We conservatives find it odd that so many young Americans don’t want children for environmental reasons. But the problem runs much deeper than misplaced activism—the desire for a barren future changes who we are as citizens and diminishes our capacity to renew the blessings of our civilization.
This will be my first Father’s Day without my Dad. He passed away a few months ago.
My older brother and I were there in the end.
We witnessed him die in utter agony – hooked up to machines, his hands tied down like he was a prisoner, gasping for oxygen. The last images I have of my father are more than upsetting. They are haunting. Gruesome. Ghastly. No child should ever have to witness a parent leave the world in the midst of such macabre misery.
Only seventy-eight days earlier I received a phone call from him telling me his doctor had discovered a mass on the right frontal lobe of his brain. He was terrified. Soon afterwards, it was confirmed it had spread from his already-weak lungs.
If I’m being honest, I didn’t expect him to weaken so fast. He didn’t take his medicine. He didn’t eat what the doctors told him to eat. He didn’t sleep. He wasn’t the spiritual titan of strength I hoped he would be. Instead, as the cancer ravaged him, he raged at God. “God has abandoned me,” he screamed. I was nonplussed. He became endlessly irritable with his children. He was always stubborn, but in the midst of decline, he became a tyrant.
I hope to never know just how much my father suffered in his last days. But I can only imagine it would have been far worse if he had died alone, alienated from the love of his children, mired in the lonely infinity of the darkness. I have gone back and read my final text to him countless times, saying the things that needed to be said, even if he had heard the same sentiment a million times before. By the end, he was so feeble all he could do was respond with a heart emoji. It was his last communication with me.
Which brings me to a column in the New York Times by Ezra Klein entitled, “Your Kids Are Not Doomed.” While Klein’s politics are not my politics – and certainly not the politics of Daily Wire readers – he is, without question, one of the most gifted podcasters in the country. He is always thoughtful, always respectful, always attempting to truly understand different perspectives on different issues, even if his guests do not share his progressive views. And in this particular column, Klein gives voice to a world-view that is more mainstream and generationally palatable than most conservatives truly appreciate.
He begins the column by writing about a personal experience that left many conservative readers somewhere betwixt revulsion and confusion:
“Over the past few years, I’ve been asked one question more than any other. It comes up at speeches, at dinners, in conversation. It’s the most popular query when I open my podcast to suggestions, time and again. It comes in two forms. The first: Should I have kids, given the climate crisis they will face? The second: Should I have kids, knowing they will contribute to the climate crisis the world faces?”
It isn’t fringe or cosmopolitan wokeness or university lunacy Klein is describing in his column. The retreat from parenthood in young Americans is a real phenomenon, one with significant implications for the future of Western Civilization itself. Point in fact, birth rates in the United States have dropped a colossal 20% since 2007.
I am deeply skeptical, however, that Americans in their 20’s and 30’s are abstaining from parenthood simply because they are environmental puritans. They might say, as some do, that “having children is one of the worst things you can do for the planet.” My view, which I have written about extensively, is that declining birthrates are actually symptoms of a much more potent and malignant cultural cancer, a metastasizing monomania on the part of young people in which they resist any and all attachments. And not just parenting, but marriage, friendship, political party affiliation, home ownership – because these attachments are viewed as encroachments on a boundless sense of individual autonomy.
That said, the reason for declining levels of parenthood is actually beside the point.
My specific worry is about the type of civilization that emerges when a majority of its citizens have no biological connection to the future. Of course, childless citizens make meaningful contributions and millions do every day. But broadly speaking, becoming a mother or father changes a person in a deep and soulful way. It ties you to the past and obligates you to the future. It transforms you into a citizen whose eyes are not only on the moment, but on distant horizons. It changes one’s calculus, one’s policy preferences, one’s outlook on what’s wise or rash.
But most of all, it is a profound motivation to conserve what is right and good in a country.
Becoming a parent evokes an inner transformation. It is difficult to describe to students and children just what it means to soulfully love a child in this world, to be present at her birth, to harbor grand hopes for her life, to be utterly tormented by the crucible of bad decisions—for both parent and child alike. The emotional mote separating young, individualistic and childless Americans today from their elders who have experienced both the nadir of parental anguish and the apex of parental delight, is impossible to bridge. And none of it bodes well for our society.
When a civilization no longer believes in renewing itself, willfully deciding instead to take part in a form of civic suicide, it speaks to a deeper ailment of the collective soul, a penetrating malaise in the culture and country embodying itself in countless forms of self-loathing and flagellation.
Having children is not just about providing a society with future tax payers. It is also a statement about the nature of the human condition – life is a gift and littered with possibilities of genuine joy. It is also an act of faith about the blessings of the society we and our ancestors sacrificed to build.
My father believed education was the key to both a good life and a good nation. He spent his life in the classroom cultivating the talents and capacities of other peoples’ children because he believed the country they lived in would reward the virtues he preached – hard work, kindness, rugged determination, and above all else, an endless curiosity about the world.
My father was right: life is good. Faith is justified. And America is a blessing to us all. I just hope there are enough future citizens to recognize it.
Jeremy S. Adams is the author of the recently-released Amazon best-selling book Hollowed Out: A Warning About America’s Next Generation. He has taught American civics for 24 years in Bakersfield, California and was the 2014 California Teacher of the Year (DAR). You can follow him on Twitter @JeremyAdams6.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.