Fatherhood, by Robert Wigington
If you had asked me before my son was born what it would be like to be a dad, I would have given a bunch of adjectives and told you how much I was looking forward to being a dad. Now, those things seem incomplete. They can’t express what it means to be a father and, honestly, I don’t think words will ever be able to do the job. So here is my attempt to relate some of the ways fatherhood has changed me and how this change in perspective is breathing new life into old stories.
I can honestly say that being a father is one of the greatest joys of my life and ranks right up there with my marriage and the Atlanta Braves winning the World Series in 1995 (Hey, we all have our milestones, right?). But this is a very different type of joy. This joy is so full that it takes over all available space in my life and changes the way that I see the world. In some ways, I think it has breathed a lot of inspiration and curiosity into my life that I had gotten “too cool” to let myself experience in a genuine way. I find myself getting excited at the most simple things because I get to watch my son experience new things for the first time – new foods, reading books, even a bath – the firsts are always exciting, but the joy that he finds in these things has given these things a new meaning for me.
Another way that I find myself changed by fatherhood is that now nothing is about me, and that’s fine. Now everything is about this little boy and what he needs. My wife and I often talk about the things we used to do – go out to eat, overnight trips for just the two of us, etc. – but we often end those conversations with, “but this is SO much better”. I mean, sure, there are things that we miss and times that we miss the things we used to do BC (Before Child), but those things are not important; they don’t mean what they used to. I would give so much more to my son without a second thought.
Last, it feels like there is an empathy switch in me that has been flipped. I feel things for others much more deeply and more completely than I did previously and I attribute that to the birth of my son. In some ways it’s like an entirely new spectrum of emotion is unfolding in my ordinary life and where I used to feel nothing, there is all of a sudden so much more there. I’m experiencing the emotions of others more deeply because my son has opened that part of my life for me. The place I notice this most is in my interactions with my own father. Now, some of the themes and events of my childhood look different through the lens of fatherhood.
Old stories also read differently now that I’m a father, specifically the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11- 32). In the story, the younger son takes his inheritance and goes on something akin to rumspringa. He blows all his money having a good time and when he comes back he is greeted by his father who runs to greet him and kills the fatted calf to throw him a party in celebration of the son’s return. Understandably, the older son doesn’t understand but is later clued in by his father. I used to read this story from the perspective of the older brother, but now I find myself identifying much more with the father. His absolute joy that his son has returned home and his willingness to give the best of what he had to his son are truly touching. But the empathy is mine, now that I am a father, this story rings differently. I realize that I would do the same thing for my son. I realize that this is the model for what fatherhood is about and why the schema for God as Father is so poignant.
Fatherhood has given me so much to be thankful for and so much to celebrate; every day is a new adventure. I can’t wait to see what else is unlocked through this journey.
(Photo by Lori Hendrix, @lorihendrixphoto)