said the same thing. I would have said it ten years later too.
My wife and I weren’t sure we wanted kids. She would eventually, I knew, but I didn’t know if I ever would. I babysat a couple boys after school when I was in high school and it was mostly a disaster. They never listened to a thing I said and I didn’t know how to make them. In college, I coached soccer for first graders. They never listened to me either. I was easy to manipulate (yes, I was frequently outsmarted by six-year-olds). I didn’t know how to be authoritative. I had no idea how to control them.
While my wife was much more confident about my parenting abilities, I wasn’t really sure I wanted to be a father until my daughter began sucking on my finger within the first hour of her life.
I now am the father of four children and have been their primary caregiver their entire lives. How did that happen?!
The ‘how’, however, is not nearly as important as the ‘why.’ And this is what I needed to explain to my fifteen-year-old.
It is certainly true that we love kids that do not have our DNA. Many of our kids’ friends are equally loved by us. A couple even have our garage code and permission to come in our house whenever they want, eat our food and watch our Amazon Prime like every other member of our family. Our capacity to love does not require our DNA.
There is something special, though, about passing on your genes. We see our facial features, mannerisms, interests and character, as well as those of our parents and grandparents, in each of our kids. We knew them before they were born, before they were conceived in fact, because they are us. Our individual lives are very short in the grand scheme of things, but children, children of our flesh and blood, will live beyond our years. Their children will too and their children’s children into, hopefully, eternity. Our children make us immortal.
My fifteen-year-old was not terribly impressed with this explanation. I probably wouldn’t have been at that age either. Achieving immortality seems egotistical or narcissistic or selfish. We chose not to help any of the children already born who have no parents able to care for them and just added our own to the world.
There absolutely is some narcissism involved. Seeing me as them makes me feel like I am growing up again but with the experience of forty-plus years. Also, a sense that I will never completely die as my DNA and, hopefully some of my wisdom, passes from generation to generation, is intoxicating. By having my own kids, I will live beyond my death.
However, there is another important reason for having my own children. Like I mentioned earlier, I knew my kids before they were born. I have a unique understanding of them that only my wife and I do. This allows us to raise our children with an innate ability to mold them. We have some idea how to talk to them, motivate them, and discipline them because they are us. With our own children, we have the building blocks there at the beginning. They already have the character we want them to have because it is hardwired from us. We can then build from that solid foundation with instinct as to how to help them become successful and compassionate adults. If we succeed, our kids will be the ones out there changing the world and making it a better place.
My dad always tells me “I hope you make fewer mistakes than I did.” That is kind of the goal of humanity. We want life to move forward, better than before. By having our own kids, we get to be a part of that grander plan.
Obviously, I’m biased. My kids are great kids and growing (faster than I’d like) into incredible human beings. They will change the world. I get to be a part of that.
And I get to be immortal.
After publishing this, several of my followers on twitter pointed out that I seem to suggest here that having your own children is superior to adopting. I see how it can be interpreted that way. My piece intended to explain how I felt about having my own biological kids. In no way did I mean to suggest adopted children are less desirable. It's not what I believe at all. Every adopted child is a special gift to their adopted family and I admire parents who adopt these children. I apologize for suggesting adoption is not a desirable option. That was not my intent.
Originally published 4/15/2010 on Momaha.com
Dads are like superheroes: if there’s a problem, we can swoop in and solve it!
Frisbee stuck on the roof…
POW! Got it.
Doll house broken…
THUMP! Kissed and bandaged.
Training wheels needed to be taken off the bike…
Training wheels needed to be put back on the bike…
SPLAT! No problem.
We dads can get to feeling invincible sometimes; like there’s no problem too big or too small that we can’t fix. We can feel like superheroes in the eyes of our children! But then our child gets really sick or really hurt and we discover there is a lump of kryptonite in our pocket.
Last week, our 22-month old, Rachel, had minor surgery to put tubes in her ears. She did great going with the doctor to the operating room and didn’t cry or fuss at all. About 10 minutes later, the doctor emerged and told us everything went well, but warned us that she would be very crabby when the anesthesia wore off.
The doctor assured us that she wouldn’t be in any pain, but more like mad from getting woken up right in the middle of the good part of a great dream.
Well, I’ve dealt with many a cranky kid in my 7 year career as an at-home dad so I was ready to swoop in and…
DA DA DA DAAAA! Get pushed away?
Somehow a giant piece of kryptonite had been shoved in my pocket and I was completely powerless to help our little angel. She wanted nothing to do with me, even to the point that my wife had to take her out of the recovery room and down the hall so Rachel couldn’t see me because every time she looked at me she started screaming and crying and flailing.
I am the one who is with her almost every hour of every day. I cuddle with her, read her her favorite stories over and over, kiss her ouchies and have to carry her with me anytime I try to leave a room without her. But on this one day when she needed comforting, I was the last one she wanted.
It was almost a surreal experience listening and watching our angel cry while being utterly powerless to help her. I paced back and forth in the recovery room doing everything I could to not rush over to her and hold her and make her feel better.
When I started staying home, I had thought our kids would bond with me more than the average dad. I thought that would mean that they would want either mom or dad when they were really sick or hurt instead of just mom as it is in most traditional families in which moms are usually the ones who are home more of the time.
I learned last week, as I have countless times before, that no matter how much I am with our children and how great of a dad I am, they still prefer mom when they don’t feel well.
And I have to accept the fact that sometimes there is kryptonite in my pocket.
Her fork sunk into the forlorn cafeteria caesar salad. It sifted through the romaine aimlessly. It turned over leaves. It pushed a piece of chicken from one side of the clear plastic bowl to the other. It descended to the bottom of the bowl then surfaced in a half-hearted attempt to distribute the dressing more thoroughly. Finally, it rested softly on top of the salad. My mom raised her head to look through my eyes.
Her face appeared melted. Her eyes were red. Her body trembled.
“Alan, what am I going to do if he can’t get out of that bed?”
I stood up and went around to the other side of the table. Putting my arms around her I said, “I don’t know.” I rubbed her back. She sobbed.
Three years before, my dad was driving his Gator utility vehicle from one of his parcels of land in northeast Missouri back to his main farm. He had grown up in that area and, after graduating college and becoming a very successful salesman and then plant manager, he began buying land near where he grew up. By 2016 he had half a dozen or so parcels of farm land within about a 15 mile radius.
It was dusk and he was extremely drunk. He lost control of the Gator and it rolled into a ditch. He was life-flighted to the University of Missouri Hospital in Columbia where they found he had crushed several of the vertebrae in his neck. He hadn’t broken anything but nerves were damaged. Through months of recovery, he regained some control of his left arm, hand and leg but little control of his right side. It was enough that he could walk, slowly, but primarily he used an electric wheel chair to get around.
The damage to his nerves caused muscle spasms. The way he described it was that his muscles were fighting each other. When he would extend his knee, for example, some of the muscles in his hamstring would extend like they should while others would contract like they shouldn’t. Sometimes, he would have terrible spasms without moving at all which felt like really painful cramps.
With various medications and a lot of physical therapy, he was able to take care of himself by the following year. But my dad is never one to accept the status quo.
The primary medication that reduced his spasms and made it possible for him to walk could be administered directly into his spinal cord rather than with many pills per day. This, according to his doctor, could give him even more relief from the spasms and possibly make it easier to walk.
The device, an intrathecal Baclofen Pump, was approved by the FDA in 1990 and had been implanted in hundreds of thousands of patients with serious consequences being rare.
“Sold!” Dad told his doctor.
About a month and a half ago, the pump was implanted. A few days later, my dad started to see results. He was walking with more ease. He was excited!
Then the back pain began.
Spasms started in his lower back, which he never had before the pump was implanted. The doctors tried pain medication, ice packs, cream similar to Ben Gay but he only got worse. By last week, six weeks after his implant, he was virtually bed ridden from the intense pain of the near constant spasms.
The doctors determined the pump had to come out. Dad was deflated. He had high expectations of improving his mobility and now he had gone back to, as he told me, “less than square one.”
Friday I drove to Columbia to be with my parents. After surgery, the back spasms continued but more frequent than before. They were terrible to watch. When he had one, his face would turn red like fire, his head would tilt back and his breath would leave him. Sometimes he’d bite down on his lip as he suffered through anywhere from several seconds to several minutes of excruciating pain. We knew the spasms were unlikely to stop the minute the pump was removed but 24 hours after surgery his spasms were even worse than before he went into surgery. No one expected this.
As my mom sobbed in my arms in the hospital cafeteria, I knew, without her saying a word, the thing she was most worried about was losing my dad. He seemed to be getting worse, not better. Doctors expected him to be able to sit up with minimal pain soon after surgery but just raising his head five degrees triggered a painful back spasm. Touching him anywhere caused a spasm. Laughing caused a spasm. Doing nothing at all caused a spasm. If the spasms didn’t subside, we feared he would be confined to a bed which would cause his 70-year-old body to never recover.
Another 24 hours after the surgery, my dad began to improve. His back spasms were less frequent (but not any less painful). I was able to raise the head of his bed to about 30 degrees without triggered a back spasm. This was good enough to get him transferred to the rehabilitation center he went to after his accident in 2016 where we hoped his improvement would continue.
Driving home from Columbia on Sunday night, I reflected on all that had happened. I kept coming back to the images of my dad constantly praising my mom for all the care she gave him and all the work she did in the hospital to help him. I kept thinking about the shell of my mom in that cafeteria who was frightened about losing her husband of 47 years. I then thought of my own wife of 24 years. In 20 years, we will likely be in the situation my parents are in, one way or another. One of us will have to care for the other one for months or years.
I thought about the vow we said when we got married, “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.” Dad’s definitely “worse” and “in sickness”. During these last three years, my mom has leaned into her vow. It has not been easy and I’m sure there have been days she wanted to drop him off at the nursing home and fly off to Hawaii, but she hasn’t. She’s stayed. She’s persevered. And my dad is vocalizing his humble appreciation for all she has done for him.
I’ve see how gut-wretching this marital vow can be. My wife and I will be my parents eventually. We will have to endure the demands of constant caregiving. One of us will die.
Unfortunately, I am getting a preview of what to expect. I only hope I can be as strong as my mom when that day comes.