Last Friday as I was leaving work, I ran into a former colleague, a large and powerful man, who was on the verge of retiring. At first, we chatted about the small stuff like who got voted off The Bachelor. But after we exhausted that subject, we ended up talking about a deeper topic: our families.
As I propped my back against the wall and turned sideways so I could see the Exit sign, we joked about how much easier it was to manage employees than it was raise kids, a feat akin to herding feral cats. That was the sad truth and neither of us could at that point feign otherwise. A truth, that I could tell, pained us equally. Raising kids is and will always remain one of life’s biggest mysteries.
And as long as Hoosier Hill remains the tallest point in Indiana, this is one area that science will never conquer. Even if scientists one day learn how to genetically-edit children in their basements. I, myself, am not so sure I am in favor of a race of 7-foot tall Einsteins who can dunk, but have no souls. How do you genetically engineer a soul that is so unique that there is never another one like among the billions and billions of people who have lived on this earth?
It does seem though that more and more, as we expand our knowledge about genes, that science has come to accept a broader view on the influence of environment in genetics. Scientist are discovering genetics is not a closed system. A fact that any parent from Kalamazoo to Timbuktu could have told them. Once you have kids you can toss out any mechanical views you have about life. Going through the parenting process over time makes you, whether you like or not, more philosophical.
Through parenting you discover that this imperfect world full of imperfect people is a messy one. There is an obvious fallenness to this world. Life no longer is the fantasy world of dragon’s teeth and giant’s bones that you once knew. Life, come to find out, is full of scarcity, conflict and suffering. And none of this can be successfully dealt with without faith, hope, forgiveness, mercy, work and last but not least unconditional love.
When you become a parent, you sign yourself up for a lifetime of caring, pain, and joy, with no guarantees. Congratulations! There is no more hiding in the shadow and there are no limits on how much pain you might have to go through, but again there are no limits on how much joy you might have.
As a parent, you find through sober calculation that virtue is neither old or new, but timeless. Just as your parents told you in the car while they were listening to John Denver and you had your Walkman on listening to the B-52’s. Your parents who in your younger days you thought were clueless now seem like geniuses. Overnight, they have become a regular pair of Stephen Hawkings for having successfully navigated what you are now wallowing in.
There is no sugar-coating it having kids exposes you and makes you vulnerable. Being exposed and vulnerable is not cool. You have now become as cool as Dick Haymes eatin’ a corn dog at the Iowa State Fair.
But the tradeoff for losing your coolness is that by having kids you begin to see life more deeply. Life is so much more complex and richer than what we can ever empirically observe. It’s hard to behold with our natural eyes those beautiful bonds that tie us to others— past, present and future.
By having children, you get wind of the fact that Homo sapiens aren’t an abstract problem to be solved, but a calling for each of us to care for each other. There are no government programs or systems that can make us problem-free. Because of our fallen state the phrase “problem solved” is only a temporary thing. Learning itself is a gradual process. At best, the process is one step backwards for every two steps forward. The fact that we are bad at learning and gaining wisdom; however, should not deter us from trying.
The reality is that on Earth we need humans and we need a lot of them. Without them the richness of life goes away, things lose their meaning and their proper order. In a world without kids, we lose hope. Life becomes just “meh”. The doggone truth is, despite all the times our kids play out in street, stay up late, eat with their hands, talk back, curse, and never answer their phones (even though they just responded to your text), we need our kids as much as they need us to get through this journey we call life.