Why didn't I have children? Many of the obvious answers don’t apply. I had a partner. My own childhood was not at all abusive. (In fact, after doing a book about “women without children,” my sister is writing about things that our parents did remarkably right for their four offspring.) Though I’m sure I’d get tired of diapers and later of sometimes surly or silent teen--agers, I love kids. So why?
As it happens, I have a hereditary disease that I wouldn't want to pass along, but the condition didn't manifest until I was in my late 60s, long past the years when I considered having a child.
When young I told myself that I wanted to get established before starting a family, and I wanted my wife to have full career opportunities. I didn’t know that by the time she settled into her tenure-track job we’d have separated.
It was only a year after I finished college that some of us lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, but even before that close-call, I'd seen, as a child, an article in a picture magazine about what would be destroyed if a nuclear bomb were ever dropped over Times Square. Since my Dad’s office was only a few blocks away, the article made a deep impression.
I had a hard time discounting the danger of nuclear war for the same reason young Daniel Ellsberg, studying war policy at RAND, declined to open a retirement plan because he doubted he’d live that long. One of his colleagues at that “think tank” was Herman Kahn, author of On Thermonuclear War, who made a great impression on me as guest lecturer in a seminar run by Henry Kissinger. Later I wrote about his “darkly lambent wit.” He seemed to think that if you think about the unthinkable, it can become less awful.
Of course, we haven't had a nuclear war, so we can conclude that the concern was exaggerated. Except that just once, in the case of a full-scale nuclear exchange, would be one time too many . Nuclear devices are not “weapons” in the sense of a spear or a rifle or even the bombs in the London blitz. Ellsberg calls his 2017 book “the doomsday machine.”
It took me decades to understand that nobody has a right to a normal lifespan. Any of us might die prematurely in a car accident, or from some other cause. If you want to minimize unnecessary suffering, a nuclear blast is merciful as compared with the gradual but severe disruptive effects of climate change.
Recently some writers have begun to question whether it’s selfish to bring kids into a world that we may look back at as “the good old days.” Having studied some of the nuclear close-calls, I nonetheless don't now regard the possible sudden end of civilization as a good reason not to reproduce. I do worry about a slow strung-out end.
However, I think my own experience of not having kids had more to do with uncertainty about career and with leaving my first wife just before finding work as a book creation coach and writer. It’s hard to break a limb off the family tree