Joel is an author, screenwriter, and producer. He has developed projects for TNT, CBS, Warner Brothers, FOX, Ovation Network, and more.
When Friends and Family Say, “You’d Make Such a Great Dad,” You Begin to Believe It
I had an amazing father, Richard Eisenberg, who passed away over seven years ago. Based in part on his example, I longed to be a father from an early age. Thing is, I did not meet the woman who would become my significant other until my 36th birthday, on January 14, 2000. She was 43 at the time. We considered ourselves “late-bloomers,” and her life goals were the same as mine.
We married the following year and were unable to conceive naturally, a result we had anticipated. Two egg donor procedures followed, neither of which were successful. Ditto other fertility treatments. We tried adoption, and also had rotten luck.
The fates, it seemed, were against us.
The bottom line is I love my wife. We made a mutual decision to remain together, despite the heartache of our efforts to become parents. Actually, there was no decision to speak of. Our love carried and continues to do so. As for me, I’d sooner cut off my limbs than to ever lose her.
So life would go on. Maybe I will follow this hub with one on childless couples; however, for now, I wish to speak honestly and openly to the men out there.
Guys, I read comic books. I watch WWE. I travel frequently and am possessed of oversized senses of joy and wonder. My inner child is alive and kicking; for many years I was told I “would make such a great dad“ due to my predilections and my personal sensitivities.
I am just unable to share such affectations with a child of my own, is all.
Today, I am 54 years old. My wife is 61. I still believe I am a natural father. It runs in the family.
This is where I may be able to help those of you in my position.
A Boy Becomes a Man
We will not talk about puberty here. Mine wasn’t all that pretty, and is none of your business anyway. No. My definition of “becoming a man” has everything to do with the transition of a boy’s chronic need for instant gratification, to his maturing needs as a goal-oriented adult. Those needs, for most, include sex, meeting a life partner, and raising a family.
Responsibly so. Bills are anathema to relaxation, though who among us would have it any other way if those other milestones have been met?
I’ll run the gamut from here. Men, please let me know if you can relate.
My dad and I used to build Aurora monster models. Every night was bonding night, and regardless of how tired he was, the models beckoned. Once we completed the Aurora models, we went on to military mock-ups - helicopters, battleships and the like.
We never ran out of material to work on together. I was not a sportsman - neither was he - and though there was no football tossing between us, we made our time and had our fun.
Memories from that period still bring a tear to my eye.
When I was a teen, I began looking forward to raising a family of my own. I wanted three, like my parents. Any combination of boys and girls would work. My parents never had a girl; I decided I wanted at least one to make up for the oversight.
I longed to build models and do other fatherly things with my child. What was once a need was fast becoming an obsession. I wanted a family more than anything.
My difficulty, however, arose when the goal of building a family proved more and more elusive because I couldn’t meet a woman who I wanted to be the mother of my child.
Okay. Maybe I just couldn’t meet a woman, but let’s not split hairs. Eventually, I overcame that minor obstacle.
The next hurdle was the one that proved insurmountable. Something that, it seemed to me, everyone else took for granted ... was not going to happen.
I alluded to various fertility treatments earlier. The results were heartbreaking, for the both of us. My wife used to say, “Why do good people with such big hearts have to go through this?”
It remains a good question.
We tried to adopt. I strongly believe in adoption, but our experience in that realm was equally difficult. We were older; most of our prospects were looking for younger couples. But we kept moving forward.
Eventually, my wife and I were finally approved to be parents. We drove from Los Angeles to Utah to meet an expectant husband and wife. We signed the requisite initial paperwork, and we believed all was well. When we returned to Los Angeles, we waited to hear from our adoption attorney that the rest of the paperwork was ready for our countersignature.
We had not heard back from him, so we called. The attorney had been trying to reach the couple himself, to no avail. We discovered, nearly a year later, what had happened.
Unbeknownst to any of us, the husband made a deal with his father, a wealthy man who was part-owner of one of Los Angeles’ top talent agencies. The father promised his son a substantial monthly payment if they put the child up for adoption. The father believed that the couple were not yet equipped to financially handle the responsibility.
The husband, though, did not want to give up the baby. The wife did. The husband orchestrated a plan to accept his father’s money, for the six months prior to the new child being born. Once the baby was born, the husband would say something to his father about the opportunity “not working out.”
How did our attorney find this out? The father called him, asking if he had heard from his son. The father explained the situation, and we were called by the attorney. The next week, we received a followup call. The husband reached his father, and told him his wife was leaving. He said he needed help, as his wife threatened to fight him for custody of their newborn child.
That was the end of it. We’ve heard nothing since.
Not only did I have to accept that difficult fact on the heels of such a tough ending to our fertility treatments, but more importantly the woman I loved was devastated. The woman who knew from the beginning how much fatherhood had meant to me, who had reluctantly warned me about her age during an early heart-to-heart - while letting me know she was fully aligned with my goals and had only waited until she met the “right guy” - suddenly needed me in a whole other way.
And I needed her more.
Why Being Childless is so Difficult for a Man, and How to Productively Move Forward
My two brothers raised beautiful families of their own, and I am very close with my niece and my nephews. My wife’s two sisters have families of their own.
Have you been there? Are you there now? Does it hurt? Are you resentful? Why?
Life is not something to be taken for granted. A man has as much of an innate need to become a father, as a childless woman has to become a mother. There were times when it was difficult for me to see a family walking the street, or featured in a movie. Or written about in a book.
Woe was me. Been there?
Parenthood is about more than sharing hobbies. It’s about raising the next generation of family. It’s about keeping the family name alive. It’s about love.
It’s also about societal expectations and owning your manhood. No, really. Though it truly does not matter what others think, a man feels the pressure. A woman does as well, of course, but I can speak only from experience.
I learned some important lessons along the way: 1) My manhood is not defined by my lack of a child. 2) My ability to be a productive man is not defined by my lack of a child. 3) Resuming my life did happen. 4) My love for my wife never abated.
Most importantly, my wife is my everything. We have a beautiful relationship. We stayed together, and I was never tempted to stray towards someone younger. Yes, there were times when I wanted to visit my local sperm bank and make daily donations to hedge my bets ... but thoughts of that nature tended to quickly dissipate.
Together, my wife and I adopted a four-legged hairy daughter that we named “KOKO” (our boxer-pit mix and true double-knockout). We love her. She’s become our child. We share a business, and we are happy.
The best piece of advice I can impart to my male brethren is this: Be thankful for what you do have, as opposed to what you do not. You will settle in. Your goals will shift over your lifetime, and you will develop new motivations.
Accept yourself for who you are, not who you believe you could have, or should have, become.
Thanks for reading.
Camille Harris from SF Bay Area on May 13, 2018:
Thank you for sharing your intensely personal, but highly relatable, story. I've wrestled with the will she/won't she question for years, and as I start to confront my own aging, I'll soon have to face the final decision: will I have a child or not? Anyone who knows me knows the answer is no, but that's not to say it's been an easy choice. You'll never understand what you'll miss by not having children, but you'll also have more choices without them. Solidarity, my fellow child-free author.