Do Men Have to Grow Up to Have Kids?

May 21 at 6am

By Brendon Kelly

Sure, San Francisco is filled with perpetually youthful girls and boys frolicking in an urban Neverland. But unlike Peter Pan, I never actually wanted to stay a kid forever. In fact, I had every intention of growing up someday. I saw myself happily married and the father of 2.5 kids, living in a suburban house. But I also saw myself traveling the world on foot with nothing more than a backpack and a notebook. And then I saw myself winning an Oscar and a Pulitzer Prize in the same year that I founded a company that would eradicate world hunger. Oh, and I saw myself …. Wait, I think that may be the problem. I’d been so focused on seeing myself in the future that I’d forgotten all about the present.

You see, I had planned on starting a family. The problem was I just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. No worries, because I had all the time in the world! Right? After all, I’m still young. Okay, maybe not young, but certainly “youngish.”

And that’s when I noticed the random Facebook status of a high school acquaintance complaining about her teenage son. Yes, teenage. Granted, she was very young when she had him, but still. Here she was busy raising a young man, while I was still trying to raise myself.

I immediately called my parents to confirm their ages when they started having kids: My dad was 26 and my mom, 23. Whoa. But those were different times, I told myself; people have children much later in life these days, right?

I went back to Facebook and wandered through my friends’ lives. Many of them had graduated high school or college and immediately started families. Their kids now ranged in age from newborns to adolescents – but like tattoos, everyone now seemed to have at least one.

On paper I seem like a good candidate. Both my wife and I very much want kids. [But] I’m afraid of babies. They seriously terrify me. Between you and me, I’ve never actually held a baby. They’re so fragile and floppy. Their heads don’t seem properly attached to their bodies. 

In fact, the more I looked around, the more I saw offspring everywhere! Happy couples with happy babies. Okay, more often they were tired couples with crying babies, but even that looked pretty cool. 

So, why hadn’t I started yet? On paper I seem like a good candidate. I’m in a happy, committed relationship. I have a job. I have insurance. I’m overeducated, mentally stable, and relatively cheerful. By most accounts, I’m a fully fledged, functioning adult (my wife may disagree with that last statement). Most importantly, both my wife and I very much want kids.

It sounds like a no-brainer, but there are still a few things holding me back. First and foremost, I’m afraid of babies. They seriously terrify me. Between you and me, I’ve never actually held a baby. They’re so fragile and floppy. Their heads don’t seem properly attached to their bodies. And the sudden screeching sends shivers down my spine. My friends who have become dads assure me they felt the same way until they held their own child, but what if I’m the exception?

I also wanted to be further along in life before I had kids. I have a life accomplishment to-do list and I haven’t checked everything off it. In fact, some of those things seem further and further away now. For example, I haven’t written a best seller, nor do I have my own Scrooge McDuck money bin. Which actually brings me to my next point.

I’m afraid of being poor, a fear I inherited from my immigrant Irish Catholic family (thanks!). Now, I’m not talking about being broke – I spent years scraping by as a student, an actor, and a writer. I’m talking about not being able to feed my family or keep a roof over our heads. I have massive student loans, I’m changing careers, and I’ve recently moved (for those keeping score, we just moved to the Bay Area from LA). What if I lose my insurance? What if I get evicted? What if all of my crazy gambles fail to pay off? Fear can be a great motivator, but it can also make you cry in the shower.

What if I’ve already waited too long? Some forward-thinking men started banking their sperm in their 20s because apparently our biological clock starts ticking when we hit 30! Men also face an increase in mutations, and I don’t mean the cool X-Men kind.

It’s also worth considering that I don’t actually know how to take care of a little person. I’m the youngest sibling and have never even babysat kids. I do play endlessly with my nieces, nephews, little cousins, and friends’ kids, but that’s the thing, I just play with them – if anything goes wrong, I hand them back to their parents.

Granted, I’ve always had pets (every parent reading this just collectively cringed) and loved them dearly, but they’ve all had a certain level of independence. My wife and I currently cohabitate with two cats, but there is no hierarchy here. I don’t tell them when to go to bed and I don’t make them do homework.

And what if I’ve already waited too long? Some forward-thinking men started banking their sperm in their 20s because apparently our biological clock starts ticking when we hit 30! Men have a biological clock? Yep. In addition to a lowered sperm count, men also face an increase in mutations, and I don’t mean the cool X-Men kind. Research has shown that men have a 1.5 times greater risk of having a child with autism in their 30s, and the chance increases fivefold in their 40s. A recent study also links older fathers with an increased risk of having children with attention deficit disorder, bipolar disorder, psychosis, substance abuse, and low academic achievement. Yikes! 

I do want to have a baby; I just don’t want to screw it up. And I’d be lying if I said that the very idea of being 100% responsible for another human being for the next 20 years doesn’t scare the ever-loving daylights out of me, but maybe that’s a good thing?

If you think that I’m overanalyzing this whole thing, you’re probably right. Then again, that’s pretty much my entire approach to life.

I do want to have a baby; I just don’t want to screw it up. And I’d be lying if I said that the very idea of being 100% responsible for another human being for the next 20 years doesn’t scare the ever-loving daylights out of me, but maybe that’s a good thing?

My friend JD recently had a baby this past year and he couldn’t be happier. His advice to me?

“Stop overthinking everything, ‘pull the goalie’ [stop using birth control], and see what happens. You’re never going to feel ready and that’s okay, you’ll figure it out as you go.”

Such simple advice, but it stuck with me. So, starting this month we’re pulling the goalie and letting go of the results – call it a leap of faith. I’m nervous, but also excited. The truth is, above all else, I’ve always seen myself as a dad.

P.S. If my child does read this one day, I hope she/he doesn’t think I’m an idiot.

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