Dear EP: So, this is a little awkward but here goes. After my third child was born, a lot of men began asking when I planned to "get snipped" (you know, get a vasectomy). First, it was my barber while he was holding a sharp straight blade to the back of my neck. Then it was a dude at the gym as I was lifting. Then it was some random guy at Starbucks. I'm Catholic. I didn't realize that men getting a vasectomy was a) something fairly common and b) a topic that total strangers should feel free to grill me on. What's up with that?
EP Responds (Mattias): Yeah. That's really weird. Who are these people you're hanging out with?
Just kidding. I've heard it fairly often, too, after the birth of another child — "When are you going to take care of that?" It's probably one of the weirdest (and most inappropriate) questions one dude can ask another. No one goes around asking you if you prefer boxers or briefs. It's highly impertinent.
I don't know exactly what's behind the question, or why so many men feel comfortable asking it so casually. I'm sure it has something to do with our culture's continued separation of parenting from sexual activity. After all, as everything from movies to songs say, sex is for fun and pleasure first, and its (normal) biological consequence of potentially generating children should be avoided until "we really want it." That's always struck me as a rather immature understanding of who we are as human beings. Adults accept the consequences for their actions, and if they are not ready to do so, then they shouldn't act. I realize that this is a bit harder when it comes to our most basic (and powerful) human desires, but come on, it's not impossible or even heroically difficult.
Look, I don't understand why a man would mutilate himself. Seriously. We go pretty far to protect the "family jewels" whenever we play sports, but otherwise we'll let someone just tie us off, like a wild bull. That doesn't seem right. I do get, however, the anxiety and fear about having (more) children. We all recognize that children are truly gifts. And that after the fact, none of us could ever say, "My life would be okay without this child in my life." It's easier to avoid the sacrifices, worries, and costs that come with each child if we don't conceive that child in the first place. Out of sight, out of mind.
A desire to negate the very possibility of fatherhood results from a poor vision of God as Our Father. I'm not saying throw caution to the wind and have as many children as possible. But God is a Father. He created the world. His inner life is such that from the Father we're given the Son and the Holy Spirit. He is so open to life that He shares with me as a man the possibility to create life as a father, with Him. Of course, this power is limited in time and circumstance. But further limiting myself would be to express a diminished view of God's fatherhood — if I want "just enough" of Him, on my terms.
But I still wonder why people ask the question, too — is it guilt for what they've done? Is it an impertinent curiosity? Or is it a really awkward invitation to return the favor and ask a different question?
Next time it happens, follow up a bit with why you wouldn't get the surgery and ask them who they think God is. But if it's your barber, please do it once he's finished.