Besides, when my wife and I first discussed it, we had no room for a child, quite literally. We were practically living in a studio. We'd both gotten a late start in a dicey line of work—she writes scripts; I write articles. And we were free agents, living that wobbly life of feast, then famine, then more famine, then okay, that's enough famine, I'm not kidding, it's getting cold in here. Bringing a child into our home would have been like chucking a baby onto a roller coaster.

We're on a steadier ship today, no doubt. And adoption hasn't been entirely ruled out. But we view it the way a wingsuit daredevil assesses the weather before leaping off a mountain—the conditions need to be perfect. Can we afford nannies and sitters and private school and soccer camp? Will we have time to play catch and watch endless reruns of Barney & Friends? Every time, we end up in full agreement that one of us will have to be the stay-at-home parent. At which point it goes quiet and I usually receive an email that can't wait. "Sorry, dear, can we do this later? Banana Republic is offering 40 percent off…"

I think I'd make a decent uncle, since uncles get to go home afterward. But fatherhood is 24/7, good days and bad. And a child doesn't need my bad days. I worry that my baggage will go once more around the carousel, and one day my child might be on a therapist's couch talking about me.

"Oh, don't worry, we all fuck them up!" That's what other dads tell me. They're so cavalier, and I like that about them. A spot of psychological damage is par for the course.

Time

In 2013, Time magazine published a cover with the headline "The Childfree Life: When Having It All Means Not Having Children," featuring a smug couple on a beach living the high life. This is a common perception of the childless: They're people who surveyed the options and chose self-gratification, a life without responsibilities. I made no such choice. My life tumbles along and I blunder through, making choices that can't be unchosen, this is true, but childlessness wasn't one of them. It was a consequence, a side effect, not a goal. Although I try to deny it, life in the end is a winnowing of options as we become the product of our decisions, whether we meant to or not. And in this way, the reasons for not having children have accumulated through the years, like snow against a barn door. Leave it long enough and it just won't open anymore.

Lately—this shows you how conflicted I am—I've been thinking that parenting might actually be the best path to self-actualization. We were driving home a while back—my wife, the dogs, and I—when the traffic narrowed to one lane, slowing to a crawl. From every direction children flooded into the street, all dressed in Halloween costumes, these adorable little Batmen and Tinker Bells. And it was such a life-affirming scene, I felt the sadness in my chest. The path not taken has seldom looked so picturesque.

These poignant moments, they happen all the time. Families are inescapable—in malls, on billboards, on television. From my desk at home, I hear the sound of recess from a primary school at the bottom of the hill: yelping and chasing and playing. The usual questions churn: Who am I doing this for? Why do I exist? What use is all my self-actualization if I can't dump it all onto a small child?

We went home that night and hugged our dogs extra-tight. We didn't dress them up as zombies, but maybe next year. Maybe that's what happens to people like us. The childless often call other things "babies," and there's no question that Onion and Cujo are our furry surrogates. Dogs won't end up on a therapist's couch.

It's also true that they won't visit us as we wither away in a nursing home. They won't say "Daddy" or graduate or give us grandchildren. But this is our life and we must embrace it. Although I'll miss out on the joys of Halloween, I can at least create "book babies," an idea I've always liked. After all, childlessness offers what books require: acres of time and silence. Only it's never quite silent for me. There's always the sound of recess.

This article originally appears in the April '17 issue.