13 July 2010
Someone Else's Decision
Yesterday I was talking to a young man--a former student of mine--who'd gotten a young woman pregnant. I told him the sorts of things an older, and presumably wiser, person is supposed to say: Having the baby, or not, is a serious decision, and whatever they do will have an effect on him, not to mention her. I also advised him to get some really good counseling because, while he might make a good father, he still needs to work through some of the issues his own family left him.
A part of me wanted to admonish him for getting the woman pregnant. But I knew that doing that would have been pointless. I think that, on some level, he wanted to impregnate her, or some woman, because he's talked about having a child. But he also knows that he doesn't have the sort of job or finances he wants; if he has the child, those won't improve for a while, and going for his master's degree, which he brought up the last time I talked with him, would be all but out of the question for a long time.
But most of all, I don't think he's ready to commit. Part of me wants to say, "Typical guy!" But I also know that browbeating him into a commitment wouldn't do him, the woman, the baby or anyone else any good. I have never believed the conventional wisdom that having a child "steadies" a man and makes him realize that it's time to "settle down." I've seen too many men in whom the exact opposite happened: They equated committing themselves to, if not marrying, the mother of the child and the expectation that they will help to raise, or at least support that child, as the proverbial "ball and chain." They became even more reckless than they were before the birth of the child, or they simply spent most of the money they made on themselves.
Now, lest you think I'm man-bashing, remember my history. Yes, I have felt the same kind of fear and revulsion so many young men feel at the prospect of giving up their "freedom." Interestingly, those feelings are not at all incongruous with wanting to have a child: Many men see, in child's play, the very kind of freedom they want to keep. I've heard more than one man say that he didn't like being married but he loved having kids.
I think the young man in question also wants kids more than he wants marriage--or a woman, for that matter. Having been on his side of the fence, so to speak, I can see his point of view. I could also understand his dilemma in one other way: I've also gotten a young woman pregnant. In fact, I did that twice. One time my family knew about: I was in my early twenties, if I remember correctly, and the young woman and I had talked about marriage. But I knew, even before the tests were positive, that I was not suited to be a husband or father--for a variety of reasons. Most of those reasons are still valid, at least for me.
So the young woman had the abortion. Our relationship didn't last very long after that. Even then, I wasn't surprised, any more than I was the first time I got a young woman pregnant. No one in my family knows about it--unless they are reading this. I was in high school and working a part-time job so that I could save money for college. I usually gave my mother the money, who deposited it for me. So of course she noticed when I wasn't giving her money.
I don't remember what excuse I gave. Whatever it was, it was better,or at least easier to tell, than the truth.
I don't know who, if anyone, else that young man has told about his situation. Whether or not he's told anyone, I can understand why. Still, I firmly advised him to at least talk to a counselor.
As I write about that encounter with him, it seems even stranger than it did when it was unfolding. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I was giving him advice based on my experience, but not necessarily my own life.