We had an amazing morning with him opening his presents. A few months ago, at Christmas time, the value in a present was not the present itself, but the wrapping paper. Today however, the wrapping paper was secondary because he knew there was a present for him inside. He pulled off the wrapping with gusto and then adorned each gift with a series of wow’s, wowee’s and ooh’s.
He may not understand the significance of this day as a life milestone, but I do. It is also the second anniversary of my fatherhood.It’s not only a milestone for him, but also one for Sam and I as parents. The joy of celebrating Daniel’s birthday has been accompanied by a reflection on the last two years and how life has panned out as a parent and a father.
At 10.15 this evening it will have been EXACTLY two years since I assisted in the birth of Daniel. I remember vividly the experience of putting my hands around his abdomen, being guided by the doctor in pulling Daniel out and ‘catching’ my boy. It was the first significant, if not the greatest, transition of his life. He was regarded as being ‘alive’ in this moment and the clock started tallying up the seconds, minutes, hours and days of his life. The other transition that occurred in that moment was how he became a tangible part of my life, having been carried by Sam for 9 months. It was my transition into fatherhood.
I remember my first anniversary as a father but was still sufficiently shellshocked to reflect as deeply on the significance of the moment. What few people know is that I struggled with Paternal Postpartum Depression (PPD). It was a tumultuous year as I tried to adjust to the multiple demands of being a husband, a new father and an employer. I’ve realised over the last year how a lot of my struggle was actually a process of adapting to the new levels of responsibility and how dependent a bunch of people were on me. One of the benefits of the second year of parenthood is how routine gets more firmly entrenched, both for child and parent. Life becomes a bit more stable and there is more ‘breathing space’, so to speak.
One of the things that happens in the second year of parenthood, and as a result of having a bit more headspace to reflect on the journey, is that you begin to think more critically of your parenting style … and so do those close to you. The first year is just survival – you do what you can and you do it as best as you can. People are quite forgiving in your first year of parenting when it comes to mistakes, more so than you are on yourself in fact. This is not true in the second year. In the second year people begin to see the ‘fruit’ of your parenting in how your child is developing (or not) and begin to infer and make some conclusions about your parenting based on the insecurities your child displays. Sam and I are learning to forgive ourselves for our obvious shortfalls as parents, but I’m not sure it is so easy for those closest to us. As a son myself, I also know there will come a time when Daniel will also be faced with the choice to either resent Sam and I for the mistakes we make, or to forgive us and carry on living.
Moving into the second year of fatherhood has also given my inner child more time to come out. Daniel and I have a daily wrestling match. It started out as quite innocuous in the first year, but as he gets bigger, bolder and more boisterous I have become accustomed to having a few extra bruises, cuts and scrapes. His feet naturally find their way into my crotch (he obviously doesn’t want a brother/sister) and my jaw. These times are unadulterated and help put into perspective all other stress I have at the time.
Parenting also seems to have changed nowadays. Our parents remind is, in both subtle and direct ways, that becoming a parent is ultimately about sacrifice. Some of the tension with the parentals has revolved around our differing views on this. Sam and I still want to live a full life, dedicating time to ourselves, our work, exercise, travel and each other besides the massive dedication we want to give to our son. Parenting seems like it used to be about putting aside most of your personal desires, ambitions and needs for those of your child. I sometimes wonder if this was a parenting style choice a few decades ago, or one that was born out of the necessity linked to the way life was lived e.g. we’re more of a mobile generation now, and so international travel is easier and more affordable.
Another example of this is how spiritual devotion takes a back seat in the early years of fatherhood. I sure hope God is understanding in this regard, but I have not been able to apportion as much time as I used to in the direction of devotion, study and worship. The refreshing part of this is discovering what your faith in God and Jesus looks like in the absence of ritual.
Nevertheless, this is a constant tension for me as a father. I have a multi-layered identity and I want to honour those identities, while at the same time apportioning dedication where it matters most.
One of the most significant fatherhood lessons in the last year was hearing a teaching by Richard Rohr and Ron Rolheiser. In days gone by sons would see their fathers in the field at work, and even work with the father. During this time the son would receive the father’s teaching. Nowadays though, with the father leaving for work and spending so much time elsewhere the son often receives more of the fathers ‘end of the day’ temperament than teaching when he gets home. It’s a personal goal of mine: to ensure that Daniel gets more of my teaching than temperament at the end of the day, and one that I accomodate for by making certain work choices/sacrifices.
There are many more reflections that I could write about, but let me finish with this: the dominant story of my life at the moment is that of being a father. It is the story that I am really happy to have as a defining characteristic.
Daniel, you are my son. I love you so deeply. I am intensely proud of you. And it is in the experience of being your father that I understand and resonate with Paul’s assertion about God’s love, because it is true of my love for you:
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.