Dear Theo or Helen or Nathan or Frances,
If all goes as planned, this following message will not only fall upon deaf ears but non-existent ears all together. I don’t want children. I never wanted children. I was basically a child myself when I decided that, if anyone was pulling on my apron strings, it would be Ina Garten’s husband. And not in a tragic internalized-homophobia sort of way, either. I’ve just never understood the appeal. I see a baby carted down the sidewalk in a BarcaToddler and my first reaction—as immediate as it is organic—is ugh. So, don’t take offense, please, in the event that you, my offspring, are reading this. I’m easily swayed. Just ask me how I felt about La La Land a half hour after watching it in theaters versus how I felt about Emma Stone’s Oscar nomination a few weeks later. Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.
Never one to ask my own parents what they were up to at any given age, I’ll presume the case was the same for you. So, here I am, in February 2017, writing this as a 23-year-old living in Boston. I graduated from a small liberal arts Catholic college last May. In the nine-odd-months since, they’ve broken ground on a 19-story “dormitory” which they plan on leasing out to city residents, announced that an ice skating rink would be installed on the quad, and that several beloved professors were denied tenure. Do colleges still exist? I have to imagine they do, what with the money to be made. But is it just MBAs they offer now? As is, humanities departments are on the academia chopping block and the first annual “Burning of the Books” hasn’t even been announced by our new presidential administration.
Cause that’s another thing. Or, really, what this entire thing is about. In 2008—or “9 BT” in the event that the Gregorian calendar is recalibrated to account for his inauguration as president—I was a freshman at a public high school, which were these institutions of learning free to attend and funded by community taxpayers where you learned that the pyramids of Egypt weren’t used by the biblical Joseph to store grain. Anyway, it was my first year there when Barack Obama was elected as president and it was my first year in college when he began his second term. Cheesy but I absolutely became myself in those years. Had all my first experiences with guys, read books by James Baldwin and Joan Didion and Roxane Gay and Chelsea Handler, traveled around Europe, moved into my first apartment, saw a therapist, grocery shopped, started paying back my student loans, cried to a shit-ton of episodes of Enlightened. All the hallmarks of my burgeoning adulthood, from 14 to 22, blossoming into being in an Obama-era America.
I was seven years old when September 11th happened, you need to understand that. I grew up as a child knowing America as this reeling relic of a thing—fighting a war no one wanted, with a president no one liked, in a time when the internet and technology and Paris Hilton were rendering the world unrecognizable to those in charge of it. And, then…Barack. It seemed, and I mean this, as if the trajectory of America had been made right. That we were being ushered along this path of progress, rationality, inclusivity, yada yada positive-noun yada. He spoke for the America, the Americans, I knew. In the event I need to say more: Oprah endorsed him.
All of which made that morning this past November feel all the more like a death.
There’s this show called Black Mirror that’s really popular right now and I don’t watch it mostly because it freaks me the fuck out. It’s this Twilight Zone-y show about the dystopia awaiting us, like, five minutes in the future. And, a few weeks into this new America, as patently-accurate facts are deemed “fake” and green card-holding individuals are detained at JFK Airport and Omarosa has a front row seat at press conferences, those five minutes have seemed to run their course.
And if, against my better judgement, I bring you into this broken world, I want to tell you just how sorry I am. You’ll be dealing with the aftershocks of an administration that gaslighted us into questioning the legitimacy that up is up and down is down. It’d be naive of me to believe that the sentiments—and actions—dredged up by Donald Trump and company will just go away once a new president is in office. That, as the head fuckin’ domino, we won’t be bringing everyone else down with us as we topple. I’ll be gone, everyone I know will be gone, but, still, you’ll be here.
Was the wall built? Did the ban of Muslim refugees immigrating to our country remain indefinitely in place? Were our national parks sold to the highest fracking bidder? Has the bald eagle gone extinct? How many women developed septic shock while pregnant and died because of it? Do they teach evolution in schools? Are there schools? Are there cities for you to live in or are the sea levels too high? Do you have clean water to drink? Are there trees in your parks? Does anywhere feel safe?
I want the answers to these questions just as badly as I’d like to remain in the dark. An indecisiveness that, for so long, was contributing factor numero uno toward my desire for a sans-child life. I never felt like I’d be able to commit to you. I’m the youngest, the only boy, Le Petit-Poof-Prince of the family who was always able to skirt any and all responsibilities I didn’t care to bear. A well treaded path of least resistance that bled into just about every other area of my life. Work, relationships, vegetarianism, finishing The X-Files, et al. I felt too self-centered, coveted my independence too much, to ever think I’d be a good father. Knowing too much about how intensely life can suck to ever justify bringing a kid into it.
But maybe I did. And maybe it wasn’t so bad and maybe I was better at it than I made myself believe. Somehow, I get a little optimistic from time to time and think that this administration is the final death rattle of the straight white Baby Boomin’ male. That you’ll get to come of age in a time when the Elizabeth Warrens and Cory Bookers and Teen Vogues don’t constitute this little sound-minded minority but instead are one of the many who speak for the heartaches and hopes of everyone. And beggars of a world avoidant of nuclear destruction can’t be choosers, that I know, but if Ruth Bader Ginsburg could live to see 120 years old, that’d also be pretty comforting.
Because I do have hope for you, o child I’ll hopefully never have. That as my daughter, you’ll get to join the ranks of the bosses I’ve loved and respected most. All of whom, no surprise, were women. That you’ll have the same agency over your pursuits, your body, your desires as would your brother. And, while we’re at it, son, that you’d have the insight to know the time has come to shut up. Fuck-up after fuck-up created something of a pattern during the few-thousand-years long dominion of white males over this world. Watch your sisters take charge.
Because there are a lot of factors contributing to this festering canker sore of a presidency but what I keep coming back to is this palpable lack of grace. The man has no humanity in him, zero empathic impulses, pathologically fearful of—allegedly—stairs and—conclusively—melanin. Anything is a deal, everything can be profit, someone always has to lose. And I hope that the opposition I’m witnessing, the compassion I’ve been feeling—at the Women’s March, from lawyers working for free on the floor of American airports, in the words of journalists and friends and strangers on Twitter and senators and Reductress.com—proves to be mightier. That that’s what shapes you and moves you and gets you to make a sign decreeing your grandmother’s hands bigger than Trump’s for a demonstration happening the following day. Cause you’ve seen them. They’re massive. She’s 5’10” but still.
As of right now, month one of our fascism-is-in-for-spring regime, he reportedly has no intention of signing off on any anti-LGBT executive orders. But, again—month one. The chatter was that he’d play it off as some sort of protection of the First Amendment—because irony is, in fact, not dead. The sort of shit that would allow closeted patisserie owners named Brayden from Inbred, Oklahoma to deny the lone rural-queer couple in their area a wedding cake. But I also read that, had the order been drafted, federally funded adoption agencies would be granted the right to discriminate against gay couples. There was nothing victorious, no grand sigh of relief, learning that the White House backed down on the plan. All I came away from it with was how much I’d taken for granted.
It’s a privilege for me to not want you, apparently. And I’ve treated it as such. Proudly announcing to anyone who would suffer me long enough that I never wanted children. That, try as I might, they’d just end up hating me for the things I did and resenting me for the things I didn’t. So, if I did have you, if I did adopt you or foster you in my home or cajole some well-bone-structured lady into surrogating your seed, I hope you don’t hate me for the mess I brought you into. That it doesn’t break you, that the 7th grade is kinder to you than it was to me, that you laugh at the same overheard conversations on subways and cry at the same kind of movies and get the same kind of glee whenever Terry Gross says, “And this is Fressssh Aiiiiir” as I used to. But if I didn’t, if I end up living the life I always expected for myself and this message gets returned to childless sender, I just pray I have nothing to resent.
All my love,