Human beings have a remarkable capacity to grow unappreciative, to take the incredible and make it mundane.
Comedian Louis C.K. was on the late-night TV show, “Conan,” a few years back ranting about the whininess of the current generation, even as we live in an age of remarkable technological advancement. He mimicked people complaining of their experiences flying on an airline:
“First of all, we didn’t board for 20 minutes. And then we get on the plane, and they made us sit there on the runway for 40 minutes.”
“Oh, really, what happened next?” C.K. rhetorically asks his imaginary conversation mate. “Did you fly through the air incredibly like a bird? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight, you non-contributing zero?…You’re flying! It’s amazing! Everybody on every plane should just constantly be going…Wow!”
“You’re sitting in a chair,” C.K. says, pausing and pointing upward, “IN THE SKY!”
Much of the same sentiment could be expressed of fatherhood, and parenthood in general. Let’s start with the fact that my wife and I made a human being—three, in fact. Let that sink in. We created (so to speak) three human beings who can walk, think, and ask questions related to the meaning of life and, someday, create more human beings.
Think about the stereotypical 1930s horror film. What did you find them doing? Making a living being. (“It’s alive!”) We humans do that already, and people talk about it over breakfast like it’s nothing.
“Sandy said Steve and Janet had their baby.”
“Oh, that’s great. Glad everything went well. Pass the butter, please.”
What do you mean, “Pass the butter?” Like the passengers on C.K.’s hypothetical plane, we should all be amazed. We should be jumping up and down and screaming, “What? It happened again?! We made another human life with moral volition and everything—the most valuable physical object in existence? That’s fantastic!!!”
And then someone would be like, “Wow! But I guess they’re probably just like lots of other humans that have been made, right?”
“No, they’re one of a kind! They don’t look or act exactly like any other human I’ve ever seen. I mean, they have, like, two legs and 10 fingers and a face and all, but they’re different from every single other human being in all of history, ever!”
“I am not!!!”
In his classic work, “Orthodoxy,” English writer, poet, critic, philosopher, etc., G.K. Chesterton wrote that fairy tales “say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.”
This reality—this human experience—is truly awesome, but we miss it. We’re around amazing stuff so often we don’t realize it’s there. It’s like water to a fish. It’s like oxygen to us. It’s everywhere, but we don’t think about it.
But just because something is common doesn’t mean it isn’t fantastic. And if I step away from that stack of bills I’m trying to pay, put down that broccoli-encrusted plate (which some child was supposed to have put in the sink already), and just think, the truth is startling. I have been given three packages of this uber-valuable commodity we know as human life. And I have the privilege of helping shape those lives into what they will be. What’s more, I get to experience that deep human emotion of love with them for as long as life lasts. These are astounding realities.
And yet, somehow, I find myself frequently grousing about the fact there’s Kool-Aid on the couch, or another rip in a pair of “good” pants (you know, as opposed to “play” pants), or peanut butter on the dog’s head, or whatever. But why am I focused on that? That’s the boring stuff! The exciting stuff is that it’s even possible we have these little humans who can do stuff like digest Kool-Aid (if they can just get it inside them), run at full speed and slide into second base in whatever pants they happen to be wearing, and find utter delight in the fact the dog continues straining with all his might to reach his tongue to the top of his head to get the peanut butter.
I’ve got a feeling that when/if I complain to the maker of this universe about the daily frustrations of being a father, he’d smile and say, “And after you cleaned up all those messes and paid the bills, what happened? Did you get the privilege of being a dad to three awesome little humans?”
J. Shane Mercer is the digital marketing specialist at The Village Family Service Center. He and his wife, Amy, live in Fargo with their three children, Ariana (10), Talia (10), and Will (6).
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