I’d always suspected adulthood was a lie, but never have I believed that so deeply than when it occurred to me that I could be a father. Not someday down the road. Not when I secure a career. But right now. I could become a father right now.
Call me late to the epiphany party; most people my age have probably experienced this sensation before, and it’s not as if every single one of us isn’t the direct result of parenthood. But parenthood always seemed like a distant fantastical idea, entirely implausible for my own current life. I knew it would probably happen someday, but it really didn’t set in as any sort of likelihood until not too long ago, when I found myself in my first relationship with any promise of longevity.
I’ve had relationships in the past, sure, but this was the first one where I said to myself, “Pending any sort of accident or lapse of judgement, I could become a father. And that’s okay.” The relationship didn’t last long, but that internal shift of psychology lasts forever I suppose, because as single as I now am, I’m still horrified by that realization: Fatherhood would be okay. Right now.
In spite of this change of heart, I still don’t feel like an adult by any stretch of the imagination. In the early stages of my adulthood, I drew a distinction between real adults (people with retirement plans and accountants) and fake adults (graduate students and baristas). Real Adulthood seemed to me like some inaccessible holy land of self-assurance and financial comfort at which we all somehow and unexpectedly arrive. Fatherhood seemed unrelated to adulthood. After all, a lot of successful, established adults don’t have children.
Yet I can’t help but to compare my life’s milestones with those of my parents. We are born into the world of our parents, thus into their experiences and desires which they project onto us in our upbringing. It makes sense that the course of our development would reflect theirs in some way or another.
In the shadow of parental precedence, the number of age means nothing. How my experiences fit into my father’s means everything. When my father was twenty-six, he started practicing law. He was thirty when he had his first child, my sister. Until I find a career, I can never age past twenty-six. Until I have a child, I can never age past thirty. I may rotate around the sun sixty times, but until I reach comparable milestones, I will always be but a child, even if I do have gray hair.
Again, not everyone has children. But everyone was once a child, and considering my own acceptance of the possibility of parenthood juxtaposed with my continued lack of feeling like an adult, it could be deduced that many if not most parents didn’t feel like adults when they had kids. Kids probably just happened, and, well okay, I guess we have kids now. How much of humanity is simply a misinformed accident? How many of us are the result of questionable and uncertain life decisions? After all, the conscious choice to become a parent is insanity. “Hey honey, let’s throw away all we’ve ever understood about ourselves and the world and make a creature with rights and legal standing, forever changing our goals, dreams, desires, and identities.”
I mean, I owe my existence to this insanity, but it’s insanity nonetheless.
I wouldn’t be a bad father, I don’t think. I can probably coach a community tee-ball team. I can drive a kid to school. But I don’t know the answers. I get my answers from other people, who are probably just as clueless as I am. Every person on earth is a child of somebody, and they will always be a child of somebody, growing in the shadow of their parents’ milestones. We are born to look up to our parents as they carry with them the image of adulthood. By the nature of linear time, we can never catch up to them. The moment we have children, they have grandchildren. When we have grandchildren, they have great-grandchildren. Even if we achieve milestones they didn’t, their timeline will always advance beyond ours, and within the context of the parent-child relationship, the sensation of adulthood is inherently just out of reach.
I suppose we are a planet of children. We are children playing with fire, except that fire is tens of thousands of years of scientific and cultural innovation. There is no all-knowing, wise adult sitting at a mountain top with all the answers, supervising our foolish play. Every world leader, every authoritarian, and every expert is a child, as we all are. Perhaps an old, experienced child, but a child nonetheless.
Humanity is just an endless cycle of children having children. How have we survived this long? How have we not burned down the house yet?