I used to think that having a child was an easy way out of the paradox of life. After all, what better way is there to give yourself a purpose in life than to have someone whose life depends on you. Even an utterly lost soul, like George W. Bush, can turn his life around by having a child. Believe it or not, now I too am an expectant father. Many of my friends did not see this coming; some even told me that I was the last person they expected to have a child. Admittedly the idea still feels rather foreign to me. It was a result of my recent take on life; to let life happen, and to experience whatever happens in full.
About a month ago, my wife and I started taking a class on “Active Birth”, a way of having a natural birth. My wife felt strongly about it, and so I wanted to be supportive, even though I was initially expecting to receive a phone call at work telling me whether it was a boy or a girl. In the first class, the teacher showed us an uncensored video of natural birth, and my jaw dropped to the floor. I have seen many shocking videos in my life, from hardcore porn to executions, but I had never seen a scene of birth. If you think about it, it is rather strange that most of us never see it until it actually happens to us. It was far more shocking to me than the first time I saw a porn video in my teenage years. I mean, what could be weirder than to see a human head come out of a woman’s vagina?
When the video was over, I was speechless. My image of female body was forever transformed. Suddenly I understood what Eric Clapton meant by “It sounds strange for me to be saying this, but I’ve come around to the idea that sex really is for procreation.” [You! Magazine, 8/95] In some of the videos I have seen since, there were kids in the same room while the mother was giving birth. I just wonder what that does to kids, especially to boys. They all seem to be either awestruck or overwhelmed by emotions. Perhaps our society is depriving them of something they should experience.
My transformation didn’t end with my image of female body. All of a sudden I became obsessed with bringing home the bacon. It wasn’t a conscious decision; something within me was driving me. At the same time, I noticed that my wife was obsessed with rearranging the apartment for the arrival of our baby; what some people call “the nesting phase.” It is a strange feeling, like being possessed by a foreign spirit.
Some feminists would hate to hear this, but I simply cannot imagine that the same uncontrollable drive to be a breadwinner would arise within a woman, and the uncontrollable urge to nest, within a man. Now I cannot help thinking that a man would naturally make a better breadwinner and a woman a better homemaker. Here, let’s not get confused between talent and drive. I am not saying that women are less talented at being a breadwinner, or men being a homemaker. Innate ability and inner drive are two different things. Just because you are talented does not mean that you have the drive for it. Someone could be truly gifted with being a computer programmer, but hate actually doing it. In this case, someone who is less talented but is passionate about programming could easily become a more successful programmer. By the same token, women are probably as talented as men are in just about anything, but many feminists often underestimate the power of inner drive. Men make more successful breadwinners not because of their innate talent or abilities, but because of their inner drives. If you force yourself against your natural drive, sooner or later, you end up feeling alienated. This does not mean that all women should be homemakers, nor all men, breadwinners; what is important is to listen to your true drive, not to the societal pressures or ideologies. If you are a woman and feel the inner drive to be a breadwinner, by all means, you should go for it. The same goes for men in reverse. And, we must be careful not to prejudge people’s capacity to be a breadwinner or a homemaker based on their gender.
Another strange feeling I have now is the sense of being at the beginning of a second life. When I first heard that my wife was pregnant, I refused to think that my life was going to change at all. It seemed such a cliché to say that having a child is a “life-changing” event, and logically I had no reason to believe that, beyond practical matters, my life should change. I wanted to keep up the facade that my life was continuing as it was before. In fact, I planned on not writing anything about fatherhood.
Against my wish, my perspective on life has changed profoundly. I feel like a different person. Let me describe it in this strange way. Suppose you were a plunger. You’ve worked very hard as a plunger all your life, but one day some musician came up with the idea of using you to alter the timbre of a trombone. From that day on, your life has profoundly changed. You are still a plunger, but the purpose of your existence has entirely changed. The fact that the name remains the same seems strange. That’s how I feel. Sounds like a cliché? Well, I can’t help it. Succumbing to clichés is part of this transformation.
Richard Dawkins in his book “The Selfish Gene” speaks about “meme” as an alternative method of satisfying our need to pass on our genes. (If you are not familiar with the concept of “meme”, please look it up at Wikipedia.org.) Although I had not read his book in my 20s, I felt the same way then, and in fact, I felt that it was a superior way of doing so because it didn’t rely on something as animalistic as sex, the same reason why I felt having a child was an “easy way out.” I believe that many artists, writers, and musicians would concur. Instead of immortalizing their existence in the form of genes, they try to do so in the form of art. The problem is that it is far more difficult to achieve this. They have to become famous, otherwise their memes would be forgotten in a matter of a few decades after their death. In fact this is becoming increasingly difficult in today’s world where many people are famous for 15 minutes.
Interestingly enough, in a community of artists, visible antagonism exists between those who have kids and those who do not. Fine artists, especially female artists, who have kids are often dismissed as not being serious, so much so that some would try to conceal their pregnancy from the art world. They fear that the price of their artwork may drop. On the other hand, artists who did not have children, and could not succeed as artists, feel envious of those who had children. Just like being good-looking and smart at the same time, people do not want anyone to have it all. Many artists do not like the idea that someone could have children and be a famous artist at the same time. To them, that is just not fair. So, they are not particularly helpful to those who have children. This leads to tight bonding among artists who have kids, and among those who don’t.
I do agree that by having children, you are decreasing your chance of becoming a successful artist. It comes down to the drive again. Once you satisfy your urge to mark your existence by passing on your genes, you have that much less drive to achieve the same by passing on your memes. Even if you are a talented artist, your drive is less than that of someone who is solely focused on his or her own artistic career. Often male artists can have both by having kids after they have become successful. This is difficult for female artists because they must become successful before they are too old to have kids.
Now that I am an expectant father, the idea of success is far less significant in my mind. As a father, you want to provide for your family, but beyond a certain point, your financial success becomes irrelevant. Whether you make a million dollars a year or 100 million dollars a year makes no difference qualitatively as a father. Thus, you are driven to be a breadwinner, but only to a degree. There are other ways besides money by which you can make sure your genes are passed on successfully. This is not necessarily the case for those without kids. The only way for them to make sure that their memes are successfully passed on is for them to be as famous as possible.
Personally, I would like to continue the propagation of my memes at least to a degree. I feel that it would be good for me as well as for my child. In life lacking of gene propagation, even if you are a famous artist, you can still feel lonely. In life lacking of meme propagation, once your children are independent, you have no life of your own. I’ve always disliked the idea of being a parent who sits in front of TV and a phone all day waiting for his kids to call, and there are just too many of these parents in this world. If you raised your kids during the times of war, I could understand that to a degree, but otherwise you really have no excuse that you have no life of your own. In this sense, it’s important for me to pursue the propagation of memes.
If you look at propagation of genes as the primary goal of life, female is the dominant sex. Men are supplemental; we assist women in achieving this goal. If you look at propagation of memes as the primary goal of life, male is the dominant sex. Women are supplemental; they assist us in achieving this goal. Since men cannot carry a baby, we are more driven to propagate memes. Women do not have to be as driven to pass on memes because they are in charge of passing on genes. This may sound offensive to some women, but it is so only if you consider memes to be superior to genes. In the West, men have succeeded in establishing this superiority, and even many women are convinced of this hierarchy. If you consider genes to be superior to memes, there is nothing offensive about my statement above. Western men are quite good at establishing natural male qualities as superior to natural female qualities. When you see a scene of natural birth, you realize how misconceived this hierarchy is.