I was having lunch with several friends a few weeks ago when the topic came to having children. Most of the people at the table were either umarried or childless, so the conversation was quite entertaining. One friend surmised that the reason people had kids was because “married couples get bored and need something to do”. Another friend claimed that “the need to have children is seeded with little girls at a young age with all the dolls and playing house and that builds a subconscious desire that they need to fulfill”. Finally, I had to step up. “Isn’t it possible that the reason to have a kid could come from the fact that I had a tremendous relationship with my parents, especially my father, and I want to have children to do for them what he did for me? Can’t it be the noble gesture of wanting to be an important part of someone’s life and helping shape the world’s future? Isn’t it possible that there is only one thing in the world [waving my iPhone’s screen, which features Iris and Robyn] that makes me smile, no matter what mood I’m in?” One of the people chimed in: “well, then that’s a selfish reason, too.” Hmm. Interesting, I thought. I suppose he is right. As I pointed out to him, isn’t everything selfish? What you do for a living? Where you eat? Where you live? But still, he’s right. This is different than adopting a child or even volunteering at a soup kitchen. But as I told Cherise when I recounted this story to her, from the moment the mother’s pee turns the stick blue, the opportunity to be selfish is over. From there, it’s all about giving and your wishes become secondary. But this story isn’t about the constant selflessness of parenting. It’s about those other times. Sometimes, you need to be true to yourself. In those cases, I’ve got a very curious kindred spirit.
I just finished reading George W. Bush’s memoir, “Decision Points”. Now, anyone who knows me also knows that I wouldn’t describe myself as politically aligned to the former President. My decision to read the book was born out of the respect of the office (I’ve also read Reagan and Clinton’s memoirs) as well as to try to understand some of the choices he made that I didn’t necessarily agree with. While I’ll refrain from either commenting on his policies or the motivations of the policies according to the book, there is one thing that we share despite our differences: the love of our daughters.
President Bush and I were both lucky enough to have two daughters and, say what you will about the man, he truly did and still does cherish his girls. And in this capacity, we’ve both had to face that battle of balances your need and your children’s. I’ve spent nearly six year chronicling my sacrifices in this blog. Meanwhile, President Bush quit drinking and became a more responsible person because of his daughters. But there was a section of the book where he talked about his decision to run for President and sharing the news with his daughters. The girls were 17 and did not welcome the decision at all. They begged him not to run and insisted that he was trying to ruin their lives. Obviously, he didn’t want to upset his daughters, but this was a tremendous opportunity in front of him and it required sacrifice from everyone–including his daughters.
I can’t get behind a lot of the decisions that Mr. Bush made over the course of his eight years in office, but the mere decision to run and the sacrafices they needed to make as a family so that he could pursue a dream is something with which I can completely empathize. Starting a business was a selfish decision (although it does have its selfless aspect as the schedule flexibility helps me see the girls a lot more than when I was working a traditional job). But as I sit on an airplane headed to Kansas City, where I plan to stay for the next four weeks, I am taking advantage of an opportunity that puts even more strain on the family. I think parenting can and should be the most selfless thing you’ll ever do, but I’ve come to learn that in some situations, there is a dangerous dogma in that selflessness. My parents made tremendous sacrifices so that I could make my mark in the world. To forego any of those opportunities would be a slap in the face of everything they wanted and did for me. That doesn’t mean the selflessness stops with me–I still need to do everything within my power to open the doors of the world to Iris and Robyn. But sometimes, the greatest gift I can give to them is serve as an inspiration for what I want them to do. I have still have to reward the faith my parents put in me by making their sacrifices.
Perhaps someday, I’ll read President Obama’s memoir and he’ll share his stories of how the decision affected his family. In fact, we’re taking a page from his book where Grandma stepped up to help out. I can’t say this opportunity is going to be as significant as leading the free world, but it is how I hope to make my mark in the world and how I hope to inspire my girls. And I’ve gotta believe that’s the best parental contribution I can make, even if I’m away from the girls for an extended time. As for my childless lunch friends, I’m sure they won’t understand why this was a difficult decision. And therein lies the core of how they could associate parenting with selfishness. You just never understand it until you actually do it…