I Didn’t Want to Be a Father

Next week I'm going to Iceland for a wedding. The sun will be up for 24 straight hours, which is considered an auspicious day to get married on. In a few months I'm taking a trip to Antarctica, the complete opposite side of the planet. I'm going there for business (who does business in Antarctica, one might ask, but I'll do that post when I get back). But even when I go someplace on business it's also for friendship. Else I wouldn't go. I don't like to travel. So to get me to move more than ten feet from my house takes effort.

(taking a business trip to Antarctica in November)

In the same way, I didn't want to be a father. All through my 20s, girlfriends had broken up with me because I swore I would never have kids. When I got engaged to my first wife I said, "I definitely do not want to have kids." I felt kids would drain my creativity. I felt they would put a leash on my freedom. We came to a compromise which somehow ended up with me having two kids. Ultimatums don't work once you are engaged. Now we're divorced but I still have the two kids.

When the first kid was born I was very unhappy. I left kid and mom at the hospital and went through two sets of locked doors with video cameras to play poker at a private club in Manhattan. At first Ingrid, the girl behind the second door, wouldn't let me in. "Go back to your wife," she said.

"She's out cold on morphine or whatever they do to women they rip open and pull a living human being out of." "Ok." Ingrid let me in and they even made  me a nice dinner while I played all night.

Just a day earlier I had been hoping the baby would be born dead even while my ex-wife was in labor. Just to selfishly save me from 20 years of what I thought would be horror. I could say, "that's how selfish I was" and maybe that would be true but it was more like I was scared. I couldn't imagine that suddenly there would be this new US citizen living in  my apartment who was one foot tall, didn't speak English, shat on the floor, slept on my bed crying that I could roll over and crush if I drank too  much, and in general would require so much of my attention it would take up all the molecules in my brain. I never quite dealt with it. Children change everything.

(I hope to be at least as a good a father as Darth Vader)

But when I got divorced the first thing that occurred to me was: I won't be there when she has nightmares in the middle of the night. I cried thinking about that. I felt the same depth of sadness I felt when my dad died.  One time when she was six I showed her a beautiful animated movie about Hiroshima called "Barefoot Gen". It was too much. In the middle of the night I heard her crying. She was still asleep but she was up in her bed crying, hitting her pillow and yelling, "no no no". It was too much for her and I felt bad. I kissed her and woke her and hugged her and calmed her down. Once I was divorced I wouldn't get a chance to do that anymore. Or the chances would get much less. And now that she's a teenager, there's an extra shell of hormones swimming around in her pretty head that I have to get through.By the time I get through them on the weekends she has to go back home.

I hate Fathers Day. Probably because I'm not a very good father. But also because I hate how we're so willing to believe its a day that should be special. The day was popularized by the Associated Men's Wear Retailers Association in the 1930s. They wanted a special day set aside so people would feel obligated to buy millions of men some more clothes in the middle of the Depression. We all have enough clothes. Enough with the clothes already. But like almost every holiday in America, there has to be a way to drain people of their hard-earned money and Congress is always eager to legislate money from the rest of us. So now we have Father's Day. Not really for my kids to appreciate what a great dad I might be. Although they are planning on taking me for breakfast. Maybe every day should be father's day.

I try to do one thing really well as a father. Since I can't be there every day for them. Or take them to all of their events. Or arrange their schooling or playdates or anything like that. So now that I've learned to love them more than I thought humanly possible I try to do one thing very well.

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When they are here, I listen to them. I set aside "office hours" so each kid can talk to me and tell me whatever they want without me judging or fixing or making comments. If they want my comments I will give them. Otherwise they can drone on for hours and I will listen. I'm not a fun dad. I don't take them to parks or play soccer or baseball with them.  I like to read all day so I encourage them to do the same when they are here. But I will always listen to them. And, at their ages, I know that friendship is at least as important as having great parents so I always say "yes" if they want to go out with friends, even if it further limits my time with them. It also allows me to get rid of them so I can be alone more. Bliss.

(teaching my 13 year old how to levitate yesterday)

And for the other, the ten year old, she wrote a poem summarizing my philosophy perfectly. She writes better than me. I've just taken 1000 words to get here and she can do it in just a few words:

Let It Go, by Mollie Altucher, age 10

Let it go
Don't let it suffocate
Let it breathe
Don't drown its word
Let it talk
Don't doubt its wisdom
Let it think
But when its time, just let it flow
And let it go


I wish I had written that. It's simple and gets the point across and closes beautifully. And somehow, it summarizes my own personal philosophy. I told Mollie about my trip to Iceland and how the day was considered lucky for weddings. She  asked, "what happens if you get married when it's dark in Iceland for 24 straight hours?" I can only hope she explores the world one day and finds out all of these questions for herself. For once I'd like to lie down, close my eyes, and let her tell me all of the answers. Just so I could listen to her beautiful voice.


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  • Wow, what a poem. You have some kid there. Looks like you did something right.  :-)

  • Happy Father’s day James!  Enjoy the day!  

    Keep writing. That is a beautiful piece. I really enjoyed it.  

  • Well done on being such a great Dad

  • I hear Antarctica is beautiful in November. ; )  Happy Fathers Day.

  • Mutimbafb

    I already liked your blog on Facebook, but wonder why I was asked to like it today again! Happy Fathers Day.

  • Zardoz123


  • That is a beautiful poem. I wish I had felt like that when I was 10. Or even now.

  • James, another great and brutally honest piece. Great writing by Mollie! Happy Fathers Day!

  • Mollie’s poem is a reflection of you. That’s so cool! I like the levitating pic. Have a fun Fathers Day :) 

  • Wait a second, James, I thought you NEVER go to weddings?

    • Making the ONE exception in this case. First wedding ever I think, other than my own. 

  • PattiEFink
  • Andris Lagsdin

    James, i think she has taught you to levitate!
    Happy fathers day.

  • Happy Father’s Day, James!  I’ll bet you’re a proud papa today, and if you’re not, shame on you.  :)

  • You’re on the right track. Keep going…

  • Murali


  • Sooz

    That little ‘Punk’ and her big sister have given you the greatest gift(s). Such beautiful girls..lucky you!!

    Happy Father’s Day, J.A..

  • Now my feet wont touch the ground.

    Keep levitating. All of you.

  • Your daughter is almost as tall as you are! Happy Father’s Day.

  • Chad

    Wonderful, thoughtful blog entry, James. Thanks. Mollie reminds me of my Sophie. Tell her to keep writing…

  • Happy Father’s Day!  You are sometimes way too brutally honest – gotta admire you for that.

    As for me, I can definitely wait to be a dad…

  • Kevin Faul

    great poem.

  • Marco

    Wait a second people this man just admitted he hated the day his child was born, somebody call child custody are we sure we want this man watching over children?

  • Stewart

    what did Michael Chabon say, “a father is a man that fails everday”?

  • Thank you, Mollie!

  • James, I *so appreciate* that you always tell your truth! For so many reasons, really, but mostly because it allows ideas to BREATHE! I also enjoy what Anne Lamott wrote on her FB page about Father’s Day:

    “I don’t approve of Father’s Day, any more than I do Mother’s Day, because it is exclusive, and makes non-Dads feel less-than. 

    “Also it contributes to the great palace lie that being a parent gives you a level of love and connection unavailable to other people–aunts, uncles, step grandparents, brothers, sisters. What a crock! 

    “Plus many of the most miserable people on earth tomorrow will be the dads who will get held hostage at restaurants that they don’t want to be at, with the children whom they may have shamed or neglected or worse, opening the Hallmark cards that the wives or moms bought.

    “Oh never mind, don’t get me started.”

  • James_K199

    Hi James,

    And this article didn’t answer the question it posed: You didn’t want to be a father and then what happened? What happened between time you hating the idea of having a child and then crying about your child being left alone at night? 

    Your book is great. I just started reading it and it perfectly expresses ideas of being free from various forms of society pressures. You use term “brainwashing” about how society and peers brainwash and force us into doing something that we don’t need. But you don’t suppose that pressure of having children is brainwashing.

    I am struggling all my life with brainwashing and pressure about having children. There is such a strong dogma that you need to have and like having chldren. Otherwise you’re monster, heartless bastard. And when you try to argue about it people say that you need to try it to see it. when you have children then “you’ll see”, and “it will change everything”.

    I don’t want to lose best and most productive years of my life. Not many people are free to do as they like. Most people work 9 to 5 for a living or run their own business. And having children takes away that little personal time and opportunity they have. Takes it away for at least 15 years, first 5 being full-time obligation. Sleepless nights and constant fear for child and stress It accelerates your ageing. But most of all it’s lost opportunity. You could have quit your job or you had grown your own business further. you could have created something. Having a child sucks all that opportunity out, puts additional pressure while you trying to survive as independent and free individual.

    Opportunities lost. You have children in most productive and period of your life. By the time children grow up and you’re free again you don’t’ have life of your own. You practically sacrificed your life for children. I seen it so many times, parents don’t have life of their own and terrorising their adult 20-30 year old children for attention, to get piece of their life.

    And then there’s army of rationalising parents replying to me that it’s the best thing ever. Of course it is, for you! Because you don’t have anything else left that is as significant in your life. All that you could have been, all that you could have built and created, it never happened. You have this instead, your children.

    I would like to try and see to have children. But it’s not like when you can buy a motorcycle to see if it’s your thing or not and then sell it if it’s not. If you’re not heartless un-responsible person you can’t abandon a child. Of course there’s “have a child and it will change everything”. But what if it’s not? Should I have this experiment, sacrifice best years of my life and potentially ruin childhood of another person just to prove to everyone “here, I had a child”.

    And your article is a testament to how brainwashed the society is. Everyone reading it assume that you now love your children and it’s the best thing happened to you. Even though there’s may not be direct mention about that in there.

    Is this a part of a struggle? You’re trying to be more than breeding machine, achieve something on higher level and pressure of society hold and drag you back into “reproduce and be happy”.

    • FlyKS



      Here’s my $.02…. I am you, just a few steps (years) ahead. Your comments
      seemed to have been channeled from my 28 yr old brain, stored 15 years, and
      coughed out on Altucher’s blog. I literally had every thought you
      expressed.  In the spirit of James’ post,
      consider me a case study for the experiment you are wondering about.  My wife and I have had a challenging marriage since
      day one. Mostly due to personality differences. Like James, when we got married, we
      both agreed we didn’t want kids and wanted to make the most of our own lives. A
      few years in, she changed the rules. I can’t prove she stopped using the pill,
      but I have more than a hunch that it was the case (she made a comment to a
      friend). Kid number one came. I didn’t have the balls that James’ had to bolt from
      the hospital for awhile, but the temptation was tremendous. Our world began rotating
      around the kid. Six years later came kid number two (followed by the vasectomy
      that I had wanted to have since age 20 but no local doctor would do because of
      my age).

      Like James, I begrudgingly threw myself into fatherhood. Interestingly,
      I’m actually pretty good at it. I even ended up doing 9 months as a
      stay-at-home dad after our second child was born. My wife earns multiples of my
      salary so I often end up taking extra kid duties. It all absolutely works like
      you suspect…they take huge amounts of time and I feel like I’m missing
      opportunities career-wise and just general life experiences I would get to
      enjoy if there weren’t the time and financial demands of kids. I know you are
      waiting for the punchline where I tell you it is all worth it. Unfortunately,
      it’s not that clear cut. I love my kids (seriously). They give me the
      opportunity to keep being a kid at heart like I wouldn’t otherwise (killer
      water balloon fight last weekend). However, they’ve also kept me in a marriage
      I wouldn’t have stayed in. I have been on the divorce fence more often than not
      for the past decade. That sucks.  One of
      my greatest fears is just what James said…not being there when the kids need
      some comforting…especially when their mother gets on an emotional, verbal
      tirade.  Who will help them if I’m not
      living there? The answer is they would help each other. That’s not very
      comforting and I worry about how that will affect their future relationships. On
      the flipside, we aren’t exactly a shining example of marriage success for them to
      model either.

      When you are in your early 20s society would have you
      believe that your views are going to change dramatically by your mid 30s. Mine
      haven’t. I should have stuck with what I suspected all along….don’t get married,
      skip the kid option. Today, the people I envy are the couples who, married or
      not, chose to enjoy building interesting lives together rather than
      complicating them with kids.  When my
      wife first got pregnant we watched shows about couples with kids traveling,  selling it all and sailing around the world,
      etc. That lifestyle was our goal. I could have lived with that, but the reality
      turned into the “American dream” = mortgage, power career, 2 kids, 3 cars, dog, cat (you get
      it).  Not what I signed on for, but not
      really all that bad. I’ll make some changes sooner, rather than later, to get
      aimed in a direction I’m more comfortable with.

      I guess the final answer is…no matter how you cut it, it’s
      all messy. But, just like in childhood, the messy parts are often what gives
      life its color. I agree with James’ advice….it is all a big experiment. You
      just keep stirring things up and making the best of what you uncover.

      Best of luck out there!

  • kamalravikant

    I love the raw honesty and beauty of this post.  And the ending with your daughter’s poem and last paragraph, wow.

  • Vagabond


  • James
           I never realized your daughter was 13. She seems very smart. I always think having kids is my nemesis (having never had one) and always wonder about how it would be like to be a parent.Parenting is as old as us, humans but we still don’t know how to master it. 

  • Whether we want it or not, being a father is the most important thing we’ll ever do. 

  • Mloody2000

    Don’t remember exactly, but I’m pretty sure you wrote once that you never go to weddings. Right ?

  • Donald Cea

    I read her poem and sat dumbfounded for about two minutes.  Then I printed it out, hung it on my wall and made a vow to read it a bazillion times a day until I get it…..thank you.  Thank her.

  • Thank you for expressing what I’ve wanted to say for years. I don’t want to be a mother. I like my autonomy, freedom and privacy. I’m not prepared to have someone to care for 24/7 for 20 years (it never really ends). My brother once said with vitriol in his voice that I was selfish to not have children. I tried to refute it. Not the selfish part, the I don’t want to have children. That’s the truth though, I don’t. I think it makes me selfless. Why bring unwanted children into the world?

  • Another ‘forced’ father

    Stumbled across your blog googling for “Alec Baldwin + ipad”, which took me to “10 Things I Don’t Want to Talk About” of October last year. Read it, posted it to freinds, subscribed on FB and then started looking up other articles. This one struck me as “why would this come up now?”, with my son coming to visit in a matter of days. Like one of your readers, his mother deliberately went off the pill without us discussing it. He lived with me until age 18 months, then his mother took him away to another country. A year or so later I moved there for a while, then came back to South Africa. Saw very little of him until he was 14, went to him in February last year, with his mother very ill, she passed away a month later. He lived with me for about 15/ 16 months, and is now living with friends to attend a better school and live with his friend the same age. 

  • Sourabhvarshney9045

    reallllllly gud…….

  • mikeyhell

    The levitation photo is great, can’t stop looking at it. :)

  • Pinner Pamela

    Now that is laying everything on the table. but I just cannot admire someone who wishes anyone to be born dead, let alone his own child.

  • Dennis

    I don’t care about anything you wrote here. But I love that picture! Levitate!

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  • KangamaSF

    Of course, “Barefoot Gen” freaks out a six-year-old! There’s an atomic bomb attack scene with graphic detail of people’s bodies melting/burning away and eyeballs oozing out of their heads. Then comes a scene with the badly burned survivors walking in a trance with long strips of their skin hanging off them, eyeballs dangling out of eye sockets, and guts hanging out. My first viewing of the film was in adulthood and those scenes really shook me up!