22 May 2005

Is it possible for a guy to have paternal instincts? I guess it makes sense, right? Women have maternal instincts, talk about their biological clocks all the time, make this huge thing about getting married in time to have kids. It's understandable. They're on a time clock; guys clearly are not--a septuagenarian can still father a child, even if it's not the most responsible thing to do. Then again, having children shouldn't be a totally pragmatic consideration.

Today, I think some kind of paternal instinct kicked in for me. I was at Mass at the Cathedral, and the couple in the pew ahead of me had this little boy, probably not even two years old, and he had strawberry-blonde hair. He was the very quiet and curious type, looking around at everything, pointing, trying to name things with words that probably made perfect sense to him, even if they came out sounding like some language that only another two year old would get. I mean, who says a stained glass window shouldn't be called a "dlingit"? You could tell that in a couple months or less, he'll start saying things like Mom and Dad and ball and juice. So, of course I was fascinated with watching this. But then he turns around and looks right at me, and reaches out his impossibly tiny hand for mine, which was only a couple inches away because I had my feet up on the kneeler and my hands were on my knees. A couple years ago, this probably would have made me feel totally awkward, like one of those "what am i supposed to do?" moments. But today, I let him grab my hand. And then he wanted to grab the other one, and then try it with his other hand. The whole time, he's just looking at me and smiling and completely quiet. And I'm smiling back, and raising my eyebrows, and probably looking really goofy, because I've seen when my Dad did that with other people's kids, and I always thought he looked goofy. But really happy at the same time, like he was remembering what it was like when he was a new father.

Now, I've been around babies and toddlers before, but for some reason the thought that kept running through my head this morning was that could be my son. It just kept popping back into my head, accompanied by this big "wow" feeling. I mean, technically I could have been a father since about the time I was 15. I have friends who have children. This isn't something that I'm only thinking about now. I have thought about it before, but it was usually with a feeling of vague apprehension--the feeling that having someone call you Dad and being completely reliant on you would be overwhelming. That, and seeing really poorly behaved kids and really inept parents was always discouraging. Believe me, at Mass you see a ton of that.

But as I was thinking that could be my son, and probably looking a little thunderstruck by the whole idea, I started to slowly think I would be a good father. Like it was the most certain, obvious thing in the world. The weird thing is that the idea of marriage doesn't thrill me. I know that sounds strange, and it even does to me because I consider myself kind of a romantic, and one of those rare people who naturally leans toward monogamy. I think that I will probably be the type who just falls irretrievably hard for one person, and then if that didn't work out, that would be basically it. So, marriage isn't so much this thing I've felt like I need. I just never viewed it as a necessity. Naturally, this always led me to figure that I wouldn't mind just being a bachelor. Today, though, I realized for the first time that being a bachelor didn't just mean being without a wife, it meant not having children. And today, for the first time, that kind of bothered me.

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