I was recently listening to one of my many podcasts that I subscribe to, this one mostly based around physical fitness and nutrition, when a recent guest was being interviewed stated that he was never really meant to be a dad. He felt that some men simply aren’t created to be fathers. This wasn’t just a statement based on his own bias as his own father was a bad example but was also an accepted belief he interjected into a systemic ethos of men. While I might be able to offer plenty of reasons and logical arguments to state otherwise, I think his hypothesis is not one based on reality, but rather based on his own inability to lead his family, or perhaps even further his own lack of desire to be a father. He had goals he wanted to accomplish and those goals were continually hindered due to the ‘drag’ of having children around. Needless to say his marriage and family broke up only a few years.
I have come to find that this irrational fear of responsibility is a pervading, if not mainstream mentality, of many young men today. “Who would want to be a dad and have all the fun come to a close?” or “Kids are so much responsibility and I just don’t think I’m ready for that kind of duty” is a regular subtext, if not outright stated, sentiment among the men of all different ages and demographics. However, I have come to full assent to the reality that what might seem to be an obstruction to the wily, free-for-all days of bachelorhood, are actually quite liberating. The cathartic feeling of dependability from those in your charge is less of a drag and more of a root system whence one can grow amicably towards a better path. One filled with wonder, honor, adventure and, by far the most important, optimism. Perhaps not the incongruous recline toward the seemingly hope-filled ‘freedom’ of daily living. Instead one finds a deep, enriching and stirring element of awe in the sheer face of life giving love.
I myself have been a father for six years now. I have three sons, ages six, five and three, and a two year old daughter. My wife and I have been blessed with fertility and an amazing home dynamic of thriving testosterone and fascinating femininity. In my short time as a young father I have learned more about myself, my mission and my purpose in life. It is from this basis that I wanted to offer four reasons of why I love being a dad.
First, imagine a place where anything is possible. If you felt you could fly, simply spread your arms, take the leap of faith and jump out to realize that the wind will catch you and off you go. There are no boundaries; there is only the lack of effort. This is where children live day in and day out. When you become a father, you get to live in this reality right along with them. You get to imagine once more that you might just be a real superhero. (All the while, your children are looking to you as just that: Superdad) When you wrestle with or play with your younger boys, they are surrounded by the idea that their own father wants to join them in this quest of imaginative heroism. Your daughter will see their father playing dolls with them, seeing the softer side of the scruffy, deep voiced giant as a gentleman who dearly cares to be with her. Now, I am a Tolkien fan to the deepest core of my nerdy being, so to have the chance to live in the fantasy realm with those who seem fully convinced that it exists, is like walking with Frodo right up to Mt. Doom.
Secondly, being a dad is more than just bringing home the proverbial bacon and eating most of it while watching football. Fatherhood is an honor in the truest, most intimate sense of the word. Marcus Cicero, the great orator of the past, once explained that honor is contingent on the development of duty and the dishonor lies in the neglect of such development. The dutiful life of a loving father becomes a man’s path toward an honorable life. Whether that comes from the physical fatherhood of being a biological parent of the spiritual fatherhood of the priestly vocation, honor, or perhaps a different word for it, nobility, can only be uncovered in the light of encountering the dutiful life and fulfilling those duties with love and devotion. So, in the very practical sense, when I am changing diapers, doing dishes or working so my children can get a good education, I am building my own noble path towards a sanctified reality and in this way, I become an honorable man.
Third, while many might think of the ‘ol’ ball and chain’ of kids, my own experience has been the complete opposite. The freedom that comes from constant living for another might seem a bit illogical but I can hold up my chin high with the knowledge that I am freer each time I have another child. What do I mean by this? Well, in the immortal words of St. John Paul II, “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” Our responsibility as human beings is to leave the world in a better place than the way it was the day we were born. Each and every day I teach my sons about virtue, my daughter about dignity, and envelope those lessons into the fabric of the beating heart of the Church and Christ crucified, I am preparing a better future for the rest of mankind. The closer I can make saints of my children, the freer I become to be a saint of my own. How can we change a world that seems so adverse to the truth, where freedom lies? By teaching the next generation how to live out the disciplines and ethos of true freedom. So not only am I a free man in my responsibility as a father, I am a liberator to those who come after me.
Lastly, there is nothing quite as genuine as seeing the eyes of dependency drawing you into discovering your own ability to lead. When my kids look up at me with a sense of unhindered, fully confident need, my heartstrings as a man are tugged toward two things: one, the reality that this is supposed to be my relationship to the Father of the universe and secondly that my role as this child’s father is much greater than I will ever know. I am being called to a greater good than what the world will ever offer. Maybe this means that I will never be rich in the material sense, but I am beyond satisfied with the contextualization of my manhood. Meaning in life is what we are all searching for. For me, I have found that meaning through my Catholic faith, my loving wife and in a very real, practical sense, by being a dad.
So for those who scoff at the interdependency of the father-child dynamic, I might challenge them to take a look at the path ahead. One road, paved with ostensible happiness, leads toward momentary, worldly bliss. The other, paved with diaper changes and lack of sleep, leads towards the ultimate good. While one might offer you temporary pleasure, the other offers you the adventure of a lifetime. Rather than shirking the duties, awes and liberating optimism of responsibility, perhaps it’s time you start beefing up your shoulders a bit, so that when the time comes you are strong enough to carry the light yolk of the fatherhood cross.