“No pets. No plants. No kids.” This was my mantra for the first 35 or so years of my life. I simply wanted no responsibility for any other living thing. Selfish? Sure, somewhat. I am an only child after all. But I also really believe if you are going to take on such responsibilities you must have a strong desire and a sincere commitment to do so; otherwise, you are doing a serious disservice to a child. Or a pet. Or a plant (well, maybe not so much a plant).
On plants, as someone who enjoys cooking, I relented on an herb garden. To that I could commit.
On kids, this was not an issue with my fist wife who likewise had no interest in becoming a parent. After divorce, I really expected my next serious relationship might involve children and I think I would have been ok with that. But as it turned out the second Mrs. Lewis, Kristine, the love of my life, came into the relationship “unencumbered” by children and equally uninterested in parenthood. Another only child. We got married on September 25 and that Halloween, less than six week after our nuptials, I had a vasectomy. Case closed on the kids front.
I have very few regrets about this decision. I will never shoot baskets or play catch or go to the driving range with a son. I will not experience any of those special father-son moments that I recall so fondly with my own dad. But emotionally I am completely fine with this. And practically, I enjoy our beach house and welcome the extra money in our retirement accounts rather than going to child care or a college fund.
On pets, well this is where it gets complicated. While true that Kristine came “unencumbered” by children, she did bring a pet into our relationship, PJ the Cat. I largely ignored PJ while we were dating and was occasionally amused by her antics, like running head first into a sliding door and concussing herself while trying to chase a bird.
When we moved in together, however, all three of us, my attitude began to change in ways I never imagined possible. For some perspective, when I told my parents Kristine and I were moving in together, the only question my father asked was “is the cat coming too?”
PJ was a very smart cat. And manipulative. She certainly manipulated me into loving her, laying in my lap and providing endless amusement and joy. Even in her declining years, as we administered various medications and I performed pet duties I never would have expected of myself - fatherly duties - our bond grew. When the time finally came for PJ to go to kitty heaven, she took it like a champ. I cried for two days. As a person who generally has a cold, unemotional heart, I didn’t know I could experience this type of sadness. Over a 10 pound ball of fur. My transformation into a pet lover was (nearly) complete.
At the same time, my wife and I were relieved that we now had, for the first time in our relationship, time completely to ourselves. We said “no more pets.”
But less than a year after losing PJ we found ourselves at the DC pet shelter on an August afternoon. Kristine insists this was all my doing. We thought a feisty kitten named “Jamin” by the shelter had chosen us. We slept on it and went back the next day to get our “Harper”. In a pure coincidence, we adopted her the same day the Washington Nationals signed phenom Bruce Harper to a contract. The name Harper, however, is a tribute to one of our favorite musicians, Ben Harper.
Harper is now four or five years old, tough to tell with a shelter cat. She has gone from a 4 ½ pound undernourished, flea-infested kitty who immediately jumped straight up onto the kitchen counter upon first entering our house into a 12-plus pound playful-but skittish “daddy’s girl.”
As Kristine says, PJ was the academic scholarship, Harper is the athletic scholarship. She may not be too bright but she jumps and gallops and catches balls and toy mice with two paws. She has no fear of bodily injury. We wrestle as I rub her belly and she head butts me, hard, to show her love.
I feed Harper, I clean her litter box, I play with her when I have the energy. Yet she is thus far only a “lap cat” for her mommy. We had a recent severe allergy episode where, at the vet’s recommendation we attempted to administer children’s Benadryl. This resulted in foaming at the mouth and other unpleasantness. We extracted her from the environment causing her allergies. In a few weeks she had fully recovered to her playful self.
I know with real, human children these episodes are more frequent and more intense. But I am Harper’s daddy and I take my parental responsibilities very seriously. Being a dad to PJ and now to Harper has opened up my heart in ways I did not think possible. Do I regret not having “real” children? No, but I am thankful to have discovered how much joy a 12 pound fur ball could offer.
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