I posed this question three years ago, when I was still flighty enough in my destinations and relationships that it seemed a comfortably far off prospect. It wasn't something I planned to deal with for a long time, it was mainly a random topic to keep my blog going between more interesting countries since I wasn't doing much in Singapore apart from browsing library shelves and food court windows.
These days it's less hypothetical, and while still comfortably in the future, the window is narrowing since my child-adoring girlfriend essentially set the deadline of her 30th birthday as her final chance to become a mother, as that's apparently the moment when the female body becomes a shrivelled, desolate husk and the ones who didn't make the time for children amid their various other life commitments are resigned to live out their pointless lives in a shack surrounded by stray cats that pretend to comfort them, but are really just biding their time until the old crone's too weak to fight off their hungry advances any more. That's the gist I got from what she said, anyway. She's nearly 27.
Having kids (or at least a kid) is important to her, especially as her nieces are growing at an upsetting rate and will achieve teenager proportions any decade now, so unless any of her other brothers and sisters decide they want to add to the family's perpetual financial crisis with a litter of their own to satisfy her gigil, she'll have to produce one herself. And apparently, that somehow involves me.
What do I want in life?
It will be mine. Oh yes, it will be mine
I didn't have any clear life goals until recently. That can happen when you pretty much achieve your modest ambitions by 25 - getting paid to do writing, however corporate and spiritually unfulfilling, and realising there are nice girls who like you, even if you're not ready to settle down with one and need to drop off the map for an uncertain amount of time first.
I was never saving my money for anything in particular, which is why I paid off outstanding debts like my student loan as soon as I possibly could and felt at liberty to 'loan' money to people in need (or lying thieves, the jury's still out) as I couldn't conceive of needing it for a house, retirement or medical bills any time soon. But as contented as I am with my ridiculous job that pays me too much to lie on the bed and type minimal word counts while getting ever more acquainted with the obscure recesses of David Bowie's discography in the background, I don't want to do it forever.
I only realised a few months ago that what I'd really like to do is retire early. As early as 40, if that's really possible (or 41 if it turns out those people are never going to pay me back after all), or a more realistic 50 if not.
It sounded so good when I thought about it. I've always found frivolous ways to put my writing ability to non-profitable use to keep me entertained, and I'd probably be happier living in cheap and unreliable third world countries if I didn't need to be umbilically tethered to an internet connection all the time for work. Having a child would completely obliterate that selfish dream, of course, especially if I was the sole provider as would be the case right now, but if my girlfriend does end up being successful in one of these successive ventures I'm financing with increasing reluctance, I could still be on track to that early retirement even with a child in tow. Yeah, right.
A child isn't one of my life goals, but I can't deny it to her. If she does manage to secure a reliable income and I don't feel I'm the one who'd be relied on for bloody everything, I'd feel a lot better about the prospect. I don't want to have to carry the full weight of a newborn child while I'm already supporting an adult one.
Where would we live?
This is another contentious point, as based on what I'm continuing to see, hear and read about in this place, it would practically be child abuse to raise a son or daughter in the Philippines when I can afford to raise them somewhere better.
Being born as a Philippines citizen is a lousy start in life, one that could condemn them to poor prospects forever if this country doesn't improve. I don't want to have to face my 22-year-old daughter's sad eyes, when she realises the degree she's worked for has no real value and that every country she tries to find work in will judge her as a criminal or prostitute until proven innocent, asking me, 'why did you do this to me, daddy? You had a perfectly good country where I could have been raised properly, if only you hadn't been too stingy to pay your 40% tax.'
My girlfriend understandably wants to spend her life close to her old-school family and her church here in Davao, but considering she's been trying to get out of this place since she graduated, she's open to the idea of living elsewhere permanently. So it would probably have to be the UK, wouldn't it? Because you all embrace immigrants over there with open arms, isn't that right? Please tell your kids not to be too hard on the slightly foreign-looking child in their class c.2025. Oh brilliant, they wouldn't be welcome anywhere.
Since my girlfriend handily can't decide what to do with her life, the child discussion isn't something that rears its hilarious potato-shaped head very often (ha ha, look at it! Definitely my favourite photo of Eshen). If Jackie does succeed at getting a foreign job like we're going to try in the next few months (in countries that neither of us are citizens of - I have to deal with the issue of how to legally extend my stay there later), her proposed 2017 childbirth deadline would be pretty unrealistic.
This hypothetical child can't exist without geographic or financial stability, and with jobs in the Philippines being so terrible, those two factors are mutually exclusive. Unless I give in and bring her back to the country I already spent 25 years of my life in, or if she starts earning good money online and gains the same freedom I have, so our only barrier to living where we want to is her suspicious nationality. She's been trying.
Propaganda for the yes camp
I don't see my sort-of-niece Eshen very often, so every time I do, I'm well aware that the whole day is a parenthood training camp and a chance to see how I feel about things. She's still adorable and even better behaved since she's turned three, no longer lapsing into angry fits that last 15 minutes spurred by nonsensical provocation, such as her drink being poured by Tito Dabe (she's getting better at pronouncing my name) rather than Tita Shackie.
As we headed to one of the city's quieter, less riff-raffy malls and tucked into junk food, shopped for impressively practical presents and practiced reckless driving to get her ready for real Philippine roads, there were several moments when I thought, 'this could be good.' But then she did a poo in her nappy and chose the hasty stroll to the bathroom as the moment to start disobeying authority, and I got some perspective.
She's a good kid. Certainly better than I was back then, which has given me a lot of patience for kids acting like dicks. A lot of patience, but maybe not enough. I was sad to see her go back home, partly because for those five hours I was hyper-attentive to her needs, always checking if she looked happy, bored, restless or defecating, and suddenly I was back to only having to care about my own trivial problems. Well, not mine, I sorted my life out at 25. My girlfriend's problems that directly affect my finances and dictate where I'll be living for the next few years. It was nice to focus on something else for a while.
It felt great to make a child happy and give Eshen a nice day out, so at least there's some incentive to be a good parent rather than a bad one. At one point, when we all held hands going up the escalator, Jackie commented that it looked like Eshen was enjoying the 'real' family experience, since her father has worked overseas since she was too young to even remember him. It broke my little black heart. I don't think it's true that she's longing for the increasingly unrealistic nuclear family unit, as she has enough loving family members around her every day covering all the generations (a grandmother who's basically Mummy 2 and teenage uncles she thinks are brothers), but it did make me think that I'm in a much more stable condition to support a child than the average Filipino is - and since they go right ahead and pop them out willy-nilly, don't I have some sort of obligation to at least give a decent life to one or two? The answer is no, I have no obligation to do anything. No one controls my life apart from the women I allow to.
When the time is right and the big question approaches, just loan me the best or worst behaved child you know, that should be enough to sway my undecided vote in either direction.