Other than last week’s mea culpa, I have not posted anything since Melissa found out she is pregnant. Of course this is no coincidence – how could I post a Manhattan Monday or something silly about football or the World Cup or Vegas without first acknowledging the 900 pound gorilla in the room? How could I talk politics without first talking paternity? The truth is I must discuss our unborn child before going on to anything else.
Yet discussing our child – and all the intellectual and emotional baggage that comes along with him – is no easy task. As I said last week, it was laziness on my part not to wade through my thoughts and probe my emotions in order to put together a coherent post – an authentic post not lacking integrity. So here I sit, much later in the pregnancy than I should be, relating my soul-born verisimilitudes and sentiments. Unlike the Green M&M, I won’t address my comments directly to our baby; for her it is sweet and appropriate, for me it would be excessively twee. So here is my discourse (in the lightest possible usage) on parenthood, framed by three primary thoughts and emotions:
1. The responsibility of fatherhood is both humbling and invigorating . While I don’t believe in patriarchy – at least not in its most complete definition – I do believe my responsibility is to provide and lead our family. With Melissa alone that was easy enough: until this year she made more money than I did, and we almost never disagree on anything (the whole Calvinist/Arminian thing not withstanding). But now things are different. I will be the sole provider of our material needs – a variety of necessities that extend far beyond mere monetary income. Yes, I alone will provide our family’s revenue, but I will also be responsible for other basic needs such as health insurance, housing, transportation, food, and all other manner of miscellaneous items that are true needs in the 21st century; in short, a complete provider in the broadest sense.
With Melissa this is a simple enough task, since we basically utilize the same resources and partake of the same essentials. But now with a child the complexity of providing is significantly increased. Now I must provide our little one’s food, his insurance, his diapers, his toys, his housing, safety, security, shelter, both now and looking to the future. Unlike my wife, my child won’t eat the same foods (at least not at first) and almost none of our resources can be efficiently shared. If I fail to provide for Melissa, she can make due on her own. If I fail to provide for our baby, he will fall ill or die. His life is ultimately sustained by me: he depends on me entirely for mere survival.
That is an awesome, humbling responsibility. For the first time I hold another human’s life – from birth – entirely in my hands. His well-being and “happiness” is dependent on me. As a surgeon, I hold my patients’ lives in my hands in the OR, but that’s in a temporary, contrived, controlled setting with redundancy. As a father, there is no reprieve, no time off – I will always be a father, and until he becomes an adult, he will always be dependent on my provision. Any back-up is fleeting, superficial, and finite. Such responsibility humbles me, because I really don’t deserve and haven’t earned this role. It is a position God has entrusted to me, but I’m not entitled to it and nothing obliges Him to grant it.
Beyond mere tangible provision, as head of the household I must provide spiritual and moral leadership. If all I provide for our family is money and physical recourse, I will be reduced to nothing more than an ATM or a glorified social worker, dispensing goods in mechanical fashion. My greater responsibility is to provide our family with a spiritual compass, directed unwaveringly at Jesus Christ. Psalm 17:5 says this:
“Up hold my steps in Your paths, that my footsteps may not slip.”
That is my constant prayer as I prepare for my role as father. Instead of upholding my footsteps in His path, He must uphold our steps. If we stray from His path, we will falter in some form – if not materially, then certainly spiritually or morally. The only way to live a truly fulfilled life that glorifies God is by following Him. All other roads lead to futility. It is humbling beyond measure that God has entrusted me with the responsibility of leading us on His path, and it can only be accomplished with His grace.
Yet in spite of its humbling gravity, such responsibility is also thoroughly invigorating. Realizing I must provide for not only my wife but also my child infuses my spirit with full joy. It is easy to worry about failing, but instead, I’m excited about the mere chance to succeed. Indeed, I won’t be perfect and in many ways I will fail, both small and large. Yet the mere possession of responsibility is a gift and a privilege. The task of providing is a reward in itself, regardless how well or how poorly I actually perform. The excitement and anticipation of my responsibility to my family is among the deepest, soul-derived pleasures I can imagine.
2. I’m looking forward to infancy – beyond is what worries me . I’m very excited about having a baby. Holding him, watching him sleep, watching him breastfeed, consoling him when he cries – I’m looking forward to all of that cute baby stuff. Going through the developmental landmarks such as rolling over, crawling, cooing, talking, etc. will be fun. None of that worries me about parenthood – infancy seems more fun and exciting than anything.
But what about when he really starts to require parenting skills beyond feeding and diaper changing? What about when I have to start teaching him healthy respect for authority? What about when I have to start disciplining? What about when I tell him to do something and he discovers that simplest of words: “No!” Then what kind of parent will I be? And that’s still when he’s a child – what about when he starts school and needs to learn discipline and social skills and all of his actions reflect right back on Melissa and me?
Again, I don’t expect perfection from myself. But I do want to do a great job. After all, this child has his entire life in front of him. What I do can potentially ruin his life, or at least a good chunk of it. I want him to have a happy, abundant (beyond materially) childhood, not a sad one or one he and I will regret. My parents were superb – I want to be that excellent, if not better. Melissa and I may or may not have more children in the future, but either way this is my ONE chance to be this child’s father. There is no do-over in 50 years, no dress rehearsal. What I do now is irrevocably etched in the marble of eternity, with no chance of erasing or changing it down the road. What I do as a father is done, and cannot be undone, both good and bad. Being a good father requires selflessness. I pray I find and display that selflessness beyond my capabilities.
3. I want to maintain my relationship with Melissa as a priority above my relationship with my child . I have no doubt my love for our son will be immense, probably more profound in some ways than anything else. Yet I cannot allow that love to overshadow and usurp the love I have for my wife. My firm conviction is that a key part of fatherhood is displaying unconditional love for Melissa. I can give my child the most profoundly appropriate advice and model all sorts of exemplary behaviors, but if I allow my responsibilities as a husband to lapse, I will be a failure.
You see, I love Melissa more than anything, and I want our relationship to flourish in conjunction with parenthood, not be diminished by it. Most people say our relationship will change to a certain degree after our baby is born, and that’s fine. Change is acceptable, but harm or any decrease in the fervor of our love and commitment is unacceptable. Seeing new strengths and qualities – both good and bad – in each other is an exciting adventure, but changing the focus of my gaze from Melissa to our child will result in failure as a husband, and ultimately as a father.
Love is not a zero sum game. There is no mathematical equation that dictates my love for Melissa somehow fade as my love for our son begins to glow. On the contrary, I expect my love for Melissa to shine even brighter as a result of a new love for our baby. Look at what we’ve created together and look at the adventure – filled with challenges and opportunities – that lies ahead. How can I not love her even more knowing that we have experienced the penultimate intimacy: the physical inception of a human being! How can I not look on her with compounded awe for her capacity as a mother, both physically and emotionally? Why would my love for her be reduced in any way as a result of childbearing? I can’t see it happening: I will love her all the more and our relationship will only be enhanced by the birth of our son.
In the end, I’m looking forward to the birth of our son, but not at the expense of enjoying the time we have left without a newborn. Life will be fundamentally changed, for better and for worse. The phase of life with just Melissa and me is about to end – and that’s just fine. It has been the most wondrous, gratifying time of my life, yet it cannot and should not go on forever. The phase of having children in our home is about to begin, and I’m thrilled about the possibilities that will bring. I am thankful to God and fully reliant on Him to bring Him honor in my role as a father.