I ran into a friend Monday afternoon who I hadn’t seen for awhile. I knew he had gotten married about 18 months or so ago, but I hadn’t heard any news of him since. He had some news for me. He and his wife had a baby boy a few months back, so he’s a father now.
I was happy for my friend, but I was also envious — because having my own family is something I’m really eager for. I’ve always known that I wanted children, and I want them even more as the years pass.
I’m glad I didn’t have kids when I was much younger, because I’m not sure I’d adequately dealt with my own childhood baggage to be a good parent. I fear that I might have left them just as damaged as I’d felt if I’d taken on the responsibility years ago. I feel ready now, but I’m under the impression that convincing the right woman to be the mother is a key prerequisite.
As I thought about all this again, I wondered — not for the first time — why human beings seem so driven to have families. Having children isn’t logical. They cost us money. There’s rarely a “return on investment” in the pragmatic sense. So why do most of us feel so driven to create families?
Some people would explain it as a simple genetic imperative to reproduce in order to send our genes into the future. That’s a compelling theory in some respects, but it has holes in it when we see that there are plenty of times in life when people are willing to make decisions which will sacrifice themselves in order to save others — and those sacrifices frequently mean that the person making the sacrifice is dead and won’t be able to reproduce and send his genes forward. (As a side point, I’m generally in agreement with the ideas proposed by Howard Bloom in his book, “The Lucifer Principle,” insofar as group evolution being far more important than the individual variety.)
But any theory that explains human longings in terms of genetic desires is simply an intellectual theory. There’s no way to prove it, even if an awful lot of people accept it as true just because it makes sense to them. To me, though, that’s intellectualizing emotions. If I feel the need for something, the feeling is real. It’s not just some preprogrammed genetic signal that’s expressing itself through body chemistry. The feeling is reality, as far as I’m concerned.
Even though scientists try to explain emotions — such as love, desire, longing — in reductionist ways, their explanations leave me cold. What’s more, I’m not sure they matter. I don’t object to people looking for the gene or neurotransmitter or whatever that’s associated with certain feelings. I do object to the idea that my consciousness is a puppet performing for my DNA.
We want families because we are driven to experience love. We need love. I want the right woman as my wife and I want children with her, not because it would do any pragmatic good or that it would please anybody else. I want those things because I long to experience the love that only come in a healthy family relationship. The need for the feelings that come with that trump almost everything else in this world.
Not everyone has the same needs of the heart. Some people have no desire to have children. Some people have no desire for a mate who understands and cherishes them. Some people are more driven by other things, whether it’s a drive for money or power or fame. I don’t understand those people, but they’re perfectly free to pursue what they want.
I simply want something else — and I’ll spend the rest of my life pursuing it, even though it might not make sense to anybody else.