The selfish parent

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, March 22, 2006 | , ,

During our long courtship, Wood and I had a way of insinuating the inevitable. We always talked as though we would be together forever; we discussed being married and having babies even when we were still babies ourselves. Our conversations were typically lame:

"When we have kids, man we are going to be so much cooler than our parents."


After we got married, we began thinking more seriously about issues and making theoretical plans for parenthood, at the very least so we'd be on the same page when the puck finally slipped past the goalie:

"We're not like going to be those kind of parents who, like, you know, put their kids' lives ahead of their own."

"I know, right?"

"I mean, we're not going to stop living our lives because the kids need to go to soccer practice and a million other things where the kids are so busy that we won't get a chance to do anything for ourselves."

"I totally believe in paying someone else to take care of my kids."

When we finally scored, Wood's belly bulged with impending change, and our thoughts on this matter advanced:

"The thing is, I don't want her to ever feel guilty like our parents made us feel with all their talk about how how much they sacrificed everything for us."

"We should teach her about leading a fulfilling life by leading fulfilling lives ourselves."

"We don't need to change our lives for her, we should include her in on our lives and change with her. I don't want to be a selfless parent. I want to be kind of a selfish one."

"We don't need to be martyrs, that's for sure."

Law schools tend to harvest a certain annoying air of ambition among their pupils. Everyone is so bloody concerned with their comparative performance in grades and extracurriculars and legal journals and eventually their careers. I think we were both very ambitious still when we had that last conversation fresh out of school. And ambition meant climbing career ladders. Sacrifice meant abandoning the climb.

The thing is, I still want to be a selfish parent, but my understanding of what selfishness means has changed since Wood and I had that conversation over rustic Italian food in Hayes Valley a year and a half ago. Having sat at a desk in a law firm for four years, billing hours, collecting paychecks, and generally finding no real fulfillment, daily now I am nagged by the realization that fulfillment has come to me, different now from how I once envisioned it. It has come in the form of a little girl who is growing up so fast, whose day-to-day life I only hear about, whose beautiful open eyes I only get to enjoy for an hour or two each weekday. Now the sacrifice looks like staying here at this desk, billing hours, collecting paychecks, making her life easy and comfortable. If I stayed here she could grow up rich, but I would be unhappy. Selfishness, on the other hand, looks like telling my bosses to go fuck themselves and walking out of here once and for all, a desire I find more difficult to suppress with each passing day.

The martyrs are the men and women who against their will must suffer the indignity of missing their children's lives during these wonderful early days before they grow up and school and the outside world pluck them away, the days when their universe is so small and their parents are the warm, giant orbs and galaxies within it. Luckily, I can look forward to acting on my selfish desire; my tunnel is short and there's a light at the end of it. I won't be a martyr after all.

And I sure as hell feel lucky that I get to be a selfish parent for a few years. I'm not saying such a decision would be selfish for anyone else, but it is for me. I want this. I want this more than anything on earth. And I want it for me, not for her.