Thales of Miletus (ca. 640 B.C.E. – 546 B.C.E.) was called the “father of demonstrative mathematics.” But that was as far as his “fatherhood” stretched. He never married or had children. When the great and wise Solon asked why, Thales did not answer. Instead, he arranged a rather cruel practical joke. Thales hired a messenger to bring Solon (false) news of the death of his son. According to the Roman biographer Plutarch writing seven centuries later, Solon began to beat his head with his fists and do and say “all that is usual with men in the transports of grief.” Then Thales took his hand and, with a smile, said: “These things, Solon, keep me from marriage and rearing children, whish are too great for even your constancy to support. However, be not concerned at the report for it is a fiction.”
Having children is indeed a challenge. The demands on a parent’s time and energy – not to mention resources – is incalculable. (Although Statistics Canada has estimated the costs of raising a child from birth to adulthood at approximately $250,000 – not counting Jewish Day Schools, orthodontics, and Summer Camps.) The Talmud (Yebamot 63b) reports that is was precisely the tremendous demand on time that kept the second century teacher Ben Azzai from marrying and fathering a family. He remained a bachelor because “his soul was in love with the Torah.” Anything that took his precious time away from the study of Torah was unwelcome. Perhaps the demands on time were what prevented King Hezekiah from marrying and having children (See RaShI on II Kings 20:1). Too involved with running the kingdom, Hezekiah had no time for a family. Yet it was not the difficulty alone that worried Thales. It was the risk.
Being a parent means that there is always the fear that your heart can be broken. With an economy of words the Torah describes Aaron’s reaction to the death of his two oldest sons in just this way: “VaYidom Aharon” – Aaron was silent (Leviticus 10:3). Although Aaron did not go through the same mournful gyrations as Solon, he was equally as devastated. He was paralyzed with pain. Perhaps at the very moment of hearing of their deaths Aaron was imagining how his pain could have been avoided if he never had children.
Parents never expect the death of a child but it is, nonetheless, a real possibility. If people want to avoid the potential pain, they might concur with Thales. Yet those who never have children deny themselves the joy of a baby’s first smile, or the first unsteady step, or that loving hug, or any of the other special moments that only parents can understand.