An open letter to a friend and soon-to-be father…
We’ve become pretty good friends over the past year and a half working together at The Village. We’re kind of kindred souls in a way—two peas in a pod. We both have creative minds with a bit of a snarl when it comes to what’s true and what’s not. We also have a soft spot for narrative, for stories that give us a peek into what it means to be human. Granted, you’re a “Star Wars” guy and I’m a “Star Trek” guy (only the original series…I don’t mess with that “Next Generation” stuff, as you know), but we both like the whole questing thing.
Which brings me to another way in which we’re about to be similar. You’re about to be a dad. And if I may be so bold, I think that, as a father of three, I might be able to offer some helpful perspective. You, my friend, are about to embark on the great quest of fatherhood. And I say that only half tongue-in-cheek. What you’re about to do is really, really important. You (and your wife) will be in possession of a human life that you are charged with guiding into adulthood in good physical, moral, emotional, and spiritual health.
Quite honestly, it can be scary.
But what quest isn’t? Among the essential and necessary elements of a quest are danger and difficulty. There’s really no story if there’s no problem. Who wants to hear the tale of the noble warrior who rides over in relative safety to pick up the beautiful princess for a date at a nice, upscale eatery? No, she has to be locked in a tower and guarded by a dragon or something.
And so it is with fatherhood. There needs to be hardship with the potential of great reward if it’s going to be a respectable quest. And, albeit dressed in the clothes of late-night feedings, kissed boo-boos, and the disposal of various bodily fluids, being a dad means you’re shaping a human life. It is a privilege, a gift.
In C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe,” Mr. and Mrs. Beaver talk to young Lucy and Susan about Aslan, the great lion king of the story. Susan says, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” says Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
Lucy says, “Then he isn’t safe?”
Mr. Beaver replies “Safe?…Who said anything about being safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
Being a dad isn’t always safe. As Lewis writes in “The Four Loves,” “To love is to be vulnerable.” Nor is it always easy, nor even fun (although sometimes it is each of these things in spades). But it is meaningful; it is profound; it is good. And, if you’re paying attention, it will teach you a great deal. Fatherhood has this wonderful way of taking our boyish selfishness by the throat and demanding that it become manhood, that we deny our wants and even our needs for someone else. It is a painfully beautiful phenomenon.
Of course, the other side of this questing coin is true, too. While there are struggles and difficulties, the quest also leads the quester to great joy and camaraderie, as well as the sense of satisfaction that comes in doing great things. I sometimes find myself with my children and realize—even as I experience it—I’m in the midst of making a memory, I’m holding something golden right in my hand, and I breathe it in.
As I look back on my first decade as a father, I suspect I’ve wasted a lot of joy because I felt frustrated at this or that. Don’t do that. Recognize that the difficulty is part of what makes it a great and noble deed. And inhale the happily-ever-after moments along the way as deeply as you can.
So, my fellow knight and Jedi and Federation crew member, welcome to the quest. Make no mistake, there will be dragons and Stormtroopers and Klingons along the way. But that’s all just part of doing something epic.
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). Soon-to-be father Jared Zimney is the graphic designer for The Village Family Magazine.
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