One of those awkward childless moments

It never ends. I attended a high school alumni banquet with my 91-year-old father last week in San Jose. There are so few left in his class that now all classes that graduated from Campbell High School are invited to meet quarterly at the Elk’s Lodge. It was a mostly elderly crowd. Presumably the younger grads are at work on a Friday afternoon. Even the “kids” accompanying their parents were older than me, and I just turned 62. One younger guy sat at our table, so cute, so nice. If he were single . . .

Anyway, the man sitting next to my dad, Al, only 89, was so sweet and upbeat, despite being in a wheelchair with his hands so gnarled he could barely eat. My father was born on Al’s father’s ranch. These guys have known each other all their lives. It was a pleasant afternoon with corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day, a raffle in which nearly everyone at our table won prizes, and great conversations. But–here it comes, my childless friends.

Dad and I were standing, getting ready to leave, when Al said to me, “I’ll bet he (Dad) spoils your kids rotten.” Maybe I should have just said, “Sure does!” but I didn’t. I told the truth. “I never had any kids. It just didn’t happen for me.” This father, grandfather and great-grandfather looked frustrated for a second, as if he didn’t know what to say, then said, “He spoils your brother’s kids though, doesn’t he?” The truthful answer is “No, he’s not that kind of grandpa.” But I had blown his mind enough. “Yeah,” I said and quickly asked about his own grandkids.

Al was just being nice, assuming the daughter in the good-girl outfit was a mom and that her father was a typical grandfather. Everybody has children, don’t they? No. We know they don’t, but it always seems to be a surprise when someone says, “No, I don’t have any kids.”

Al didn’t ask why and it was the wrong place to go into the details, but I felt almost like I was being rude to not go along with the program. Know what I mean? Has this happened to you? Please share.

4 thoughts on “One of those awkward childless moments

  1. So it never ends? This is what you're telling us, Sue. lol. How awkward. I'm sure the only reason you were inclined to “go with the program” was the age of Al and the desire to meet his intended kindness with kindness.I used to work out of my home office and would meet clients in the evening hours. Many times people would say, “Is 7:00 too late? I don't want to interrupt your kids’ bedtime routine.” Oddly though, this insulted me on a professional level. The assumption that I couldn't juggle my career with my personal life.My husband’s family is large and they all have children. Many times at a party when friends of my in-laws are present, I will be enjoying a nice cold beverage and someone will say, “So how old are your children?” Ummmmm, thanks for assuming I have MULTIPLE children. If I was a single-child family I'd be feeling like a failure right now. Good thing I have NONE.I design cute party invites and many times people will say, “oh I bet you do the cutest things for your kids.” Bam! Wrong!I never feel inclined to “go with the program” because in all these cases it would invite extra questions and creative lying. Then I'd look pathetic instead of polite. If I was in your specific situation I might have substituted my dogs for the kids that Al expected me to have and sure said, “Sure Al”. It's like the time someone complimented my dad on one of my achievements and said something to the effect of, “I'll bet your other children are employed in wonderful works?” My sister lives in a nearby state and has visited maybe three times in the last ten years. She does not live a reputable life, but dad replied, “Oh they sure keep themselves busy.” Sort of a different situation but still.Anon S


  2. Oh yes, people assume things, especially that we have children, definitely more than one. They also assume that grandparents dote on their grandchildren, which is so not true in my father's case. He does love my dog though. Hmm.Yes, going with the program always ends badly. Years ago, when I wrote articles about kids and babies, I sometimes let interviewees think I had children, but eventually there would come a question that I just couldn't fake the answer to without lying. And I'd have to confess, as if I had done something wrong by not having children. Maybe if enough of us tell the truth without shame, folks will get the message that there are lots of different kinds of families, and they're all valid.


  3. I agree. I recently had contact with a relative on my mother’s side after 20 or do years. A second cousin who is 70 years of age and estranged from my mother and her sister. I spoke with her for the first time since I was a child (I am 45). The cousin and I are trying to arrange to meet up and when we were attempting to work out dates over the telephone to discuss a family issue, my cousin says I am sure you are a really busy mother. . . I go silent, then I say I don't have children, we were unable to. The cousin then goes into a great discussion about how her daughter has four children and her son has two children and how wonderful they are. I want to say I don't remember this discussion being about your children and your grandchildren, but as always I remain courteous and polite. People just assume because you are of a certain age you have kids. I went out to dinner with my friend before Christmas. It was supposed to be the two of us, but surprise, she brings her latest boyfriend along. I call him Threes a Crowd. Three’s a Crowd says at dinner: so, Cheryl, who is looking after your kids tonight? I want to tell him how dare you assume… But of course I am too polite and say my husband and I were not lucky enough to have children. My friend and her boyfriend then tell me all about his children from two marriages and his child support woes, her upcoming daughter’s wedding, their wonderful Christmas coming up with their children. . . I wanted to tell them that the evening wasn't all about their children or them, but it was and course they were oblivious to the discussion and I politely listened as you do to the only topic that was discussed because, as always, those with children do not know how to hold a normal conversation with those of us who inform them that we don't. But absolutely I agree with you, Sue, we need to tell the truth about not having children and that all families are just as valid as those with children!


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