Are Dads Upgradable?

My youngest son, age 5, casually inquired the other day if it’s possible to get a different dad, specifically one who is not allergic to cats. Naturally, the response that first ran through my mind was, “Is it possible to get a different five year-old, specifically one who does not still shit his pants?”

Thanks, pal. Love you too. Welcome to the world of family members not living up to your expectations. Only about 80 more years to go.

I’m trying to picture what was going through his little undeveloped mind when we told him, “No, in fact you cannot trade in your father for an upgrade like an iphone.” The news was probably about as interesting as learning that we’re having something not-so-exciting for dinner, which is to say, kind of a letdown, but overall tolerable.

The thing is, everything is crazy, weird and new to a little kid. They don’t know anything about anything, and we adults perpetually forget that fact, subconsciously expecting them to react to information the way we would.

For example, my wife was a gestational surrogate. (She’s nuts. You can read all about her story on her blog, There’s No I In Uterus.) That means she carried a baby that was not genetically related to either of us, for another family who was sadly unable to conceive.

We had to explain that to our kids.

Now, when you tell an adult that you’re a gestational surrogate, they have all kinds of life baggage that they immediately apply to this new freakish personal data point you’ve shared with them. They start thinking about fluids, and how fluids get from point A to point B, and what does your husband think of that, and aren’t you going to get attached to the baby, and will the real parents be in the room during birth, because, if so, ew, and wait…are the real parents actually the real parents if someone else gives birth to the baby?!

Kids, though, have very little frame of reference for something complicated like surrogacy. They don’t have any life baggage yet. They are so freaking ignorant and naïve that even their mom being pregnant with some other family’s kid is only as weird as we make it out to be.

We explained it to them, we read some books about procreation and surrogacy written for children, answered some questions (the most pressing being whether the child will be their sibling, and can it please, please, please be a girl?), and that was that. It was more or less just another run of the mill thing to them; just another tile in the ever-emerging mosaic of this strange world they are discovering each and every day. No big whoop.

So, for my 5 year old to ask if he can get another dad who is not allergic to cats, I suppose, is not so different. If mom can grow a human inside her belly, push it out of her vagina, and then give that baby to some random people, then surely it’s not so far-fetched to imagine that maybe parents are upgradable based on legitimate grievances like feline dander intolerance.

Still, in truth, I was a little offended by his question. Trade me in for a cat? I mean, what the hell? We’re dog people!

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