Most fathers-to-be suppose that their old ego-centered lives will continue more or less unabated after the child arrives. With the exception of a few more obstacles and demands on their time, their involvement with their children is envisioned as being something manageable and marginal. Nothing like a complete transformation—an abrupt end to their former life—really enters men’s minds.
But then the onslaught begins, and a man begins to realize that these people, his wife and children, are literally and perhaps even intentionally killing his old self. All around him everything is changing, without any signs of ever reverting back to the way they used to be. Into the indefinite future, nearly every hour of his days threatens to be filled with activities that, as a single-person or even a childless husband, he never would have chosen. Due to the continual interruptions of sleep, he is always mildly fatigued; due to long-term financial concerns, he is cautious in spending, forsaking old consumer habits and personal indulgences; he finds his wife equally exhausted and preoccupied with the children; connections with former friends start to slip away; traveling with his children is like traveling third class in Bulgaria, to quote H.L. Mencken; and the changes go on and on. In short, he discovers, in a terrifying realization, what Dostoevsky proclaimed long ago: “[A]ctive love is a harsh and fearful reality compared with love in dreams.” Fatherhood is just not what he bargained for.
Yet, through the exhaustion, financial stress, screaming, and general chaos, there enters in at times, mysteriously and unexpectedly, deep contentment and gratitude. It is not the pleasure or amusement of high school or college but rather the honor and nobility of sacrifice and commitment, like that felt by a soldier. What happens to his children now happens to him; his life, though awhirl with the trivial concerns of children, is more serious than it ever was before. Everything he does, from bringing home a paycheck to painting a bedroom, has a new end and, hence, a greater significance. The joys and sorrows of his children are now his joys and sorrows; the stakes of his life have risen. And if he is faithful to his calling, he might come to find that, against nearly all prior expectations, he never wants to return to the way things used to be.
This is why I am looking forward to the call to fatherhood. A friend of mine last week, who is a new dad, joked with me about me and my fiance’s desire to have a “large” family (not really large, but large by modern day standards). His subtle point was that I had that desire because I didn’t have an experience of what it is really like to raise a kid. If only I were to babysit a little, I’d quickly change my mind, so he thought.
Perhaps I am woefully in the dark. In fact, it is a certainty. However, it is the commitment expressed in the above quote that anchors my desire, not any rosy prophecy of the ease of fatherhood. The honor, nobility, and sacrifice involved in raising children bears incredibly deep and meaningful contentment and gratitude…much, much more than any frills to be had as a parentless single. I have not experienced fatherhood directly, so some may scoff. But I’ve seen that reality, and I know better than to listen to the scoffers who tempt me to sidle back into my single cave.
Sure, “my” life, as they call it, will be over. As a married man, not just a father, I will have to give up the “go where I want, do what I want” mentality and lifestyle. But that is ok…in fact, I think I’m making out ahead in the exchange, even given the not-so-glamorous transformation of which Peach speaks.
I don’t expect secular society to get that. But I wish more inside the church would.
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