The charter of the Parenthood Corporation is written in our genes. It demands continual reinvestment, and it grows for its own sake. It pays dividends of overpopulation and environmental destruction disguised as familial bonds and warm feeling.
I originally wrote this post over a year ago. It was a darker time, and I ultimately decided not to share it. But I recently endured a customer's lecture on the importance of having children. I guess I should be flattered he feels the world needs more versions of me?
When I came across this draft a few days later, I realized that my feelings on the matter haven't changed. If you know how to raise and love children, I have the utmost respect for you. But it is not for me.
Love and attachment are different for the children of suicides.
My friend's mother died a few months ago. She'd been hospitalized for years, non-verbal, in a semi-coma where she could only respond to the world by blinking. There was no quality of life there, and the end was long overdue. Her death was a relief, really. An end to long suffering.
My friend has been devastated ever since. She says her mother's death, even after this lingering illness, hit her a lot harder than her father’s sudden heart attack two years before.
Both of her parents were hard-working and poor. They did little financially for their kids. But they had closeness. Their relationship meant a great deal. They could sit around the dinner table together with a sense of genuine pleasure.
She talked to me about all this when she returned to work, after the funeral.
Being the self-involved little prick that I am, I walked away from the conversation thinking about my life. Would I ever feel this depth of grief? Have I ever loved a blood relative enough to truly miss them?
It's not like I need the daily contact of other people to get by. I can go for weeks without leaving the house.
But family...surely there should a feeling of attachment there, a need for their presence, a sorrow at their absence?
The children of suicides spend their lives pre-abandoned. We know that our role in a family is to be less-than-nothing, more cost than benefit. If a child doesn't give a parent reason to live, a reason to celebrate family and carry the product of that love into the future, if a child can’t even give you the reason to look forward to another day, then what is the purpose of parenthood?
It's a swindle.
It's amazing that so many people fall for it. We live in an era of easy contraception, surrounded by ready alternatives to reproductive sex.
It’s never been easier not to have children.
But the lie of parenthood is crafty. Making a baby is more than just submitting to a biological imperative. People genuinely seem to desire offspring as much as sex. They go to great trouble and expense to overcome infertility or to adopt. Once they produce or acquire children, they take pictures of their happy moments, and pull these images out at every opportunity to parade their success in reproduction in front of friends and strangers. They paste these pictures on Facebook and hang in them in their houses like trophies.
"There we were! Look at us!"
And all I can think is, "Come on. You couldn't have prevented this?"
The children of suicides know that this is all part of the lie.
The biological imperative of parenthood worms its way through the twisted pathways of the brain and projects itself onto the world through behaviors that parents cannot control: rituals of caring and nurturing and supporting, changing diapers and cooking and installing child-safety-seats.
If parents ever recovered their senses, they'd cut this bullshit immediately. But these rituals and behaviors are so ingrained that society demands they go on. Laws are passed! It's dangerous to abandon your kids. You'll be a pariah. You'd better have a better excuse than I just didn't feel like doing it any more.
So some kill themselves. It’s the only way.
If you can't carry through with that, it's safer to embrace the lie and keep going through the motions of loving the damn kids.
Because of these social pressures, it's impossible to tell who really enjoys the bonds of family life, and who is just pretending.
Either way, the children of suicides see these pictures of families together, smiling around some dinner table, or at some sporting event, or fishing, or hiking, or at church, or performing in a play. The children of suicides know these images are just another manifestation of the same never-ending biological lie, expressing itself through hormonal imperative and the threat of social shame.
It’s hard for them to see family as anything warmer or more generous than a corporation.
The charter of the Parenthood Corporation is written in our genes.
It demands continual reinvestment, it grows for its own sake, in perpetuity (as all effective corporations do) while it buries the planet in waste. It pays dividends of overpopulation and environmental destruction disguised as familial bonds and warm feeling.
Mothers and fathers grin and eat that shit up.
Can it be true? Can someone really love another with enough force and honesty that that person's death would make them sick? Would devastate them?
What is this thing called grief?
By all accounts my father was a monster. He was too drunk on the day of my birth to drive my mother to the hospital. He took half her money in a divorce and never paid a penny of child support. I'm grateful that he took himself out of the picture before I could know him.
I've spent the rest of my life waiting for men in my family to leave - via the pickup truck or the grave. The women in my family are abysmal at selecting men, so once my father was gone, there was one surrogate after another to fulfill his dismal role.
I can’t really blame my mother. She's just repeating the pattern set down by her mother, who lost a philandering husband to cancer and then married an abusive replacement.
We seek out comfort in the familiar. For the women in my family, familiarity means suffering.
It also means the production of an occasional child. Without which, that suffering would end.
Do we really need more evidence that the whole institution of family life is a massive conspiracy against kindness and common sense?
When my abusive grandfather passed at last, no one wanted his ashes. It was me, the grandson he'd once threatened to shoot, who picked them up from the funeral home. When I held the cheap plastic box, I felt something bordering on sadness: confusion and fear about the unfamiliarity of life without his dark shadow looming over all.
He'd killed my grandmother ten years earlier, and at her death, I felt even less: mostly anger and disgust for allowing the man who had poisoned 50 years of her life to destroy her in the end.
His ashes are still in a cupboard because no one knows what to do with them.
Life's a long march to death. We're born and then we're expected to suck in air and cram food into our mouths for eighty-plus years. Life sustains itself by consuming life.
Have you seen the slaughterhouses that feed us? The bleak factories and devastating machines?
We're monsters. Every birth is a holocaust.
I wouldn't wish this struggle on another soul. The fact that we have the potential to create life, to conjure up entire new vessels for suffering - souls which, without our carelessness, would never exist: this is the greatest joke of all.
All we have to do to stop this cycle is to not fuck somebody without a condom on. Yet we keep going around fucking people without condoms on, and then we get married and smile and pretend to be happy about it: that's the grim punchline.
We laugh to keep ourselves from screaming.
How dare we create another long lifetime of sorrow in exchange for a sloppy moment of careless pleasure?
Is it any wonder that pretending to love the monsters who created us and the monsters we create is so exhausting?
What are these emotions that are meant to blind us, when damage comes to the chains that bind us?
A death in the family is not an occasion for sadness. It's a time of fear, maybe, and uncertainty: that dizzy sense of possibility a convict feels when he is cast loose into the world after a long captivity. It's a time to plan and re-assess and maybe even celebrate. It's a time for so much God-damn paperwork.
But grief? Save grief for when a child is born.
This is what my father helped me understand.
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