A study says childless men can be just as broody as women, and it's true
When I was a teenager and my parents wanted to stop me doing something, they’d always come out with the same thing. “You’ll have to make these decisions when you’re a parent,” they would say. “It’s not easy. You’ll realise that when you have children of your own.”
I’m 53 now and I’m not a father. I never will be. I am happily married – to my second wife – and we have no children. It’s not that we didn’t want any; since my mid-thirties, I have been broody, desperate for the kids that I watched my friends and colleagues having over the years. I always assumed it would happen. But, for me, it was never the right time.
The study reported in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, which found that childless men can be just as broody as women – and, indeed, are more prone to feeling depressed and angry about not having kids – was part of my PhD research project at Keele University. For it, I interviewed men who, like me, long to be fathers and have felt utterly devastated when it hasn’t come to pass.
I married my first wife when I was 26; she was five years younger. We got engaged within six months and married shortly afterwards. We bought a three-bedroom house in Rochdale, outside Manchester, and started trying for kids. At the time, I remember thinking: “I’m going to be a father. I’m going to have to provide for my child.” So I went into overdrive at work – I was a technician at Manchester University – to try to get a promotion. Four years passed, we never had children and eventually the marriage failed.
Afterwards, I was stuck with the house, rattling around on my own. It was a macho thing – I can survive, I thought, I can do this. In reality, it was all a bit sad. Meanwhile, all my peers were getting married and having children – having a life, I suppose. When I was 35, I got into a relationship with a great woman. At one point, she said: “I’d like to have children with you.” I was so ready then. I yearned for a son or daughter. But, sadly, we split up soon afterwards.
It was around this time that I started to feel envious of men who had children. There was a guy I’d been to school with who worked in the same building as me and he had a baby when he was in his late twenties. I remember being intensely jealous of him. I told him: “I want what you’ve got. You have the life that I should have.”
At 37, I met my wife. She is a few years older than me, and when things started to get serious, we had the chat about kids. She told me she was past wanting children – she had once been broody, but not any more. It was then that I had to make a choice. Did I leave her and try to find another woman who might want to get pregnant? Or did I stay in this relationship with this wonderful woman, and sacrifice my hope of having children? My mind was made up.
I am happy with my decision, but there are regrets. On the street where we live, there are some young girls who ride up and down on their bikes. My wife and I love hearing them out and about. They have birthday parties, and other parents in the neighbourhood are invited – but we aren’t. I completely understand; they’re nice people and they probably think we wouldn’t be interested – all that noise and hectic running around and fizzy drinks. But the truth is we’d love to be there.
Children are a bridge to a social life – to school gates and clubs and activities – that we are not a part of. As I get older, being a grandparent has crossed my mind, too. That is something I will never experience. It hits me at certain times of the year. I would have loved to have gone to a nice Nativity play. I would be such a doting father; I’d be in tears before I even got to the school car park.
There is a stigma around men who don’t have children. We don’t talk about it. Women are nurturing and kind; men are the stoic ones. You don’t want to be seen as a big softie for admitting you’re broody. In reality, a lot of hurt comes from the unfulfilled desire to be a dad. There’s an African saying: “You’re not a man unless you’re a father.” In the past, I’ve certainly felt that. I’ve felt like I’ve failed; like having children was the one thing I was predisposed to do – and I didn’t do it. Now, all I can do is adapt.
People say there are advantages to not having children – you have a bit more money and freedom. You can form other relationships, keep yourself busy and try to come to terms with it. Still, nothing can fill that gap. Nothing makes up for not being a dad.
As originally seen on Telegraph.co.uk