Will Wilkinson reminds me of Reverend Merrill in A Prayer for Owen Meany. Both are preoccupied with emotional concepts that most men accommodate as a matter of course, and both insist on viewing these ideas through the lense of their antitheses. For the reverend faith and doubt were the two aspects of the inseparable duality. For Will, its kids and happiness. Responding to an article that appeared in Newsweek, he writes:
…the profundity of the experience of loving a child I think blinds many people to the very real costs of raising them. To accept that we have been made less happy in a real sense by our children threatens our sense of the profundity and the value of that bond. So people get upset when they hear this. But that’s not counter-evidence. Not all values move in one direction and it is a mark of maturity to be able to admit that some of the things we value most comes at a sometimes steep cost. We yearn to love our choices, and our lives, with whole hearts. But to do so is to lie to ourselves about ourselves, to close our eyes and cover our ears like children to the profundity of what we have given up.
I’m with him all the way to the final sentence which I find hard to interpret. I think he is trying to express something akin to the socratic dictum that the unexamined life is not worth living. If that is the case, I can understand and appreciate the sentiment, but I wouldn’t classify the desire to harmoniously integrate our past decisions with our present lives and future prospects as an instance of willful self-deception or woeful ignorance.
Recognizing opportunity costs when presented with a choice is good to the extent that it helps move you to a more efficient allocation of resources, but once the decision has been made (especially with respect to having children) those foregone alternatives become sunk costs–the hole down which they descend may well be deep, but spending time contemplating its profundity strikes me as a rather futile endeavor. Just as Reverend Merrill eventually found his position advocating the dynamic juxtaposition of faith and doubt untenable, I’m not sure how Will can sustain the view that the essence of appreciation is regret. Children and parents deserve wholehearted love that does not entail a nagging reminder of how good life would have been without the other.