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Bad Writer Dad?

"Maaaartin...?" begins one of Kurtzhau's friends.

I've just stuck my head around the door to offer refreshments to the gang of 13-year olds currently camping out around my son's wargame table.

"Remember that time the doorbell rang and there was nobody there...?"

 "Um," I say, yes remembering but also, cringing. Oh shit. I'd forgotten that.

When that doorbell rang, I was in the middle of writing a fight scene for The Wreck of the Marissa. It's first person, and the main character is a foul-mouthed former mercenary NCO I vaguely imagine played by Daniel Craig.

You ever seen that experiment where you get somebody who swears they never dream and you wake them up from REM sleep?

And they say something like, "But the giant chickens are genuflecting"?


It turns out that - though I hate all the angsty wafty crap people put out about writers - if you interrupt me when I'm working, you'll find that I really am channelling the characters (or more accurately running them as temporary emulations).

So when that doorbell went I swore. Then, juggling the paragraph-in-progress in my head - it's a bit like holding your breath - I got up from my desk and stomped through to the hall.

Nobody bloody there!

However, somebody, standing around the corner.. breathing.

I had a sudden sense of my vulnerability, that if this kind of pranking continued I'd not be able to settle to work outside school hours...

And then "Lucky" Jim Brandistock took over and growled, "IF THIS HAPPENS AGAIN I'LL NAIL YOUR FUCKING HEAD TO THE FUCKING WALL."

"...and then," continues Kurtzhau's friend, speaking faster, also remembering, "you said that you'd nail somebody's head to the wall? Well, I was there, but it was actually Other Kid..."

"That's OK," I say hurriedly.

"When he gets interrupted," cuts in Kurtzhau, "Dad sometimes gets grumpy and overreacts."

"Something like that," I say. "It's more to do with being um caught up in the story." I wince. "A writer thing. Now, who wants a cup of tea?"

Bad Dad.

Are writers bad parents? Is parenting bad for writers?

Last year, an Irish novelist caused a minor storm by stating that successful novelists are bad parents.

He may have been guilty of a sweeping statement, but I don't think he was entirely wrongheaded because he was really talking about being self-employed. Time and energy is finite. Following your dreams can make you grumpy and defensive of your working time. There's bound to be an impact or a payoff.

I'd like to claim there are compensations to having a writer dad.

For example, I weave a good ad hoc story.

I kept Kurtzhau entertained with Roman yarns for years. Based in Cologne, Centurion Tertius and his scholar friend Marcellinus fought Germans, Skeletons, Dragons, Dinosaurs, Aliens, and - in what turned out to be a finale - time-travelling Nazis after the hammer of Thor.

For Morgenstern, my daughter, there was Adventure Girl and her sidekick Pillow Panda (who turns into a pillow when she senses danger). They rescued the Sword of Fate from the Evil Ninjas, and once hired Lizard Mercenaries to storm Pluto and retrieve the Crown of Destiny. The ancient alien they discovered still inhabits a Himalayan lake, enjoying the company of paddling pandas.

But writers aren't the only creative parents, and playing bard does not necessarily equate to good parenting. Perhaps I would have been as well prompting the kids to tell their own stories? And isn't it just as important to get them into sport, or woodcraft or origami or whatever?

The one thing I can solidly lay claim to is that being-home based and self-employed over the last few years has meant that I'm here for the kids after school, in the holidays, and - like today - when they are off school sick.

So, writing doesn't automatically make me a bad parent, and I'm a good(ish) parent to the extent of being both primary child carer and homemaker.

What's the price of that OK-I-guess parenting?

What you'd expect.

According to Kurtzhau, in Traveller terms I am stuck at Entertainer #1:

"Jeez Dad! Stop screwing up those advancement rolls!"

I estimate that each child has cost me about two years of productivity.

When they are young, kids eat the discretionary time when you might have squeezed in some writing, or else they destroy your sleep so you are useless when that time materialises. Because you chose to have them, they also create a moral obligation to not just to walk out of the toxic job and live off lentils while you focus on your writing.

In this, having children is worse than having cats. At least Charlie can post pictures of a feline hanging onto his wrist as he types! Nobody wants to see the kind of disasters that used to get between me and my fictioneering. (We liked to rate nappies according to the Apocalypse Scale, as in from "One Horseman" through to the "Full St John".)

However, I swear the children have also made me into a better writer.

It's a cliche, but children help us see with fresh eyes. Through them I've rediscovered dinosaurs, and David Attenborough, and Science and Space and World War Two. I don't think I'd have sat through the new Cosmos without kids to share it with, or read up on the Polish 1939 Campaign if it hadn't caught Kurtzhau's imagination.

They also experience history and and legend without spoilers. When I read Beowulf to Kurtzhau, he had no idea what would happen in the end, and we both shared an emotional moment. Better yet, was reading him an old Crusader adventure that took us to the Horns of Hattin: "They've got to win Daddy. But why have they left the water supply behind...?"

I've devoured books in order to keep up with my kids and that's affected my fiction. Shieldwall owes a lot to Kurtzhau asking how the Roman Empire fell. And my current Space Opera efforts owe much to Morgenstern's enthusiasm for stars and galaxies.

So in having kids, I've traded productivity for breadth and depth.

Was it worth it? That's not a meaningful question. I think most modern parents who "decide" to have kids are really obeying a primal imperative (one that people often don't really believe in if they don't feel it). If kids subsequently turn up, then it's no more a "lifestyle choice" than, say, being gay, and not really much more amenable to a cost-benefit analysys.  

Can I still be a "successful" writer? Will the breadth and depth truly compensate for the loss of years? I've no idea. Ask me later in the year... I can hear the dice rattling right now.

What about you?

If you have kids, has your profession shaped your parenting? Has your parenting shaped your career?

If you don't have kids, how about your parents and their professions?

M Harold Page isthe Scottish author of  The Wreck of the Marissa (Book 1 of the Eternal Dome of the Unknowable Series), (epub here) an old-school space adventure yarn about a retired mercenary-turned-archaeologist dealing with "local difficulties" as he pursues his quest across the galaxy. His other titles include Swords vs Tanks (Charles Stross: "Holy ****!") and  Storyteller Tools: Outline from vision to finished novel without losing the magic(Ken MacLeod: "...very useful in getting from ideas etc to plot and story." Hannu Rajaniemi: "...find myself to coming back to [this] book in the early stages.") You can find his most recent Black Gate Traveller article here

EDIT: Epub, here:



A bit off-topic, but do you sell your books somewhere other than Amazon? I wanted to pick up Swords vs Tanks and Storyteller Tools as epubs…


A question authors like to hear, though! Epub available here:


Martin, life is always about tradeoffs. In terms of time, it's usually* a zero-sum game: time spent on one thing can't be spent on another thing. Call that Hart's law of conservation of time: time is neither created nor destroyed, but entropy means that much time is wasted on LOLcats and other unproductive activities.

  • The exception is when you multitask. Time spent explaining your obscure plot point to a child, for whom it's just another cool story, is 200% productive. Time spent researching an answer to a child's question -- and showing them how to do the research so they can do it solo in the future -- might just count as 300 or 400% productive.

One of the biggest tradeoffs is that someone needs to work to earn a living, and like any job, that takes us away from our kids -- and our spouse, family, friends, etc etc. Such is modern life. When my kids were wee, we could afford for my wife to stay home and raise them (she drew the short straw, as I was earning more at the time). So we did, and though we often whinged about childless friends traveling to Europe or buying new cars, we never regretted that choice. She did all the parenting during workdays; once I was home, we split the work as close to 50:50 as was feasible -- including, as you note, the occasional apocalyptic diaper. ("And the fifth rode upon a brown horse, and its name was Kakodaemon.") On the whole, it worked well. Less fortunate folks have to outsource the childrearing (e.g., daycare) because it takes two salaries to survive or because neither can afford to sacrifice a career in its crucial early stages.

Time away from kids is most serious when the kids are young, and as you note, that's when the impact on our careers is also most serious. But there are sometimes ways around it. I was a wage slave while the kids were young, and I compensated by doing almost all of my writing on my lunch break. By the end of the day, I was usually too knackered to even think of writing. Once the kids are in school, that frees up a chunk of time during the day when you're no longer taking time away from your kids; they're already fully occupied. Post-school activities are more complex, since sometimes they want us there (e.g., recitals) and sometimes they don't.

fwiw, I've known you for more than 10 years, and everything I've seen and heard about your kids suggests they're awesome. In the end, that's the only criterion that matters.


Does Peril Panda wear Joo-Janta 200 Peril-Sensitive sunglasses?


No children, and Dad was a bank manager, so no direct effects of us on his work.

Against that, when we were on holiday, or even days out, we did what would now be called freeform LARP. Many and varied would be the tales of Paws' and his sis's battles with the "Black Panther" (starting in the mid to late 1960s and the character was actually named after a car coat).


Last year, an Irish novelist caused a minor storm by stating that successful novelists are bad parents. See you the late, great & much-lamented Pterry to tell you that said "Irish novelist" was talking utter bollocks


Does Peril Panda wear Joo-Janta 200 Peril-Sensitive sunglasses?

Actually, that's what I thought of when Morgenstern came up with the idea! She'd been watching Walking with Dinosaurs - I think she was 5? - and suddenly declared, "This is what she does when she's scared."


Well as I said, there has to be some kind of pay off between pursuing a profession and being a good parent. I think "successful" was the important part. I think it's entirely possible to be a successful novelist after being a good-as-in-engaged-and-available parent, but much harder and less likely while doing it. Though of course people manage.


If you're really interested in evaluating yourself as a parent, your kids' friends might be a good way to find out.

Was surprised when one of my prog's particularly hyperactive, messy friends said he enjoyed visiting us because we were always and equally honest with him and prog: we made sure they always knew when they had crossed a line, and why ... at great length, with examples. Bonus was that this also made it easy for these kids to ask us difficult questions because if you're honest (but not brutally so) when they're little and likely to accept anything told them, then you're probably just basically trustworthy person.


"If you don't have kids, how about your parents and their professions?"

I'm not entirely sure which way round this question is. In terms of influence on parents, I'd be hard pushed to discern any; nothing significantly changed in that regard between my earliest memories and their retirement.

In terms of influence from parents, then definitely. My dad graduated in mathematics, did his PhD in nuclear physics under Rudolf Peierls among others, and worked with such luminaries in practical electronics as Peter Baxandall. I owe to him my affinity for those areas, for physical science in general, and for electronics in particular. My mum is a doctor, and as an example of her influence I might cite the song about cardiac blood vessels I made up aged 8, which earned me a visit to the headmaster's office for him to tape-record it, much to my puzzlement.

As regards kids ringing the bell and running away, I put a stop to a run of such incidents by waiting behind the door - frosted glass and relative light levels meaning that I could see them, but they couldn't see me - until one of them was in the act of moving his hand to knock, then wrenching the door open with great suddenness and bellowing at them. While I can't identify the book in question, I am sure that the inspiration for the method came from some tale of juvenile high-jinks that I had read when I was about their age myself.


To tie into the previous thread about the future, how do you think a highly effective but non-sentient(*) AI robot nanny would help or not help the child-rearing situation? Changing diapers and bedclothes, baths, food preparation etc for starters. Then perhaps on to assisting with cognitive tasks like reading, gameplaying, conversation, also etc. Mom and Dad are there to spend quality time at meals, snuggling, some of the gameplaying and reading and stuff but have a lot of not-so-fun things offloaded onto robonanny.

(*) Because then we'd get into questions of slavery and I'd rather not go there.


A good measure! I get invited to join in Halo, so that's a good sign, right? Plus they are happy for me to referee Traveller.


I think it depends on your definition of quality time. Changing diapers is actually a moment of interaction and closeness. Same with baths. Food prep less so. However, a lot of "conversation" and interaction goes on during the things you list. Many's the time I've cooked while a pre-verbal child has sat in a high chair and played with spices or play dough.

I think a robot servitor would be more useful than a nanny...


I think a robot servitor would be more useful than a nanny

Sorry, I don't see why a nanny wouldn't be a specialized servitor in the baby-rearing context. Explain, please?


(I'm enjoying hearing about other people's upbringings by the way.)


Sorry, I don't see why a nanny wouldn't be a specialized servitor in the baby-rearing context. Explain, please?

Baby-rearing involves human-human interaction. That's the point. It's all - god help me, even stepping in poo at 4am - quality time and part of the whole rearing thing. If it's contact time, then it's part of the deal. And, to be honest, the reward is a shit load of happy brain chemicals - which is why to outsiders, parents of young children sometimes seem like happy stoners, but with more human waste and last sleep.

A servitor on the other hand, would clean the bathroom, wash and dry the laundry, sweep the floors, do all the non-fun, non-contact stuff. Hell if I'd had one, it could have gone to work for me and attended meetings...


I think it depends on your definition of quality time. Changing diapers is actually a moment of interaction and closeness. Same with baths. Food prep less so. However, a lot of "conversation" and interaction goes on during the things you list. Many's the time I've cooked while a pre-verbal child has sat in a high chair and played with spices or play dough.

Thanks. Thinking back on my one-child experience as a parent, I see what you mean. (Diapers perhaps excepted.) A question might be what the baby gets out of the interaction vs what the parent sees in it. I.e., could the robonanny provide the same experience for the child, or does the experience need to come from a meatperson?


Isn't that a bit like formula milk but a zillion times more complicated? A robo nanny would have to give off the right scents to match emotions, the right non verbals, the subtle inflections... babies are little learning machines. It would be far too risky to have the uncanny valley raise them.


Re: 'definition of quality time'

Always took issue with this notion. IMO, quality is what you bring to the time you spend together. If you take your kid to the opera and never chat, that's next-to-zero parent-kid quality time. Also, doing trivial tasks together including jokey trivial conversations is what builds enough of a relationship foundation for both parent and child to bring up and discuss serious concerns.

Hell, HR experts charge a fortune to major corps for telling their line managers that regular informal chit-chat goes a long way toward building corporate loyalty, and may even let you get away with a lower than average pay. This is mostly because humans become loyal to the other humans they interact with which, since both are employed by the same party, benefits that employer.


Re: 'A question might be what the baby gets out of the interaction vs what the parent sees in it.'

Baby sees/experiences someone that will always come when called, will tickle and play little piggies, hugs and sings to them when their lower lips start trembling and they're out of sorts, makes funny faces when the diaper is really loaded, ducks fast when the water works start ... all sorts of really interesting things.


"A question might be what the baby gets out of the interaction vs what the parent sees in it."

The parent may well see nothing more than a pile of shit. The baby? Goodness knows, but it's practically certain to be of some consequence. Something under the general heading of "learning to be a human", though I can't see any way of getting at what apart from trying a highly controlled and distinctly difficult experiment. Pretty well everything in childhood experience right back to the zero point seems to have an effect under that heading where we have any data on it, and I think one therefore has to default to assuming changing nappies is included in the absence of any evidence to show that it isn't.

I have reason to believe that not all that long ago it was considered normal to do it at the parent's convenience, not at the baby's; so it wouldn't be done in the middle of the night, but would be queued for the morning. The question makes me wonder what difference that has made in later life, but I can see no way to pull the effect out from the enormous tangle of other influences and effects.


All parents start out as bad parents. Some learn better as they go along, some don't.


My father was an electrical engineer, so I primarily interacted with my mother. I do recall being taken into my father's closet and shown the belts and shoes, which I found terrifying. I gather I had been spanked with them at some point, which my mother forbade, but that didn't mean they couldn't be used as threats. This may have been after I took some thawing shrimp my mother had planned for dinner and fed them to a stray cat. We lived at the end of an airport runway, so 707s used to fly by at all hours about 50 feet over the house. This may or may not have had something to do with my wetting the bed every night until puberty. One strange memory is watching the TV when Tuesday night at the movies came on. The title would come flying up with each letter approaching like a meteor and snapping into place like type being set, or like my children's blocks, one letter at a time: T-U-E-S-D-A-Y N-I-G-H-T A-T T-H-E M-O-V-I-E-S. I remember when it changed to W-E-D-N-E-S-D-A-Y N-I-G-H-T A-T T-H-E M-O-V-I-E-S. Funny thing is, I've looked it up and that change occurred when I was 3 and I didn't learn how to read until I was 6. Shortly after we moved to a nicer neighborhood, I overheard my parents talking about a burglar in the neighborhood. I was about 5 and my mother was pregnant with my brother. It was winter, and cold outside, with ice and snow everywhere. But having recently watched the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang movie, I was making all kinds of inventions out of string, and I set up a burglar trap in the back yard made out of white kite string. My pregnant mother was taking out the garbage, tripped on the kite string, and broke her arm on the ice. After that I had to learn to change my own underwear and sheets when I wet myself which led to my getting a big boil on my hip from putting it off until morning. Funny thing though, my brother was born in 1966, which is before the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang movie. My father was now working for a smaller company, rather than Texas Instruments, and designing a newfangled device called an "Engine Analyzer". But the company was being bought out by a big multinational (Koppers) that just wanted to strip the engineering talent and patents. We went on a family vacation in the middle of all this to New Mexico, to visit my uncle who was staying out of Viet Nam by staying in college out there. All the way I wet the bed in every motel we stayed at, which made everybody miserable. When we got back my father let us know that he hadn't actually been on vacation, he had quit and was going to go into business for himself making and selling Engine Analyzers. So he set up a workshop in the garage with all these oscilloscopes and other strange electronic parts. He would put these things together, then go travelling the country selling them to natural gas compressor stations, which had giant engines they had to keep running non stop. So he was gone a lot. After a while he got some employees and rented a shop space outside of the house a few miles away in a light industrial park. But every night he stopped at a bar near work, got drunk then drove the rest of the way. My mother would always make dinner and cry about how my father wasn't there on time to eat it, then he would get there and it would be dice roll what mood he would be in. Maybe he would be mad at the the world and just corner everybody with impossible mean questions and insinuations, or maybe jovial and jubilant and not understanding why we weren't in the same mood, or maybe he would be griping about a third party, the government taxing and regulating the small businessman when the big companies have accountants to get out of it. I learned to like reading, and would often read library books in bed, which led to my wetting on them. So my parents took my library card away, so I started stealing books from the library, which didn't have as good security in those days, by sneaking them out in the liner of a coat which had a hole in the pocket. I was still wetting the bed occasionally when I went to boy scout camp, and I wet my cot and just had to live with it for two weeks. By now I was starting to get a sex drive and the stories about the girl scout camp being somewhere nearby led me to wander off looking for it in the woods every day, so I didn't earn any merit badges or find the girl scout camp. My mother went back to college and left me alone at home, where I discovered my father's porn stash and 22 caliber pistol. I never figured out how to actually masturbate to ejaculation (until I was 23 actually) but I looked at the pictures and stories and drove myself crazy. I went up in the attic crawlspace to get naked without getting caught when my mother or somebody came in, but there was no light, so I cut a hole in the roof for daylight. Which eventually caused a lot of costly damage that everybody was mystified by. Also I accidentally fired the pistol, apparently through a place where the carpet concealed the hole, and later heard that the neighbor's dog had been mysteriously shot. Anyway, I had a friend who was really interested in the military, always wore Army surplus uniforms to junior high school and eventually went Special Forces. He and I were going to join the Army together, but my father threatened to break my legs if I went in the Army, so I didn't until after I had been out of the house for a few years and had dropped out of college and run out of money for drugs.

So. You can screw up and still the product comes out OK. My mother did spend a lot of time sitting and talking with me, explaining the world because clearly she detected that I would be needing things explained. That probably helped a lot.


That's such an intense story I have tweeted it.


Mom and Dad are there to spend quality time

Somewhere on a different computer I have a couple of studies on 'quality time' bookmarked. Short version is that the whole yuppie idea of small amounts of quality time equalling larger amounts of non-quality time are just bovine-processed plant material.

The research concluded that what mattered was spending time with your kids — just being there. Whether you watched Bugs Bunny on TV or visited an art gallery made no statistical difference — the only significant factor was time.

I'll try to dig to the references this weekend, if you're interested.


Clarification: being there interacting with them, not ignoring them. Sorry, end of a 12-hour workday and I'm even more confused than usual. :-(


That figures. And the time can actually be memorable: Kurtzhau first watched the original Star Wars trilogy when he was 4. We both had flu, and I was sick of Thomas the Tank engine, so we ended up cuddled up for the day, him discovering, me rediscovering. By the end of it he was proclaiming, "No Dark Side here, daddy." Wouldn't have traded that experience for all the writing time in the world.


No kids of my own, but 14 nieces, 5 nephews, a grandniece and 3 grandnephews I wouldn't trade for all the wealth of the Orient.

Watching Ding Ding intently digging in the dirt with a stick, my youngest niece crawling under my arm to cuddle while we watched the Pokemon movie, the amazing thank-you phone call from her older sister when I got her genuine Pokemon cards, making finger puppets together to give her grandfather one Christmas… money can't buy moments like that!

Those oxytocin highs are pretty incredible, aren't they? :-)


Those oxytocin highs are pretty incredible, aren't they? :-)

Yes. My advice to new parents is don't fight the gooey feelings. Without them, you're still sleep deprived and covered in poo.

And, if you don't suddenly become all Authority Parent, you can enjoy the happy chemicals even as your kid becomes a teen, just with a different scope. There's shared experiences, for example, we took Kurtzhau - now 13 - to his first SF convention this year, and there's parent pride, watching him referee his first Traveller game, for example.


I've often thought there's a story in that. Would having our kids raised by AI result in some kind of personality disorder? Perhaps we will find out in the next few decades. Anyway, being a parent has made me more efficient and ambitious, but has in turn also led me to the worst bout of depression I've ever had and a breakdown. Swings and roundabouts really. I'm not a writer, I'm an engineer, but I am creative and write for pleasure. My boys often spur my imagination and have given me lots of ideas and some great words, of which 'dogstep' is my favourite. It means to walk like an animal and I worked it into a story about shapeshifters. I also enjoy scaring the shit out of my eldest and my nephews with macabre stories of horror, which they love and hate in equal measure.


Would having our kids raised by AI result in some kind of personality disorder?

Personality change, almost certainly. There's increasing evidence that kids with lots of screen time (phones) have differently-wired brains — certainly they show different behaviours.

Fictionally, John Barnes showed a bit of childrearing with AIs in the backstory to Shan in one of his Thousand Cultures novels (Armies of Memory, IIRC).


Speaking of Star Wars, I remember when they reissued the movies after a generation -- including my son -- had only seen them on TV. We were at the theater waiting for some other film to begin, when the trailer for the new release came on the screen:

"For a generation, this is how children have seen Star Wars:" ["giant" 70-inch TV screen image appears... dwarfed by the 50-foot-wide theater screen] "In December, this is how they'll see it:" [TV image zooms out to fill the screen]

You could have heard a pin drop before the sound track cut in -- I swear that I did hear a hundred jaws dropping. The movie we were there to see is long-forgotten, but I don't think I'll ever forget the look we shared when he realized how Star Wars is supposed to be seen. Inspiring a sense of wonder is father-son geek-bonding at its finest!


Yes indeed! And we got to take our daughter to see the new Star Wars at the same age as I was when I saw the original. Wonderful moment.


I've got plenty of friends and colleagues without children; so I'm careful (or at least I try to be careful) not to bore them to tears with tales of how wonderful young Xavier Horatio Torquil is at his needlepoint, and isn't young Cassandra the envy of her maths teacher...

My wife and I aren't even consistent good cop and bad cop. She gets to play "subversive parent" sometimes (licking bowls clean of chocolate sauce, to my stern disapproval while I grind my teeth about table manners) and I get to do it at others (yes, it is possible to spend all day in a dressing gown, it's the holidays)

My name is Martin, and I'm a breeder (Hi, Martin). I've been parenting for fifteen years now...

My advice to new parents is don't fight the gooey feelings

Is it even possible? My father warned me that "the world would change", and while I nodded knowingly, I didn't "get it". ;) My description would be "like having an instant and permanent injection of empathy (or oestrogen)" ;)

I now found myself struggling during the weepy bits in films (I still think the opening twenty minutes of Pixar's "Up" is unbelievably moving) and my wife and I couldn't actually watch the news of the Beslan massacre. I can't bear to hear a baby cry, and discovered that "recognising a voice" doesn't need language or even words; standing in a supermarket navigating back to wife and firstborn by the sound of various cries and wails, with "nope, not mine", "nope", "yup, that's them behind those racks".

My profession is as a software engineer - not much opportunity to employ my more-developed nurturing skills there, but I've done my share of mentoring and instruction (before and after parenthood), and have always rather enjoyed it.

I was an army reservist for twenty years; after I got married, I told our new Commanding Officer that I could probably give him nine months' notice of my retirement... He managed to persuade me to stay in / cut back when firstborn arrived, rather than retire completely (from about 85 training days per year, down to 35 or so); but after a couple of years of reduced attendance[1], I gave it up completely on the arrival of our second. Some reservists made it work; I just didn't feel it was fair on our family.

My wife and I met through our sport; we both competed as internationals (we were amateur athletes, and had full-time jobs). Pre-children, we spent nearly all of our annual leave and most of our weekends either training or competing. Firstborn turned up three months before the Commonwealth Games - beloved had finally been selected for Scotland, having been the first reserve for the previous two Games; so he came with us (it caused a certain amount of stress in team management)[2]. We kept up our memberships of the national squad for a while, but couldn't devote the necessary training time any more. My wife dropped out a year later, and I managed to keep going for the rest of that Games cycle. These days, I still participate at club / county level, but the fun comes from coaching a bit here and there...

I'm fifty now, and I don't regret giving up either the Army or representative sport; we didn't have our children so that we could farm them off to someone else's care while pretending that life could carry on as before. If we go somewhere, we mostly do it as a family (we did discover that it cost similar to take the boys to the restaurant with us, rather than hire a babysitter). While our weekends may involve acting as a taxi service for a pair of (one and a nearly) teenage boys, it has joy to go with the frustration. The boys both enjoy competitive Judo, and the fun came when their club started an adult beginner class; my wife and I have now both been doing it for a couple of years (only a few breakages), to the accompanying giggles as our sons point out all of the flaws in our technique... and when firstborn's school asked for help in assessing the expedition phase of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme, I even dusted off some of my old outdoors kit (and some shiny new stuff, yay) to help teach the delights of map and compass work without benefit of GPS...

[1] Childcare cover not guaranteed. "Wife stuck at wrong side of the country on a training night" resulted in me presenting a lecture to a roomful of soldiers, with a one-year-old on my shoulder. He didn't puke on me, but at least uniforms are designed to be easy to wash :) "Wife away over weekend" meant I went to visit our unit team who were at a competition; while pushing a pram around for the afternoon, not in uniform this time, I briefly ended up invading the base's Guardroom because it was time for food and they had a microwave oven (they even got a lesson in nappy-changing thrown in for free)...

[2] We got told at the last minute that we couldn't stay in the Games Village. Fortunately, this was a UK-based event; and we managed to sort out much better accommodation at the actual competition venue on Bisley Camp. Everyone else had to suffer a half-hour commute each way, we just walked the two hundred yards back to our room in the Army Club. One of the Canadian shotgun competitors was in similar circumstance, and had her daughter with her - so there were two babies on camp with the "access all areas" athlete passes...


There should be more of that, integrating children into our day to day working lives and activities. I could easily have gone out and done some surveying with my infant children strapped to me. A building site is no more dangerous a place than driving them about in a car. A toddler in the office is a bit more problematic though.


Would having our kids raised by AI result in some kind of personality disorder?

That would depend on the AI, but the same can be said of natural parents. Much caution would be needed when developing the AI. Primum non nocere, though recognizing or even defining harm might not be easy.

Perhaps we will find out in the next few decades.

I suspect we'll start getting hints fairly soon. Perhaps we already are.


we didn't have our children so that we could farm them off to someone else's care while pretending that life could carry on as before.

A very positive story that strikes a chord!

My experience of the brain chemicals is similar. There was a period when I had difficulty writing fight scenes.


Reading the Velveteen Rabbit (which was my wedding present to my wife) to my kids breaks me every time.


"Bad parents"?

No. You were WORKING AT A JOB, and they interrupted you AT THE JOB.

For those working day jobs, how do you feel about being deep in the throes of working on something, and a manager comes in and a) DEMANDS your attention, and b) that Something has come up, and you need to drop everything you're doing and deal with that?

The kids need to be made to understand that you are at work. You'll be free on one of your breaks, or lunch, or after work, but NOT ANY OTHER TIME.

Come on, anyone over 9 can comprehend that.

Another reason that I really, really prefer going into the office, and not teleworking.


While in the produce section at the local grocery store during its heavy traffic time a piercing loud high voice yelled out 'Mommie!'. The produce section is very large and allows for excellent sightlines which is what allowed me to see women (probably all of them Mommies) who almost in unison swivelled their heads at the same moment providing remarkable triangulation on the source of the sound, a 3 or 4 year old little girl. At that same instant it seemed as most movement in that part of the store stopped and the area became quiet. Which happened to be exactly what the situation needed because at the second yell, several - but not all - of these women started moving in the direction of the yell. The crying stopped shortly and when I eventually passed by that area, a couple of women seemed to be standing near like a guard detail around that child. BTW, none of the responding women had a child in tow - and some looked to be in the Grannie vs. Mommie stage of their life.

First - I was blown away by seeing such a visceral and immediate response by so many women.

Second - I told myself if my kid ever got lost, the hell with well muscled, super teched-up alpha male soldiers - I want the Mommie* Squadron!

Third - This was a newish suburban neighborhood so not many close or longstanding history or relationships: these women were strangers to each other, no vested interest in someone else's kids. Seeing their reactions made me feel far warmer toward my new home/neighborhood than getting a gift basket from the 'hi new neighbor realtor'.

  • No idea how similar the reaction would have been among the male shoppers if the child had yelled 'Daddy!'.

This was an amazingly and emotionally powerful moment, deeply etched into my memory ... and it was someone else's child.


I've been reading Kim Stanley Robinson, his Capitol Trilogy, Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, and Sixty Days and Counting, which he combined into a single volume, cutting out 77k, Green Earth.

The story has Global Warming as the background to events happening to a group of characters. A classic Space Cadet Dream, but I digress.

He has a character, Charlie, being a stay at home husband raising two boys, that seems to capture what you are talking about. He's working from home, for a Senator on climate issues. The usual problems and joys ensue.


Second - I told myself if my kid ever got lost, the hell with well muscled, super teched-up alpha male soldiers - I want the Mommie* Squadron!

Surely you've heard the saying: "Fathers will die for their children. Mothers will kill for them"? See Kipling, "The Female of the Species"

What you don't want to see are soldiers who are also fathers. Yay, all the protectiveness of mother, but without the same restraint regarding lethal force...

My sister had a slight crimp on her school social life; my father, fresh from a twenty-year career as a Sergeant-Major in interesting jobs, used to insist that her boyfriends come to the house to pick her up; he had this idea that meeting someone's parent was a concrete experience far more likely to stick in a young man's mind than any "abstract concept of a father". He didn't converse with them, he just used to say hello. As he pointed out, he wasn't going to be her Guardian Angel, but was more than happy to be her Avenging Angel...


The final one of A.A.Milne's "Winnie the Pooh" stories that I read out at bedtime gave me a lump in my throat, for similar reasons...

Firstborn's English teacher made the class read "Flowers for Algernon" - obviously, a Hero amongst women. As firstborn pointed out, it was even sadder than the track on Ed Sheeran's new album, "Supermarket Flowers".

And for a followup - how does parenthood change one's perception of Darth Vader's experience in Episodes V and VI?


No. You were WORKING AT A JOB, and they interrupted you AT THE JOB.

:) It is true in that case. And in general, the kids are good at leaving me alone.

However, in general, until I have quite a few more books in print - succeed at that advancement role and get to Entertainer #2 - I am really house dad first, and writer second. It's not a bad deal and means I don't have to work in an office - I'm not really a people person.


And for a followup - how does parenthood change one's perception of Darth Vader's experience in Episodes V and VI?

Darth Vader is like the alcoholic birth father who somehow manages to squeeze in some late life redemption. I have little sympathy for him.

The Force Awakens, however... a bit of a gut punch.


Is "darth" Dutch for "alcoholic"? :)


JG Ballard talked about this:

"Cyril Connolly, the 50s critic and writer, said that the greatest enemy of creativity is the pram in the hall, but I think that was completely wrong. It was the enemy of a certain kind of dilettante life that he aspired to, the man of letters, but for the real novelist the pram in the hall is the greatest ally - it brings you up sharp and you realise what reality is all about. My children were a huge inspiration for me. Watching three young minds creating their separate worlds was a very enriching experience."


Thanks for sharing that. I think I might have it printed on a T-shirt.


Re: '... the pram in the hall is the greatest ally'

Knew intellectually that kids usually don't keep most of their pre-5 years of age memories which made me realize that being an active watcher of my prog's development would not only provide me with stories to embarrass prog once they hit dating age* but also an opportunity for both parents to relive their own early childhoods. Becoming a parent also seems to drive most folks to reconnect with their parents and sibs.

Kiddies are fascinating. There are times when you can almost see their evolution into an increasingly more complex and unique person. Watching my prog interact with the new-to-them-world provided insights into and new appreciation for how many things no longer registered on my consciousness. (And, this can be scary.)

  • This is a running family joke which plays both ways: occasions when something weird/unexpected happened to prog or one or both parents. (Sorta an equal opportunity for social blackmail system - hey, it keeps us laughing.)

Re: "Flowers for Algernon"

This and Asimov's Ugly Little Boy persuaded my 12 year-old self that SF wasn't just about stun guns and rockets. Wasn't aware of this before but Flowers for Algernon was inspired by Keyes' personal experience teaching (and learning from) kids.

'A pivotal moment occurred in 1957 while Keyes was teaching English to students with special needs; one of them asked him if it would be possible to be put into a regular class if he worked hard and became smart.[5][11][12] Keyes also witnessed the dramatic change in another learning-disabled student who regressed after he was removed from regular lessons. Keyes said that "When he came back to school, he had lost it all. He could not read. He reverted to what he had been. It was a heart-breaker."'


A friend of mine has updated that to the present day. He asks any of his daughters potential suitors to Friend him on Facebook.


A toddler in the office is a bit more problematic though. Been there, done that. If you are high up enough in the business to set the rules (or those in charge are willing to make family friendly policies) from experience it's possible with separate client facing & private areas, in order to keep children in the latter. Also toys, scribble paper & pens, toy computers/phones -toddlers will often copy the adults around them by "working" with such.

With that arrangement it is much the same as working at home, except there are additional adults to interact with the child, spreading the disruption. That actually reduces total disruption, since different adults take breaks between tasks at different times.

Yes, there is a reduction in total work throughput, but not a much as you might imagine - other unproductive habits such as random internet browsing get curtailed.

This assumes only a low child to adult ratio, but if there were a higher ratio that would justify the business arranging a creche facilty.

More generally this topic raises the question of what "work" and "success" means. Caring for a child is every bit as much "productive work" as those forms of employment for which one receives a salary/wages/drawings (as probably more socially productive than a lot of the financial services industry). If anyone disagrees, consider a human society where nobody had any children, universally preferring to work on "financially productive" endeavours: where is the economy of that society going to be within 50-100 years?

But in a society where there is no (or minimal) financial reward to child raising, the individual/couple needs to trade off their pro bono contribution to society against the level of other work required to fund that household. Which means having to split time between the jobs and be annoyed at when one infringes on the allocated time for the other.


Fictionally, that was one of the things Bujold was playing around with in Ethan of Athos.



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This page contains a single entry by M Harold Page published on June 1, 2017 2:07 PM.

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