I’m a man in my 50s, mourning never having children. Is it too late?
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I’m a straight white man in my 50s. I had a big relationship end badly several years ago. And basically, I haven’t been on a date since. After all this time, I don’t know if I’m even capable of doing BIG COMMITMENT. Still, for a long time, I assumed I’d eventually become a father.
But I’m now in my 50s, and due to, you know, general vicissitudes, things have not worked out that way. I have more than my share of awesome friends. But if I’m honest, there’s an unspoken — even to myself — sense of grief about the children I never will have. It’s so vast, I mostly avoid it completely, but it lurks in the background when I enjoy the happiness of my friends and their lovable kids.
I have no idea how to process this grief. I like to think that I’d have been a really good partner and parent. Instead, I’m in this alternate universe, where my family doesn’t exist. I wouldn’t go seeking someone to jam into my own expectations and desires, but I’m starting to need a new way to think about this and find peace.
Dear Mr. Not Dad,
This is an interesting question, because this sort of regret, at least in terms of societal standards, is usually borne much more heavily by women. Instead, you are expressing real, deep sadness over not being able to have kids and not having a “BIG COMMITMENT” relationship.
Many of us have shared this yearning at some point in our lives. That feeling of “how will this happen? When will this happen? What will it feel like?” Your letter makes it clear you feel like the door has closed, not just on potential parenthood, but on potential partnership. It’s heartbreaking.
Your query reminds us of the Biblical story of Abraham and Sarah. In this case, you are the Sarah, depressed about the probability that parenthood is not going to happen. For Sarah, to be fair, this was a safe assumption, as she was 90 when God let her know that actually she and Abe might want to prepare the nursery. And Sarah responded with the Biblical equivalent of “LOL” — she named her son Yitzhak (Isaac), Hebrew for laughter.
The Sarah story is basically about how you never know. It reminds us to stay open to possibilities. There are opportunities to create, if not a family, a family facsimile. It’s legitimate to grieve the fact that a traditional situation did not happen, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that other doors, less-traditional doors, do not remain open.
You say in the letter, and rightly, “I can’t just force someone to accommodate my needs.” We think you mean, in regard to potential dating partners, “I wouldn’t go seeking someone to jam into my own expectations and desires.” But remember: there are lots of women with kids who want to date dudes who want kids. It’s not weird. It’s not like you’re saying she also has to be a live-action-role-player who is vegan. It’s a pretty big category.
There’s a difference between feeling worried about the way your life is going and worried about the way your life has gone. This isn’t necessarily a dead end. You’re going to have to do some processing to acknowledge and accept the possibility of alternative family and arrangements and what that might mean and what that might look like.
Are there doors that you have wedged a chair up against? Can you take that chair out from under the door knob and open that door a crack?
We want you to open it, to think about all the ways to have children, to be a family, these days. We think you will be a great dad in some way or form, whatever that means in 2021 — we want it for you. We think you can have it if you want to go get it.
To hear more of our advice to Mr. Not Dad, download the first episode of “A Bintel Brief: The Jewish advice podcast” here or on any podcast platform. Send your dilemmas about Jewish-American life, identity, culture, politics or your personal hopes and dreams to [email protected], or leave a voicemail at (201-) 540-9728.