MAN Does ev­ery man want to be a fa­ther?

Ease up. Some men are great with kids, but that doesn’t mean they’re dy­ing to be­come dads.

ELLE (Canada) - - News - By Pasha Malla

Do you want kids?”

Peo­ple ask me this all the time, but it’s still a weird ques­tion. (“Why?” I want to say. “Do you have some for sale?”) But I sup­pose it’s bet­ter, and a lit­tle more hope­ful, than the al­ter­na­tives: “Don’t you want kids?” (Sub­text: You mon­ster!) Or: “No kids for you, huh, weirdo? Prob­a­bly for the best.” Be­cause if you ac­cept pro­cre­ation as the base­line of hu­man en­deav­ours, then some­one in his mid-30s with­out a lit­ter to cram into a mini­van is the cul­tural equiv­a­lent of a lu­natic run­ning a marathon in a hand­stand.

Since I’m not cur­rently in a long-term re­la­tion­ship, and have never been party to a ro­man­tic sit­u­a­tion in which preg­nancy would have in­spired any­thing short of panic, kids aren’t re­ally on my mind. Ex­cept when they are, which is al­ways, be­cause other peo­ple’s chil­dren are ev­ery­where: rid­ing gro­cery carts around the su­per­mar­ket, steal­ing my seat on the sub­way, shriek­ing like caged hye­nas for the en­tire 20-hour flight to New Delhi. (And, you know, they can be adorable and fun some­times as well.) And once you’re in your mid-30s, it’s not just strangers’ kids who seem ubiq­ui­tous—it’s your friends’ kids too.

Most of my close pals who are par­ents have cool, smart, ter­rific chil­dren. Not all of them, mind you, but I’ve ru­ined friend­ships by mak­ing fun of peo­ple’s shoes, let alone their prog­eny, so I’ll avoid dwelling on the duds. And no mat­ter how strong the bond of friend­ship, a chasm of­ten opens be­tween moms, dads and their child­less ac­quain­tances once kids en­ter the pic­ture. Not be­ing in­vited to a sixth-birth­day party sucks, for ex­am­ple, but so does at­tend­ing said birth­day party and lurk­ing pur­pose­lessly in the cor­ner while ev­ery­one else runs around stop­ping nose­bleeds, lur­ing hy­per kids down from the roof and quizzing the potluck providers about shell­fish and nuts.

I prob­a­bly sound like a cranky, youth-hat­ing cur­mud­geon—the sort to grum­ble about teenagers’ pants (Too tight! Too baggy!) and scowl at fam­i­lies in restau­rants over my boiled eggs and beet­root. I do, how­ever, quite like kids. (There are ex­cep­tions, though—the lit­tle turd who spat at me from a school bus, for ex­am­ple.) I worked at sports camps through my teens and early 20s, taught el­e­men­tary school for a cou­ple of years and oc­ca­sion­ally run writ­ing work­shops in high schools. And I think I’m “good with kids,” or at least I’ve been told as much—although it’s of­ten fol­lowed for­lornly by “And you’d be such a great dad!”

Th­ese days I make my living as a writer (at home, alone, in a se­quence of shame spi­rals), so I don’t in­ter­act with many other adults that of­ten, let alone young peo­ple. The prob­lem, too, is that a grown man hang­ing out with chil­dren with­out some in­sti­tu­tional con­text isn’t just dif­fi­cult; it’s sus­pi­cious—even creepy. Sim­ply typing the words “I like kids” makes me feel that I should of­fer qual­i­fiers such as “with proper su­per­vi­sion” and “but never in my base­ment.”

The other day I met two kids, a brother and a sis­ter, on the street when I was walk­ing my dog. They en­joyed him so much that they in­vited us home so they could play with him off-leash. How much fun would that have been—my pooch and I romp­ing around in that goofy, care­free way you can only get away with in the com­pany of chil­dren? And th­ese sib­lings were es­pe­cially ter­rific. “Fas­ci­nat­ing how dogs smile all the time,” pon­tif­i­cated the sis­ter, like a pig­tailed Socrates, “and yet our cat just frowns and frowns and frowns.” “Our cat,” added her brother with a dis­mayed look, “doesn’t re­mem­ber any­thing.”

I was re­minded of some of my more cher­ished and hi­lar­i­ous mo­ments as a teacher—such as the time I asked a six-year-old if his dad drove him to camp in a space­ship and he flew into a blind rage, scream­ing “It’s just a Volvo with a roof rack!” Or an­other oc­ca­sion, when my Grade 3s, for lack of a com­mon prayer among their di­verse re­li­gions, hummed a mourn­ful ver­sion of “O Canada” at the fu­neral for our class ger­bil. But, nos­tal­gia aside and re­gard­less of how much th­ese kids liked my dog, I couldn’t go back to their house. Imag­ine com­ing home from work to a thir­tysome­thing stranger thrash­ing around the backyard with your eightyear-old daugh­ter. Your first call wouldn’t be to the cops; it would be to the mafia to help dump the body of said stranger be­cause you stran­gled him to death with the gar­den hose.

As a man, I find it a bit more of a chal­lenge to en­joy day-to-day in­ter­ac­tions with young peo­ple. If I want to spend time with kids with­out sir­ing some of my own (or end­ing up sleep­ing with the fishes), the eas­i­est an­swer seems to be tak­ing a job as a food-court Santa Claus. How­ever, that’s one yule­tide tra­di­tion I can’t ac­cept: “See that old bearded man hid­ing un­der that tree? Go sit on his lap and tell him what to leave be­hind when he breaks into our house.”

To be fair, though, I ob­vi­ously en­joy priv­i­leges that fe­male friends my age do not. If I want to, I can wait un­til I’m in my 50s (or even older) to have chil­dren. But life can be a lonely thing, and the clichés are true: Kids force you to ex­pe­ri­ence things dif­fer­ently, and the ways in which the world un­folds for them in real time is a marvel to be­hold. So do I want any? I can much more read­ily im­agine hav­ing kids with some­one than be­ing sud­denly ap­pointed some chil­dren to raise.

To ask a man in his mid-30s if he wants kids is beg­ging for a sar­cas­tic re­sponse, if only be­cause it sug­gests in­ad­e­quacy—whether per­sonal and painfully rel­e­vant or more broadly cul­tural and alien­at­ing. Un­less, of course, you’re that man’s part­ner, and you’re hope­lessly in love, and the fu­ture stretches out be­fore you like some great un­furl­ing ta­pes­try, and you look into his eyes, and you take his hand in yours, and you ask him, with ev­ery­thing in your soul and heart, “Should we?” n

To ask a man in his mid-30s if he wants kids is beg­ging for a sar­cas­tic re­sponse.

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