Six years ago, I wrote a piece on the four reasons I love being a dad. A lot has changed in the past six years; a new job, two relocations, a master’s degree, starting a PhD, and on top of that, adding two more children to the Zimmerer clan! Looking back caused me to consider whether my feelings had changed or transformed in some way. In that piece I mention the beauty of living in an imaginary world of innocence that little children provide their parents, the sense of nobility that being someone dependable brought me, the paradoxical freedom of living for others, and the challenging ways that kids help their fathers discover their own ability to lead.
After six years, I would proudly say that those reasons still hold true; they’ve just deepened since the day I wrote them. The culture still seems to view fatherhood as some kind of “ball and chain” that needs to be delayed or eschewed altogether. But having the heart of a dad is something that no worldly pleasure or selfishness could ever give you—a heart filled with honor, love, struggle, and purpose. Now that I have two more children, I have even more beings to give of my time and money to. Now that I have kids who are just about to be teenagers, the challenge of leadership, patience, and self-growth children bring has expanded and provided new (and often strange) avenues of growth. The opportunities to teach the faith and provide a Christian worldview have only become more profound as my kids now ask substantially harder questions than they did while in diapers.
My wife and I went from changing diapers, Little Einsteins, and just trying to keep the chaos down enough to say one or two decades of the rosary, to adding jiu-jitsu, pianos, .22 rifle shooting, Mortal Kombat, make-up, and teaching them how to be respectful to the opposite sex. Family rosaries are still pretty chaotic, and it is hard to believe what six years can do in a parent’s life. So here are four more reasons why, after six years of joy, hardship, and a lot grayer hair, I still wouldn’t trade being a father for anything in the world.
First, being a dad has taught me what it is that really brings value to my life. In the last piece I mentioned purpose, but value is a slightly different realm. Value here is meant in the sense of what exactly I value as a person. Being a dad has either honed or reined in my political, social, cultural, and religious values. I now think generationally. One of the unfortunate realities of modern political and social discussion is that very rarely do we talk about anything other than the here-and-now. By being a dad, I don’t have the luxury or desire to purely think about how my actions or the actions of our society affect me alone. Rather, I have to think about what the world is going to look like for my children, their children, and their children’s children. The dictatorship of selfishness gives way to what I might call the “Republic of the Unborn.” Having children has blessed me with a solidified idea of who I am and what I stand for.
Secondly, I can’t stress enough the power and grace that having a good and happy wife brings to a father. I’ve always heard and repeat the old saying “Happy wife, happy life,” and to be honest, it’s true. My wife and I have not had some Leave It to Beaver, perfect relationship. We have had some hard times. But the grace, beauty, and feminine genius that my wife brings to the world have been blessings for me as a father—not only because I get to witness a strong Texas woman balance her disciplinarian spirit with the softness only a mother can give, but also because we get to share and lean on each other in every single struggle we have as parents. Our relationship has always been founded on a shared love of humor and trust, and she has been a model of instilling that into our children.
Third, being a dad has also given me the focus of knowing that if I do not take care of myself physically, mentally, and spiritually, I am good for nobody. One quip my wife and I have when we can sense stress, frustration, or a temper rising, is “You probably need to work out and go to confession.” Although making time for lifting weights, for silent prayer and reading, or any other solitary activity is always difficult to do, I’ve come to find that unless we take those moments when we can, and are as consistent as possible with them, our struggles only deepen. Self-care and self-growth are not the same thing as selfishness. In fact, when done properly, they ought to teach us how to be selfless and self-giving. Physical exercise teaches a dad that no matter how much pain it takes, you push through. Mental struggle with books or study provides an expanded language and understanding of the world that you can impart to your kids. And spiritual growth, a deepening of my relationship with Jesus, provides the peace, strength, and focal point of my entire existence as a dad.
Lastly, being a dad brings me into a deep sense of reality. Sometimes work, finances, and other worldly needs will cause me to feel distant from those I love, but kids will have none of it. I love to ponder the deeper questions of life and think in the clouds of Platonic forms, but children only care about what’s for supper. They only care about whether we have spent time with them. They only care to know that we love them and whether we have expressed that today. They will find a way into every parent’s schedule, and by God we’d better make the time for them.
It has only been six years since I wrote the previous article, and I can attest to the speed at which time flies. Let your kids ask you the million and one questions. When they ask to play catch, wrestle, or sing a tune, do it. Kids bring you into what actually matters, and I love knowing that they simply want me there with them.
The teenage years are coming, and I know I still have so much to learn. I don’t know what I’ll be writing six years from now, but I know I will still love being a dad, and knowing that as long as I put forth an effort, surround my kids with more love than they can imagine, and give of my time selflessly, I will do my part to make them into saints—and in doing so, might become one myself.