Saturday, December 15, 2007

From Robots to Babies. From Anything to Babies.

Last night I made sure to get to the Brillo Box early enough to get a table, and enjoy the atmosphere before the typical Friday night crowd. I had met a friend earlier at the South Side Brew House to see The Uncanny Valley Rally- an exhibition of work by Rossum's Robotic Art Collective. The show included complex and dynamic mechanical structures built by artists apparently obsessed with building robot simulations out of unconventional materials. Sure, the nerd quotient was high... but there was a sizable crowd and everybody seemed to be having fun. My attendance was a "no-brainer" as I hadn't eaten dinner and I knew that the Brew House events are usually accompanied by a well apportioned refreshment table. Even if I got nothing out of the work on display, at least I would leave satiated. Despite my relative disinterest in "How Things Work", a few of the pieces compelled my attention.

Anyway, my friend (R.) and I resolved to travel across town and meet up again at my favorite watering hole. Just as I had expected, it was perfect for my mood. I always run into people I want to see at the Brillo, and I usually end up being embroiled in some lengthy and heated discussion. Last night was not an exception. I ran into a young friend (S.) of mine who works as a professional nanny. Naturally she wanted an update on the status of my unborn child. She generously offered (as she has in the past) to share her expertise and time whenever we feel a need for her help. I would view such an offer as a polite gesture of congeniality if it came from a different source, but in her case I have no doubt that it is genuine. I know S. loves children and values the limited friendship that we have shared over the past few years. I thanked her and suggested that she would be high on my list if I needed any advice.

This exchange prompted a remarkable reaction from R. He suggested that as a parent, he might be a more appropriate source of information than a nanny. After all, who would have a greater stake in the well-being of a child than his/her mother or father? S. was visibly bothered by the idea that parenthood is a prerequisite for caring deeply for a child. As the conversation continued, both S. and R. became increasingly impassioned about their positions. It's often the case that emotionally-laden interchanges are underscored by the specific and very personal experiences that each of the parties in a conversation brings to the table. This was certainly a reality in this instance. While I watched the thread of the discussion turn toward the question of adoption vs. raising one's biological offspring, I tried to merely listen and occasionally moderate whenever I thought that a point was being misunderstood.

R.'s contention was that, all things being equal, a parent will naturally have more love for a genetically-related child than an adopted one. S. was appalled by this idea, and argued that she would be perfectly capable of loving an adopted baby just as much as one that she actually gave birth to. R. was trying to convince her that biological connection is the ultimate factor in developing a connection between parent and child. It seemed to me that the crux of R.'s argument relied on a philosophical and/or rational understanding of the issue. On the other hand, S. was putting more emphasis on the values and emotions that define the concept of "love". What I found particularly compelling in the dynamic of the discussion was the seeming difference between the way men and women view parenthood. Perhaps I was making a simplistic generalization in imagining the existence of such a variation, but nonetheless this was a perspective that emerged from my comparison of the thinking of these two individuals.

Personally, I feel that I could never feel quite as much for an adopted child as I could for one that shared 50% of my genes. This is likely because I am a selfish a-hole. I could outline a rationale for my attitude based upon the imperatives of evolution regarding the human male. But the reader can probably trace that reasoning without the assistance of a conceptual map. What I will say is this- I don't believe that my position on the issue is at all universal among men. And I definitely do not believe that women are incapable of the equality of love that S. was talking about. I know way too many examples of biologically-related family units that glaringly contradict R.'s ideas about the relationship between genetic identification and love. I have also personally experienced parents that make no discriminations between their adopted children and the products of their own procreation.

Maybe R.'s claims would be verified by a widespread statistical analysis of normative parenting behavior, but I believe there are too many variables that could potentially confound the utility of any resulting conclusions. I also think that "love" is so subjective a term that it would be nearly impossible to gather objective data. Finally, I'm not sure that the depth of one's love necessarily determines the quality of one's parenting skills or subsequent advice on the subject.

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