The Accidental Child-Free Man

Declan Fitzsimons is my hero. His piece in The Guardian this Saturday was a fresh voice in the world of being child-free. It made it a male thing as well as a female thing; it countered the prevailing notion that men aren’t interested in children; that not having children when you inherently want them is not just a woman’s issue.

There is a prevailing notion in the world of being child-free that women are at a bigger disadvantage than men when it comes to the biological clock deadline. There’s no denying that, as Declan admits: he can still have children and he’s 52. However, as he rightly points out, that doesn’t prevent men from feeling a longing for something they haven’t got. Perhaps in some way it is more torturous to know you could have something that you don’t. To feel every day you’re failing to attain something achievable. And while the potential to have children remains, the possibility of meeting a woman who both wants and is able to have children becomes more slight with each passing day; the possibility of being an energetic father does too. There are still drawbacks post forty for men too. It’s not worse nor better. Just different. And it’s different as a result of our core biological distinctions: the ones that aren’t ever going away, no matter how equal we one day become, without some serious and scary scientific advances.

“What’s more, it was a bridge between men and women.”

What’s most refreshing about the post is the honest, raw emotion present within it. His appreciation of children’s curiosity ‘their cheeks the lustre of rose petals’; his intense regret over past mistakes ‘I can’t help but replay moments in my life that I wish could have turned out differently. These are so painful’; the way he conveys the joys of fatherhood ‘what a joy that would be, to see in our child’s face, our love; to bring into this world a beautiful child that was of us’; the constant sense of longing ‘just because theoretically I still could doesn’t mean I don’t feel the loss of all those could-have-beens’; and his self-awareness of his inherent desire ‘I feel I am made to be a father’. In a world where male suicide is a major concern; where emotions and feelings are shunned as been a sign of emasculation, it was really beautiful to read this. What’s more, it was a bridge between men and women. These emotions are not gender-specific: they’re just human.

When he said, ‘I am not a real member of society’, I felt a certain trepidation with this that borders with the continual childfree debate primarily being held amongst women. As we battle towards the idea of society accepting childfree adults as just another norm, it is easy to feel like you’re missing out on certain aspects of the life game. Just a year ago, I would have laughed at this idea because actually parents miss out on many aspects of society too. From my perspective, they weren’t real members either. However, as I’ve gotten older, as I’ve attended wedding after wedding and watched pregnancy after pregnancy in the people around me, I realise that this is part of the feeling of being childfree: you cannot experience or be a part of many aspects of life the majority are participating in. And it’s the word majority that’s key there. To experience that separation as a minority knowing you can’t have children must be exceedingly difficult. Even when you’ve chosen it, it is easy to second guess yourself and question what you’re missing out on.

For those who inherently don’t want children, this is simply something to contextualise occasionally. It’s something that can be made easier by forming a community of like-minded people. For those who do want children, it must be a constant struggle to manage the sense of longing and the feeling that you’re missing out on a huge part of who you are.

Declan surprises me most with his admission that without children, ‘in some ways I don’t feel fully like a man.’ To many men, being a father is not directly linked with masculinity. In fact, in many ways it’s quite the opposite. Our society’s connotations of masculinity do not often involve the image of a man swinging a child around, or changing a nappy, pushing a pram, or cleaning a face. But to Declan it is. His refreshing concept of being a man is entirely personal to him: he is not measuring his masculinity against society’s; he’s measuring it against his own parameters of what he wants. For him, being a man, is feeling complete within himself. This is something I believe we could all benefit from and how I’d like to measure my own version of femininity; my own perception of what a woman should be, based on my own desires and parameters. No-one else’s. The corporations and marketing folks at Maybelline won’t like it one bit.

Here’s to more men like Declan!  Let’s help make him the norm and not the exception!


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