This is for a longtime friend of mine, who recently learned he’s going to be a father.
You can be more of a person by being less of an individualist. Before they have children, men have a lot more stuff: expensive football jerseys, freedom to attend sporting events and concerts on a whim, a steady beer supply (including 12-packs of the latest microbrew they’ve decided to try), steak for dinner every other night, abstract cooking utensils and countertop appliances, and a plethora of used and unused sporting goods.
Spending money on stuff like that seems kind of silly once a man becomes a dad. Why blow money on major league or professional football game tickets when you can take your child to a minor league or high school football game and have twice the fun? Why buy a fancy road bicycle when you could get a child seat for your mountain bike instead? Gym memberships become obsolete – there aren’t enough minutes in the hours of a day to spend time “getting huge,” especially when jogs and bike rides with your child do wonders for your heart.
A man learns it’s not all about him once he becomes a father. He’s okay with that because it’s more than satisfying to know he’s fulfilling one of the few obligations God truly wants him to accomplish.
You learn how to dance. Finally. Men used to pretend they knew how to dance back when they were in college, but face it: most men only hope to move rhythmically on the dance floor long enough to attract moderate attention without getting laughed at.
Having a child – particularly a daughter – changes that. For the first time in their lives, men have a good, wholesome reason to dance anywhere depending on the circumstances of the day. It could be in a parking lot. Or at a wedding, in the living room or on the front lawn. The type of jig doesn’t matter – as long as his child is smiling, he’s doing it right.
Big pictures, small pictures combine to make one great picture. Possibly one of the best things about childhood is we only have to worry about the “small” picture – what we’d be doing for fun a particular morning, afternoon or evening. It becomes more complicated once people start asking what we want to be when we grow up. By the time we’re teenagers, it’s a disaster filled with worries about college, summer jobs and car insurance.
Finally, all at once one day, we stop caring about the small picture. It’s the “big” picture that counts.
But when we become parents, we get the chance to once again worry about what we’ll be doing for fun a particular morning, afternoon or evening because it’s our duty to organize these events for our children. Sure, planning for college, mortgages and work commitments are still around – but those big picture matters aren’t so bad with the small picture there to remind us to live the life we’ve made.
You return to God. When my daughter was born, I had not attended a church service on a day that wasn’t Christmas or Easter since high school. I hadn’t lost my faith in God or rejected religion, but I had put church on the back burner. There were too many other things to do on Sundays.
But if you are religious, you’re probably going to want your child to be religious as well (why wouldn’t you?). That means making it a point to take him or her to church as often as you went as a child.
If it goes as it did for me, the services are actually more stimulating and ultimately fulfilling with your child next to you in the pew. You try your best to listen to the sermon because you want to set a good example for your child and, before you know it, those years of experience paying attention during boring work meetings pay off – and you begin to genuinely enjoy the good Reverend’s message.
You may or may not return next week, but at least your child knows you probably should – and so do you.
You can do anything. I have trophies, award and academic certificates, and a college degree. I have a respectable occupation and hope for advancement. My belongings are far greater in number than I probably deserve. These are the things I use to gauge the accomplishments people have conditioned me to expect.
None of them come up, though, when someone asks what I am most proud of – for being a father makes any prior, current or future accomplishment seem nearly moot.
It is through being a father men learn selflessness, patience, confidence, compassion, emotional freedom, leadership, devotion and – in one of its most sincere forms – love. You don’t know what you’re doing – and half the stuff you do doesn’t even sound right – but you do the best you can.
Fatherhood will mutilate everything a man thought he was before re-shaping it into something even better. It is a rewarding incident; it is a disappointing incident. It is grand; it is ordinary. It is nothing like we expected.
It is greater, in fact.
And a father will pray every day, either with words or thought, that it will never come to an end. For it is more significant than the best part of his life – it is his life.
That is an accomplishment.