Little Bobby rounds second base and darts towards third. This is his first season of kid pitch baseball and he just lined a shot over the first base bag. As the ball begins creeping towards the outfield fence Bobby rounds second while glancing up and to see the third base coach waving him home. The outfielder’s throw is on its way. Bobby approaches home while stealing a glance at the incoming throw.
It is going to be close.
He slides head first to the right of the catcher who is blocking the plate. Reaching out his left arm with a determined focus Bobby slaps home plate.
“Safe,” bellows the umpire.
Bobby leaps up and jogs to the dugout. He is trying to play it cool but the grin on his face gives him away as it stretches from ear to ear. After high fives and some helmet slaps Bobby sneaks out the back of the tiny dugout. He runs towards me with a high five and he then leaps into Big Bobby’s arms.
It is his first home run and he wants to share it with his dad.
I’m left watching, feeling excited for Bobby, but lacking the level of pride and joy I see in his dad’s eyes.
Big Bobby has been a friend for more years than I can recall. We often attend our friends’ childrens’ events; the games, plays and concerts. My wife, Justine, and I are not able to have our own children but as Justine says we live a childfull life with our chosen family.
Mountains of articles and posts exist about the impact of infertility and loss but surprisingly very few share the male perspective. I think a huge reason for this is men’s ability to be completely lost in a single topic or event. Some may call this presence and being engaged but I also think it’s our ability to compartmentalize. The way I am wired allows me to compartmentalize my thoughts, feelings and experiences much more than Justine.
Do I think about the kids we never got to have? Yes. Everyday. From watching our chosen children play baseball to seeing the family of 5 on the hiking trail just yesterday. I see a cute baby and wonder what ours would have looked like. Would they have grown up to have my athletic ability and Justine’s drive? What would they have liked to do? I experience all this in the moment and depending on the specific set of circumstances I experience the full range of emotions; happiness, sadness, anger, wonder and grief.
Some of this is driven by my own stuff while some is a direct response to Justine’s reaction to the same experience. Then I move to the next experience life throws my way; this is where I perceive the big difference. While I generally move 100% to the next experience a portion seems to linger with Justine.
The way I am wired, I am better able to put these wonders, thoughts and feelings into boxes. And the boxes don’t touch. Whereas, in Justine it is a ball of wires all connected to one another.
This is important because we (especially men) are many times repetitively asked how we are feeling. Often our answers are unsatisfactory to our wives and can often lead to conflict. I think the missing ingredient in this feelings conversation is simply timing. I need to be asked in the moment to accurately describe how I am feeling. Four hours later when we are home the vividness of my emotional response has dissipated, whereas for Justine many times it has only been exacerbated.
Recently, Justine asked in the moment at a track meet we were volunteering at. As we watched the high school athletes circling the track, making personal records and even meet records, Justine asked, “Does something like this ever make you sad?”
“What do you mean?” I replied.
“Would they have been track stars like you?”
“It makes me wonder for sure.”
Some days I would love to be in Big Bobby’s shoes. To experience the joy of my son’s first home run. To look to my left and down (I’m 14 inches taller than Justine), lock eyes and smile at her saying silently to one another, that’s our boy. To proudly say to the parents surrounding me, “Did you see that?”
Yet we know life’s not all unending joy. Some days I’m unabashedly thankful my never to be children will not experience the tears, suffering and sorrow of this world. And that is one of the paradoxes, or as Justine calls it, the complicated gray, of life and especially, the infertility and loss journey.
Should not being able to have children make me feel happiness and sadness, jealousy and gratitude, longing and joy?
Ask me in the moment and I’ll let you know.
Chad Froelker is the VP of Finance for Brand Addition in St. Louis, Missouri. He is the husband of advocate and bestselling author Justine Brooks Froelker. He enjoys sports, working outside and singing songs to their three dogs.
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