I’ve been away. And to all three of you who read this blog, I will try to be more consistent with my entries.
In the last few weeks I have: A) Had my wisdom teeth removed, which was a lot more fun that I expected. It’s not often that I get to wake up with a mouthful of gauze, discuss my apparent desire to visit a Taiwanese strip club with my wife, make goat noises, get reprimanded by a nurse, then go home and watch crappy movies while I suck down lemon Jello. B) Started a non-profit corporation. In doing so I am deep into IRS forms that I have no business looking in the eye. C) Gotten another tattoo. Apologies to my mother. D) Finished a couple of screenplays. Anyone got a few hundred thousand dollars, an iron stomach, and a morbid longing to be an executive producer?
Wait. I ought to start with an apology. Several weeks ago I spoke with my cousin, Katie, over the phone. Now, Katie is one of my favorite people. She’s fun and hilarious and considerate. Just an all-around good person. She’s married to a really cool dude named Mike. She’s also younger than me, quite a bit younger. Young enough to be called “my little cousin Katie.” Young enough that I remember burping her when she was a baby.
Katie: So I have some news.
Katie: I’m pregnant.
(Weird pause because I’m thinking, Oh boy, my little cousin Katie is pregnant which means I’m way behind and she’s much younger and way more put together and what’s wrong with me? and this is certainly a selfish thing to be thinking right now and wow, Katie is pregnant and I better get my act together and say something right now.)
Actually I’m not sure what my response was and, while I’m not an interesting person, I hope I responded interestingly. You know, I hope I said something supportive. Not something pseudo-cool and laid-back like “Great work.” That sounds like a red-inked comment on the top of a 1st grade spelling assignment. And it’s weird. Work? Something pun-laced: “This is mom-entous news,” or “What pregnant occasion.” Maybe I just went with sheer excitement. “Holey moley!” Regardless, what I should have said was this: Katie, I’m hugely excited for you and Mike. You are going to be a wonderful set of parents. Congratulations and sorry for the lame reaction.
I was preoccupied when Katie broke the news because at that exact moment I had a birth of my own. Right then I welcomed into the world my newest schizophrenic personality. 316 lbs. 7 oz. 5’4”. Balding on the crown of his head. His messy three-piece suit doesn’t help his sweating problem. He even came with a tattered brief case. He is Keith, The Age-Calculating Mathematician. Keith is a jerk.
(Keith and I sit at a rickety, folding card table in a cement room. Keith is out of breath as a result of walking into the room. Keith pulls a loud adding machine from his brief case. He smiles at me like an IRS auditor would.)
Keith: Okay… How old are you again?
(Keith elongates his bottom lip and breathes in the corners of his mouth.)
(Keith punches numbers into his adding machine.)
Keith: Read WebMD much?
Keith: It has information… Lots of good information about having kids after your reproductive prime.
Me: Reproductive prime?
Keith: I can give you the website.
Me: I know the website.
(Keith looks at me awkwardly then punches more numbers into his adding machine.)
Keith: It’s w-w-w-dot…
Me: Shut up, Keith. Just run the numbers.
Keith: Okay… (Looks up) When are you going to die?
Me: Excuse me?
(I stare at Keith for a while.)
Keith: Let’s go at this a different way. Let’s say you have a kid by thirty-five, just to be safe. (Punching numbers.) That means you’re fifty-five when he or she… Boy or girl?
Me: I don’t care.
Keith: We’ll just say a girl because girls are more likely to embrace an older-than-average father.
Keith: So she’s twenty and you’re fifty-five. (Typing on machine, the printer paper is getting longer.) How many kids?
Me: Let’s say three.
Keith: All girls then… Say you have them all by the time you’re forty… That means you’re sixty when the youngest is twenty and you’ve also got a twenty-five-year old and a, say, twenty-three-year old. And you keep in pretty good shape so you should be able to keep up when they’re kids: play basketball with them, clown around in the yard, et cetera.
Me: (Smiling) Right.
Keith: And sixty’s not that old.
Keith: It’s the new thirty.
Me: That’s what they say.
(Keith starts frantically typing numbers in the adding machine. His brow furrows. He sweats. The tape gets longer. Keith suddenly stops; he puts on a fake smile. Keith is a bad liar.)
Me: Spill the beans, Keith.
Keith: How important is the whole grandfather thing?
Me: Pretty important.
Keith: On a scale of one to ten.
Keith: Cause let’s just say, hypothetically, that your oldest doesn’t have a kid until she’s thirty-five, cause the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. This puts you at seventy when you become a grandfather. When did you say you’re going to die?
(I burn a hole in Keith’s face with my eyes.)
Keith: Anyway, by then life expectancy should be up around seventy-six for an American male. So a solid six years with the little ankle-biter… Did I mention WebMD?
Me: Shut your trap, Keith.
Keith: Cause they have an excellent Life Expectancy Calculator. It’s free.
(I slouch into my chair. Keith pulls a package of Tic-tacs from his briefcase. He offers me one. I shake my head.)
Keith: And look on the bright side. All these figures are dependent on whether or not you even have the ability to conceive.
Talking with Keith drives me up the wall. I want to slap his face, but that would mean slapping my… Perhaps I should try it anyway.
Seriously, what the hell have I been doing with myself? It’s not like I’ve had huge career success that would force me to delay having a family. I’m 99.5% unsuccessful! I don’t even have a career! True, I wanted to be married before having kids and I didn’t get married until I was thirty. Problem is I dilly-dallied with the wedding thing too. That is, Alex and I were together for many years before I finally bought the ring. We wanted to wait because of school.
Wait a minute. Couldn’t have kids earlier cause I wasn’t married. Didn’t get married earlier cause I was an older-than-average graduate student. Didn’t go to grad school earlier because…. Oh, dear God. There’s only one logical explanation: I’ve got a debilitating condition that retards my maturity level by five to ten years. This is also known as being a screw-off. What if this is nature’s way of telling me that I shouldn’t be having kids? What if I ignore the signs, have kids anyway, and in doing so I create a tribe of screw-offs? Forget zombies or a catastrophic asteroid event or alien lasers. I might trigger the apocalypse just by having kids. WebMD has a fantastic article about this, I’m sure.
It’s weird, too, because I can’t exactly give a reason why I feel the need to multiply. So maybe I’ve waited to have kids in the hope that I’d come up with an answer. There’s the standard reply: I want to have kids so I’ll have someone to forcefully push toward excellence at the things I was never good at in the hope that I can live vicariously through them and somehow redeem myself for my own failures. Other than that, why do I want to have kids? I have no idea. I know that all you forward thinkers out there will say that I’m just falling in line with the status quo and maybe you’re right. Biology majors will say that such a need is ingrained in my DNA in order to propagate the species. Also true. Frankly, I’m not afraid of either of these reasons, but they’re so general. I’d still like to find something else, a solid personal reason why I should have kids. So far this is the best I’ve come up with: I think having kids would be neat.
Whatever my reason for not yet being a father, the bottom line is that I feel behind. Behind and old. Behind and old and panicky. And, yes, I’m aware that thirty-three isn’t that old. It’s just older than I thought I’d be when this type of thing came up and that makes me itchy. Compounded with Keith and all his numbers and sweating and statistics and WebMD and the fear that maybe I missed my window—this is a bad combination. So what’s a screw-off, wannabe rapper, wannabe father to do?
Shut up, Keith. It’s a rhetorical question.