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Voices Online Edition
Pentecost 2001
--- Volume XVI No. 2

How Many Ghosts? 

By Philip Gold

As I write these words, a friend of mine is out on the highway, counting down the hours to the death of his unborn child. Before leaving, he wrote his (now former?) girlfriend a check for half the price of the procedure. He said it made him nauseous.

Long years ago, having nowhere to drive (or perhaps the car was in the shop), I did my own countdown in an Eames chair with a bottle of scotch. I do not recall writing a check, or offering, or being asked. The nausea occasionally returns.

My friend is a young man, the kind who almost makes you believe the X in GenX can also stand for excellence. Intelligent, well-educated, thoughtful, college football player/philosophy major, with a limitless future in a field so high-tech I can't begin to understand what he's talking about. I understood well enough, however, when he told me about his on-again, off-again girlfriend, brilliant and beautiful and volatile in the harsh, addictive way that brilliant, beautiful young women often are. She had gotten pregnant on a night when off changed, somewhat unexpectedly, back to on. He does not doubt that he loves her, or she him.

I asked him if this was the first time he had faced this kind of situation. He answered, yes. Then welcome to reality. Before it's over, you're going to learn a lot about who and what you are.

We talked. Baby Boomer wisdom available here. Been there, done that, no charge. Of course, I didn't tell him anything that a few million other guys couldn't have. Hannah Arendt, the great political philosopher, once wondered how many killers she and the rest of us passed on the street every day, the men who had fought our three mid-century wars, walking by with their horrors and their nausea inside. Perhaps, today, the same question might be asked in re the millions of fathers of the trashed-before-birth.

My young friend said he wanted the baby, and he was willing to marry. But there were problems between them, numerous and real. I told him, yes, but there are three of you now. Whatever happens forever, three. I told him to spend time with her, talk with her, hold her lots, listen to what she said and what she didn't say. I suggested that, if they could get to it, they might play a game. Pretend the decision to keep the child has been made. Start planning your futures, married or not. The normal stuff that folks with children face, and how to balance it all.

They never quite got there. Women come equipped these days with a slick and deadly defensive vocabulary, carefully formatted to avoid certain kinds of issues. Where do they get it from, the words? From a few thousand talk shows and magazines, of course. From the psychobabblers and the feminista, from the government and the universities, from the ads and the pulpits, and from every other branch and unit of a big-bucks industry dedicated to telling them what to think and feel and do and how to justify whatever needs to be justified at the moment and, if they're lucky, for all the years and ghosts to follow.

Anger also works.

I saw my friend the day before he left (a necessary and legitimate trip). I asked him if he had done everything he could to persuade her not to opt for the procedure. He said he had. Then I asked him about the little man standing off in one dim corner of his mind, the little guy watching with his arms folded and a hideous smirk on his face. The little guy with the little voice that said, "You're off the hook". My young friend wiped his eyes and I saw no reason to mention that, for reasons now obscure, I gave my own little guy the name of Buster.

And Buster doth make cowards of us all.

You told me everything that would happen, my young friend said before he took off. Sure did, right up to and including, "Whatever your feelings, can a man of honor go back to a woman who killed his child?" Buster would, of course, say you can. What's honor got to do with it? Very well, then. If not honor, what about ghosts?

All kinds of ghosts. Another friend, a woman my age, likes to point out that in the years before the procedure became legal-on-demand, the procedure's advocates argued far more than Woman's Body, Woman's Right. The procedure, plus all the dandy new contraceptives, would guarantee that every child would be a wanted child. Illegitimacy would all but vanish. Divorce, child and spousal abuse, single parenthood, poverty ditto, more or less. We could contracept and procedure our way to paradise.

Didn't quite happen that way. Anybody willing to be honest about why?

Got a man joke for you. How many men does it take?

How many ghosts?

Saw my friend a few days later, grinning like he'd just scored the winning touchdown after playing three quarters without his helmet. Turns out his lady chose life.

Congratulations, guys. You're gonna love Lamaze.

Philip Gold is president of Aretéa, a Seattle-based cultural affairs institute. This essay originally appeared in The Washington Times, August 23, 1999. Copyright ©1999, News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit The Washington Times web site at

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