WHY I KEEP HAVING CHILDREN
A week ago today, with four little children looking on and my wife’s abdomen exposed in the darkened room, the sonographer pushed buttons and tapped the screen, taking measurements and searching for defects.
Little Robbie, my 4-year-old, narrated.
He pointed out the skull and the jaw, the spine and the ribs, the arms and the legs.
And the part that meant he was having a baby brother.
Another baby brother.
In January, my ninth child will be born.
I have four who are older – 27, 25, 22 and 19 – and four who are younger – 7, 5, 4 and 16 months. There are four girls and four boys, and in January there will be another boy.
I am 53.
And I think I should explain myself.
Not that I have regrets or second thoughts, but because I am aware that most in this culture in this day would see my choices as out of the ordinary. Few have this many children. Few have children this late in life.
I’d like to explain why I have made the choices I have made.
Fundamentally, I am a product of my culture and my faith. Though I am not a good representative of either, and have often failed both, more often than not the key to understanding me is knowing where I came from and what I believe.
I was born poor white trash in the Southern Tier of New York – on the northern edge of Appalachia. I grew up in a small town in a rural area, in a family of very limited means.
Children are a poor man’s treasure, and I have grasped that fact from childhood on. In the classrooms of today, it is taught that farmers used to have large families in order to provide themselves with free labor. I’ve always found that an offensive and wrongheaded view. It presumes that our progenitors were beasts who lacked our sensitivities and sentimentalities. I don’t believe that is the case. I believe those parents loved their children as much as we love ours, and had large families because they saw each child not as a laborer, but as a gift from God.
My mother was one of seven children, and similarly sized broods dot our family tree. In my school, many of the families that impressed me the most had several children strewn across the grades.
Simply put, I grew up around fairly good-sized families, and I am descended from fairly good-sized families.
And I joined a church that, in my formative years, preached big families.
Again, I am a failed religionist, and have done extraordinarily poorly at walking the Christian walk, and it would be a great mistake to think that I represent even remotely any church, but the bottom line on family size, for me, is faith.
I believe that the Lord commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, and I don’t believe he ever repealed that commandment. I believe that up in heaven there are plenty of spirits waiting to be born and that one of the moral duties of us down here is to provide bodies for them, so that they may follow us to this journey of mortality.
I believe that one of our privileges and responsibilities in life, if we have the opportunity and physical capacity to do so, is to bring children into the world. I believe that avoiding that responsibility, or unduly limiting it, is a sin.
Again, I’m the biggest sinner walking the earth, and will undoubtedly go to hell, but I’m telling you what I believe.
Cultural practice in my church has changed substantially over the course of my life. We still tend to have larger families than the rest of America, but the average size is falling quickly and approaching the societal norm. Nonetheless, it is still part of my personal faith that God wants us to have large families.
But even if there is no God, nature still commands us to fertility.
As I see it, there are only two plausible explanations for the presence and diversity of life on earth. Either God made it – as I believe – or it evolved through natural processes, best described by Charles Darwin. Nobody else has a competing theory.
As I understand Darwinism, evolution and natural selection, the entire purpose and drive of life is to reproduce and pass on DNA. The more the better.
So I’m good either way.
And so are society and the earth. Some argue that overpopulation threatens the earth, that it endangers the environment and wastes resources.
I don’t believe that. People are not a curse on the earth, they are the purpose of the earth. The birth of a child is not a problem, it is a solution. Each new life brings with it limitless potential for good. I believe my children – like all children – make a contribution, and will leave society better by their presence. Thus far, I have raised a missionary and a soldier, and others who are friends to strangers and helpers to the afflicted. I believe their presence on earth is a good and worthwhile thing.
Culture and faith are the background.
But the foreground is my own experience in life, and the incredible joy being a parent has brought me.
Sure, there is sorrow, and tears. There are disappointments, labors, struggles and reversals, and economic privations.
But none of them – nor all of them together – come anywhere near overshadowing the pure, overwhelming joy inherent in being a parent.
I think I crave love, and children are love. I love each one of my children so completely and intensely that, inexplicably, it feels as if each one of them individually is the center of my life. They are my heroes and my inspirations, the smartest, wisest and best-hearted people I know. They occupy my idle thoughts and aspirations. I am amazed that I know them, much less am related to them. They are, simply, the very best thing in life.
That’s how I see it.
I often say I have the younger children because of the older children, and that I had my second child because of my first child. Being a parent has left me feeling, “I want more of that.”
That, of course, is a selfish perspective, in that it reflects only my thinking and desire. What of the children? How can they expect to make out in this deal?
I do not claim to be a good father. Realistically, I am probably just the opposite. I am often busy, distracted, and I sometimes have great difficulty feeling and expressing emotion. I am often incredibly dense and unaware. The list of my parental failings is long, and may well damn me.
But I have always felt that my life was worth living, and I have been grateful I was born, and I figure my children would feel the same. What I may lack as a father, I hope, will be more than recompensed by their enjoyment of life.
As I have looked at the likely course of my life, and my probable ration of years, I have felt that I would like to spend most of my life being a parent, and raising kids.
I remarried several years ago, to a younger woman, and we have had children. I recognize, obviously, that I am older than most fathers of young children.
But I figure that I can keep working till I’m 75, and this new little boy will probably graduate from college when I am 75.
And that seems, to me, to be a pretty good way to use life.
And this being a free country, that’s the way I have decided to use my life.
So, yes, I am 53, and my ninth child is due in January, and I will probably have kids at home for the rest of my life. I hope I have been able to explain why.
Perhaps the bottom line is this: I am thankful for each of my children, and I am amazed that God would so richly bless me.
- by Bob Lonsberry © 2012