It was 5:15 in the afternoon. I had been pacing around the room rocking a fussy baby for about a half hour. The last ten minutes had been filled with so much frustration that setting the baby down and screaming into a pillow was the best option I could conjure up. My wife was at the store and my older son was watching Sesame Street. Usually I could get the baby to sleep in less than five minutes, but today he was having none of it.
Being the mature adult that I am, I commenced with the foot stomping and screaming inaudible, unprintable things under my breath. At that particular moment, I had no idea what to do, and since babies don’t come with instruction manuals, I was hopelessly lost. The same thing that had been working each afternoon at this time suddenly didn’t work anymore. I was a sane, rational adult and I couldn’t understand why my tried-and-true strategies suddenly failed to yield results.
I continued on in my frustrated state of bewilderment until my wife got home from the store and graciously put me out of my misery. As she opened the door, I gently tossed him across the room with the obligatory “think fast”. OK, that part’s not true, but I did hand him off as quickly as I could in order to avoid falling any further into the depths of helplessness. I spent the rest of the night feeling insanely discouraged at my own inability to bring relief and comfort to my son. Further, I could not understand how a human creature could be so stunningly adorable and yet so decidedly difficult. The same little guy that can make my entire day by smiling at me when I get him out of bed in the morning can ruin it just as quickly by reminding me how little I know about caring for him.
Later that evening, while I was discussing with my wife the possibility of her finding a better father for the kids, I found myself pondering my own calling to the vocation of fatherhood. More specifically, I was trying to make some sort of sense of it. When it’s all said and done, I don’t understand why God called me to this vocation.
A Strange Vocation
For starters, I’m selfish, stubborn, selfish, unsure of myself, impatient, easily frustrated, selfish, I struggle with pretty much all the vices, and on top of all that, I’m incredibly selfish. Certainly if God were looking for someone with all these attributes, He got his man. I’m all that and then some.
But those are not the attributes of a great father. Great fathers are calm, patient, courageous, selfless, confident, humble, and a hundred other things that I am not. Why would God have called me here?
Fast forward twenty-four hours. Now it’s 9:30 the next evening and my older son is having trouble falling asleep. He’s had a cold for about a week and is obviously not feeling well. I went into his room and asked him if he wanted to rock for a little while. He said yes, so I pulled him out of his crib and carried him over to our rocking chair. As I sat down with him on my lap, he curled right up with his head on my shoulder and immediately calmed down. We sat and rocked, his Noah’s Ark nightlight the only source of light in the room. And once again I found myself pondering this strange vocation of fatherhood.
I knew at this particular moment that there was nobody else in the world that could meet this particular need at this moment in the way I could. His mother would have done an excellent job, but there is something special about rocking with daddy. Dads make their kids feel safe and secure, guarded; and dads have the unique ability to create a protective forcefield that blocks out whatever is bothering a child at any moment in time. Whether it be the boogeyman, a congested nose, or a bad dream, a dad can handle it.
Times like these make fatherhood worth the hassle. To be fair, it is a particularly grueling calling. The amount of diapers I have changed, sippy cups I have washed, and crying babies I have soothed would make a childless man cringe. Very few days since our older son was born have been easy. In fact, I think there have been four easy days, and they were the four days we went on a trip without any kids.
Responding to the vocation of fatherhood is like entering into a lifelong makeover session. The purpose of a vocation is to lead us closer to God, to change us and make us more worthy of Him. It points us on the path to Heaven, and gives us glimpses of what eternity will be like. The vocation to start a family is designed to help us taste unconditional and limitless love. The family is like a road marker that points us in the direction of Heaven.
Am I Getting Closer to Heaven?
There have certainly been a number of changes that I’ve gone through since becoming a parent. I pray more. I pray for my kids, I pray for my wife, I pray for the world. I pray generally more than I used to. I pray to grow in virtue, so that I can be a better servant for my wife and children. I pray for wisdom that I might teach my children how to live in a Godly way surrounded by a world that doesn’t.
I have grown in my ability to love. I want my family to be in Heaven. I’m not exactly sure the best way to get them there, but I’ll be fighting for their souls as long as I am alive. Part of love is creating a healthy environment for them to grow in, and part of creating a healthy environment is making sure I am around. That, in itself, is one thing they will never have to worry about. This is one daddy who will always be there at the end of the day, and my kids will never wonder when and whether they will see me.
I have grown in my ability to appreciate the smaller things in life. My younger son can stare for an hour at something he has never seen before. He just studies things, including his older brother, who by the way, he has been watching like a hawk since first opening his eyes. I also see how my older son wants to teach my younger son how to do things. My younger son is getting ready to crawl right now, and guess who is trying to show him how? It would be incredibly difficult to watch these types of things without growing in appreciation for the world and what we all have to offer.
So there are some changes that suggest I am in a better spot spiritually than I was five short years ago. I don’t say this with an attitude of pride, but rather to show that through a vocation, God is capable of penetrating even the thickest of skulls.
Not Greater, But Better
While I was first getting into writing last year, back when I only had one little man, I wrote a post about how having a child was the coolest thing I’ve ever done. In that post I write about how having a child has made me a better person. I pray more, I may be a little bit more selfless, I am concerned with my family more than myself. The post was reprinted in a few different places, and I remember one commenter in particular saying, “This author is just bragging about what a great father he is.”
My response to this person was that he or she was misreading what I wrote. I said being a father has made me a better person. Better is a relative term, and serves only to denote my location in relation to where I was previously; if this particular commenter had known where I had been previously, he or she would not consider “better” to be anywhere near “great”.
But therein lies the key to my vocation to fatherhood. I do believe that I am closer to Heaven than I was before I met my wife and started a family. I do believe that now, more than ever, I am at least pointed in the right direction. I want God, and I want to be in Heaven with Him. My family is a constant reminder of my vocation, through fatherhood, to serve God and spend eternity with Him. It is also the vehicle to help me get there.
I still fall short constantly. I’m still too stubborn, too selfish, too easily frustrated, and too drawn to vice. I still say things I wish I wouldn’t, and at the end of each day, I can think of countless of examples of what I could have done differently. I continue to work on acting toward my children in the way God acts toward His. I’m trying, but I’m nowhere near a finished product.
This vocation is orienting me toward my final destination. Although I still don’t always understand why I have been called in this particular manner, I do know that if my wife, children and I end up in Heaven with God, I will have accomplished what I was created for.
And that is something even I can understand.