My wife and I married young by today’s standards; we met just before our 17th birthdays and were married four years later at the ripe old age of 21. Two years later, we were off to graduate school. And four years into graduate school, it was time to have The Discussion: we both wanted kids, but when?
I remembered that one day shortly before we married, it had hit me: What the heck am I doing? This is for life. It had all seemed so inevitable until that moment, like putting one foot in front of the other. But the reality of the commitment had finally sunk in; it was less fear or doubt than the awe appropriate to the vows we would soon take.
And it felt the same way when we talked about having kids — but more so. In marriage, you make a life commitment to an adult you’ve already known and loved. In parenting, however, you propose birthing a baby about whom you know only one thing: he or she will depend on you entirely.
Nevertheless, we were ready to take the plunge. But when? I still had a couple of years left on my doctorate, and the path after that was uncertain. When would be a good time, the best time, to become parents?
It didn’t take long to figure it out. There was no “best” time.
And about a year later, our first, a son, was born.
We had a lot of learning to do, right from that first oversized poopy diaper on the way home from the hospital. It’s one thing to read books about parenting; it’s another to care for a real flesh-and-blood being and wonder every day if you’re doing the right thing. Many men, in particular, thrive on feeling sure and competent, but feel like klutzes around babies. (It’s a mercy that babies can be so gracious with their love, if we will but love them in return.)
The worst part about being a dad? It’s not the diapers (though those are no party either). It’s giving immature and inexperienced human beings permission to put their chubby little fingers around your heart and squeeze. You hurt when they hurt, and you hurt when they hurt you. They fall down. They’re seized with terror in the middle of the night. They erupt with passions they haven’t yet learned to understand or control. They snub you or take you for granted. They make bad decisions, sometimes disastrously so. And through it all, you struggle to master your own impatience and anger, in order to live up to your commitment to being the one they call Dad (and can we get an amen from Mom?).
But here’s the best part. It’s the flip side of the above: discovering that you have a heart that can be hurt. The same little beings that can make you madder and drive you crazier than anyone else in the world also awaken in you a tenderness and love you never knew possible. Despite the sacrifices and the inevitable frustrations, you want to be there for them. To soothe, teach, and listen. To kiss the boo-boos and magically make them better.
And somehow, some of the greatest joys in life become having your children snuggle into your shoulder, relaxing contentedly in your arms, or making good decisions and growing up into healthy adults.
If I can be forgiven a moment of anthropomorphizing: isn’t it a wonder that we get to call God our Father? As N. T. Wright has commented regarding the Lord’s Prayer: “the church is not instructed by its Lord to approach its Father with ‘Sorry’ as its first word. …The normal Christian approach to the Creator God is the unfettered and delighted ‘Father.'”
Amen, and Happy Father’s Day to all.