On a recent crisp Friday night in the suburbs of Connecticut, I sat down with my high school friend and his wife for a quick bite and catch-up. After the checklist preliminaries of kids, aging parents and empty nesting, the conversation shifted to the political landscape. I’d expected we’d find common ground; we were from the same place, late 1970s Brooklyn, and separated only by the distance created by middle-aged priorities.
The conversation went further than simply politics; instead, it highlighted deep fractures in our core beliefs. From climate change to the current political climate, President Trump’s tax deregulation and the crisis at the border, we were far apart though sitting right there together.
Still, I felt that there must be some current issue that led back to the paths we once walked together. So, I began my rant and rail against the restrictive abortion bans being pushed in Alabama, Georgia and Missouri. I was confident there’d be solidarity around the cause – that we could reestablish our friendship around our shared disbelief that the nation was slipping backward.
However, it suddenly dawned on me: While I anguished over the fundamentalism sweeping our nation and rewriting established laws like Roe v. Wade, my friend and his wife seemed almost ambivalent about the restrictive regulations. The thrust of their argument in supporting the Trump administration centered more on Jerusalem being recognized as Israel’s official capital. For people of means, choice is always attainable. In other words, if 24-week bans narrowed to 20, or 16, or 8 or even zero where they lived, they could always figure it out.
As the sun set and my heart sank, I became enraged that fellow fathers could lose their perspective in such perilous times. Even though I knew 2016 post-election research clearly indicated white, middle-class, middle-aged men preferred Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, questions started running through my head: Why were some middle-aged men like myself so fervently and feverishly ready to fight for a women’s right to choose, and others so ready to turn away? And why was I still so proudly pro-choice?
I started by looking back to decisions that changed the course of my life and the life of some others.
Those decisions often came during distressed conversations in dorm rooms, in cars or on frantic late-night, long-distance calls. We helped each other by being present, if needed, or offering our homes, money and love, without judgment or criticism. We banded together because we knew whatever the choice, their choice was right.
Those decisions did not center on fetus viability or lengthy moral analysis. There were no pundits, politicians or parents decrying right versus wrong, enforcing penalization and absolution. It was just one person, and often two people, weighing what their lives could or should be, and then finding their own way, however difficult, forward. Without regret, without judgment.
Today, those same women and men are parents and grandparents, homeowners and taxpayers, businesspeople and retirees, cancer and trauma survivors. No matter what their political, religious or economic differences, these life-altering events were hard decisions we never thought we would face. But those decisions made us who we are; they created the patchwork fabric by which we stitch our lives together.
I also thought about my daughters: two living, and one who died much too young. My first two daughters were born four years apart, each at 24 ½ weeks. The first will turn 25 years old in a month and lives a typical millennial metropolitan life, filled with work and friends. The kind of life parents dream for their children.
My second child died three days after she was born: too small, not yet fully formed, not yet viable. What we dreamed for her was not meant to be.
I have been by my wife’s side during her tenuous pregnancies and our three daughters’ births. I have been right there for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies, midnight surgeries and our third child’s gestational surrogacy. And it was during each of these singular, life-changing moments that I knew without uncertainty that parenting is not mere procreation and fertilization. That it takes an emotionally resonating investment that is not just tangible, but transcends time and place, biblical interpretation or constrictive orthodoxy. A forever proposition brought forth in just a single moment.
By choosing to be a parent, you’re forever altering the psychological core of your genetic DNA. You are ruled by something beyond anachronistic governmental policy or strict religious doctrine. It requires deep insight into your weaknesses and strengths, and the foresight to help guide your child’s future.
Conscious choice is a choice about life. I know that some who claim to be “pro-life” will argue that these personal anecdotes validate their arguments about when life starts, how many weeks legal abortion should be restricted to and how to truly define when life begins. But for the people I know who had to make difficult decisions in the most difficult of situations, we were ruled by something bigger: our own moral understanding and intelligence of what was right or wrong for ourselves. Pro-life is a bumper sticker. Pro-choice is an act of love that goes the distance.
And that is why I walked away from that Friday night dinner, with the bright summer moon lighting the sky, remaining steadfast that no person, legislature or judiciary should restrict women from controlling their destinies.
But I also wished before I walked away from that table that I had asked more of my friend, and of myself, to find the common ground we once shared when time seemed less fleeting. As men of a certain age, I would ask him and all of you:
What would you do if your daughter had to make the difficult choice to carry a pregnancy to term? Would you put your own preferred fiscal policies above her needs? Would you look at your stock account or in her eyes? Would you favor supply side or demand to be by her side?