I found out in the most brutal way possible. I was in the endocrinologist’s clinic. The doctor mentioned in an aside, “You know, of course, that you’re sterile?” At that point in my life, I was appalled. Of course I wanted to raise a family, with perhaps two offspring. But it was apparently not to be. I had one major adjustment surviving brain surgery a couple years earlier, but now I had another major adjustment in the offing. No kids. No normal family life.
Upon hearing this several acquaintances (they could never really be my friends) would pipe in with, “You can always adopt!” If I adopted a child, it would be mine only by an act of will stretching decades into the future … to care for someone who, biologically, had nothing in common with me. Okay, so I am not Mother Teresa. I make no claims to sainthood.
I made the adjustment. The women I went out with just assumed that I was telling an untruth when I told them I was sterile, so I went along with it until I went to my doctor who tested me and certified that, yes, indeed, I was shooting only blanks.
Now, in my seventies, I look back on my life and am happy that I did not have to raise any children. My one long-term relationship has been with Martine, a woman who did not ever want to have children. I don’t think I would have been a good father, and as Francis Bacon wrote, “He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief.”
So much of my life has been affected by a brain tumor that I had roughly between the ages of ten and twenty-one. Because the tumor—a chromophobe adenoma—controlled my sex hormones, I was potent, but quite sterile. I did not discover until some ten years ago that it was theoretically possible for me to have children’ but by then I was sixty-five years old, and I was in a relationship with Martine, who did not want to bear children for reasons of her own. (In fact, she made me get tested to verify that I could not impregnate her.) So I just resolved to accept my childlessness without complaint.
My friends and acquaintances would always use the same four-word phrase, telling me, “You could always adopt.” I have friends who have done this, but it is not always an easy road. My answer to this suggestion sometimes turned people off: “I don’t want to be responsible for other people’s mistakes.” When I said that to one cute co-worker named Alexis, she hung up on me in exasperation.
I know that raising a child is a long term commitment; but I also know myself, that I would not necessarily be willing to make the sacrifice if the child were not of my blood. If that makes me a bad person, then I must reluctantly admit that I am a terrible person. Better that, sometimes, than making my life and that of my partner possibly a living hell. Sure, the reward can be great, but I have seen cases where it wasn’t.
There was another factor: At times I have a savage temper like my father did. Since I was childless for so many years, I am sometimes not patient with the behavior of children who misbehave. I suspect I might behave as my father did—by swatting the child. In these times, that is considered child abuse.