I was talking with my dad about Candid Uprising, telling him about our mission and purpose and encouraging him to read. While I knew he’d be proud to hear that I’m exploring a passion project, I was also concerned about how he might react to some of the opinions we’ve put forth. While he is socially liberal, and overall of a progressive mindset, he was raised in the Midwest in the 1950s and has some closely held traditional values. My dad is a rather reserved, reticent person, but he came alive when I told him I had written and published a couple of posts on not wanting children. “Right”, he said animatedly, “people have kids to fill the void. Things get stale. People’s lives plateau and they tell themselves, now it’s time.” He continued to expound upon the subject as I frantically scribbled notes. “Kids fill up the room”, he continued, “they take all your extra time, all your extra money, all your extra love and affection. Kids are all consuming. Being a parent is a bitch, and the most responsible thing you’ll ever do. You fuck up someone elses life, and it’s terrifying”, he finished. “Dad”, I exclaimed, “then why in the world do people do it?”
“It’s biology, for god’s sake”, he cried.
Of course the discussion came back to biology when I posed the question to my dad. He has degrees in chemistry and microbiology and his concept of god is Mother Nature (though he’s an observant Catholic). I wondered if the idiom, “it’s what people do” (when it comes to pairing off and reproducing) simply does have its roots in biology. Maybe it isn’t entirely about social pressure. I had a conversation a few weeks later with a guy who is right around 30, single and childless with no mortgage, no major ties. I sought his ideas on the subject, as a man who hasn’t yet defined his future, whose options appear entirely open, at least on the surface. He too described a kind of void, and a desire to create a family through marriage and kids, and said, because it’s what people do. When pressed to define what that statement means, he brought the conversation to biology, and that as a species, we’re hardwired to reproduce. To him, it feels entirely natural that eventually he will be a married parent, and he looks forward to it. While he doesn’t feel pressured to achieve the status quo, he did describe a growing desire for family, as more and more of his friends leave his social circle for it. It was almost as if he didn’t notice the desire until he saw his peers finding fulfillment in it, which he strongly attributes to biology.
My dad would agree completely. In fact, he asked if as part of Candid Uprising, we could help create a bridge between the generations. Ok, dad–here’s your bridge–a sixty-something year-old man, and a thirty-ish man agree that biology is the driving force behind the status quo. According to my dad, nature created the orgasm and sensory appeal (of sex, of holding a baby, of hugging a child, of watching someone grow), otherwise no one would do it. And a man on the cusp seems to agree, biology urges us forward, the rewards being companionship and family, knowing you’re part of something larger than yourself. Perhaps the void is created from a lack of sensory stimulation, and the clutter of our lives (work, technology, relationships, money) disguises or obscures our fundamental appetites.
It sounds like there’s more at work in our lives than societal pressure. From my psychiatric perspective, I only saw the relationship between the individual and society, the individual and the self. See, this is why we’re having the conversation, and why it’s so important that we share our perspectives. I hadn’t even for a moment allowed that biology might be behind our decisions, and now I laugh to think I was blind to something so elemental.