As many of you know, I've been on paternity leave for the last two weeks (and I appreciate all the kind words from everyone about my son, Isaac). Watching my wife, Emily, get through 30 hours of labor without pain meds, and then watching Isaac go through his first two weeks of life has been the single greatest experience of my entire life. I am truly in awe, though I have not yet reached the state of clarity I hoped to achieve when I first decided I wanted to have children.
See, my major hesitation in having children was a philosophical one. I wondered: Is it a moral decision to bring a child into such a fucked up world of pain, stress, rage and selfishness? Or is it an immoral decision to subject yet another human being to that world?
Obviously, I decided that it is - or at least can be - a moral decision to bring a child into this profoundly troubled world. I came to this realization through the old "if you're not part of the problem, you're part of the solution" cliche, believing in a slightly-less nasty version of Mike Judge's thesis in Idiocracy. Basically, if you think the underlying crisis in the world is that the braindead/mean/nasty/selfish/me-first-screw-everyone-else assholes are outbreeding the cognizant/altruistic/decent/we're-all-in-this-together crowd, then the more those of us in the latter try to multiply the latter for the next generation, the more hope we can have that the world will eventually be a better place.
Of course, I have no idea whether or not Isaac will end up being part of the solution. Because I believe in giving him the space to be whomever he decides he wants to be, he very well may end up a reaction to me and Emily - the Sirota's very own Alex P. Keaton, David Brooks, or (godforbid) worse. But I wouldn't bet on that. I really do think that - on average - the more the we're-all-in-this-together crowd makes sure there are offspring carrying that torch for the next generation (within population-growth limits), the better a place this world will be.
This, however, is my extremely-optimistic side talking. Things really aren't as clear as I'd hoped them to be - and the last two weeks are a microcosm of why.
|In just the time that I've been on paternity leave tending to diapers and late-night crying and infant butt rash and breast-milk spit-up and projectile diarrhea, I've seen the Obama administration's deficit commission propose to slash Isaac's Social Security benefits and cement inequality into his future society via top-bracket income and corporate tax rate cuts. I've seen the president offer to help Republicans add to Isaac's debt (read: tax burden) through an extension of the Bush tax cuts for today's wealthy. And I've seen both parties make it harder for Isaac to get a decent-paying job as they champion yet more NAFTA-style trade deals.
So while I told myself that when I looked into Isaac's eyes I would know that having him was, indeed, a moral decision, I'm still not so sure - because the country I live in, the government I helped elect and the society I am a part of is - in Big Lebowski terms - all but guaranteeing him a world of pain.
This doesn't mean I would take back my decision to have Isaac. One thing is for sure - when I hold him, when I comfort him, hell, even when I'm being thrown up on by him, I'm thrilled he's here. I guess what I'm not clear on is whether that euphoric feeling is a product of any sense of morality (ie. bringing him into this world makes the world a better place) or simply an expression of my own narcissistic desire to personally experience the selfish joys of parenthood.
I tell myself its the morality - and I tell myself this because I'm an eternal optimist. That means that somewhere, I still believe that even with these past two weeks of capitulation and past 10 years of bipartisan complicity in mortgaging Isaac's future, things can get better. And I tell myself they can only get better if people like Isaac ultimately commit to making them better where me and my generation failed.
But I honestly don't know if we're already past the point of no return. I don't know if my failure - our failure - has sealed Isaac's fate. I don't know if the world can be a better place for him to have the decent life I've been so privileged to have - and the not knowing is what makes me look into his eyes and feel both indescribable happiness and indescribable fear.