My dad is one of thirteen kids. He has six brothers and six sisters. Each of my aunts and uncles has at least one child. Some of them have more more than ten each. That means I have 64-or-so first cousins on just my dad’s side of the family. Many of those cousins have children, and one is a grandfather (damn!)
When I was growing up, I was accustomed to having large family gatherings. It never occurred to me that this wasn’t normal. As years went by, the family grew larger and larger. Now, when we get together, everyone must wear name tags to keep things straight. In fact, we started assigning color-coded t-shirts to each family clan. It can only get worse.
The irritating thing about coming from an obscenely large, Roman Catholic family is that having a butt-load of kids is part of some covenant between each able-bodied adult and God. The bizarre exception to this mandate is becoming a nun or priest. And in that case, you must remain celibate. (For the love of God, what sense does that make?!)
Therefore, the ovo-centric powerhouse of my family’s baby-making tour de force, my dad’s six sisters and their numerous offspring, and to a lesser extent, the women married to my dad’s brothers, have managed to put otherwise fertile couples to shame. Having just two or three children means you’re not trying hard enough. So, imagine the disapproval I see in their eyes.
My wife and I will never have children of our own. Even if we adopt – and my parents have assured me they will love their grandchildren no matter what – it cannot make up for the fact that, as a willing participant in the progeny-o-matic of my family, I am a complete failure.
To be fair to myself, I am in no way a failure. It is by a string of stupid quirks of fate that the universe destined for us not to have children, and I don’t feel shame for that. I am a little sad that it could not happen for us, but I certainly do not hold myself up against the potential nation-making ability of the others. Sometimes, I imagine what kind of father I would have been, and it scares me to think about the immeasurable harm I might have inflicted on my hypothetical kids.
The big family is a blessing. Some of my fondest memories are from summers at my grandparents’ house with my cousins and a few of my younger aunts and uncles before they went on their mission to prevent human extinction. Those times were precious. We still keep in touch, the ones closer to my age. And now they all have kids. And when I visit them now, I see how they look at me. It’s a combination of envy and pity.
I understand the envy. My wife and I travel more than people with kids. We can watch movies with any amount of violence and foul language (read: “Deadwood”). We can go out on a Tuesday night. We’re not saving for college. We can take a vacation during the off season when rates are low. There’s no daycare. No soccer practice. No ear infections. And no boyfriends.
Having said all this, I still can’t help feeling a little inadequate when I see my cousins showing off their beautiful children on Facebook. Hell, I’d do that same thing, but mine would have had hair, wearing Star Wars costumes. Like I said, my kids would be screwed up.