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On the Demise of Fatherhood

Andrew Peach, in an article at First Things, talks about fatherhood.  It’s fairly philosophical but here’s some great parts to it:

Most fathers-to-be suppose that their old ego-centered lives will continue more or less unabated after the child arrives. With the exception of a few more obstacles and demands on their time, their involvement with their children is envisioned as being something manageable and marginal. Nothing like a complete transformation—an abrupt end to their former life—really enters men’s minds. But then the onslaught begins, and a man begins to realize that these people, his wife and children, are literally and perhaps even intentionally killing his old self. All around him everything is changing, without any signs of ever reverting back to the way they used to be. Into the indefinite future, nearly every hour of his days threatens to be filled with activities that, as a single-person or even a childless husband, he never would have chosen. Due to the continual interruptions of sleep, he is always mildly fatigued; due to long-term financial concerns, he is cautious in spending, forsaking old consumer habits and personal indulgences; he finds his wife equally exhausted and preoccupied with the children; connections with former friends start to slip away; traveling with his children is like traveling third class in Bulgaria, to quote H.L. Mencken; and the changes go on and on. In short, he discovers, in a terrifying realization, what Dostoevsky proclaimed long ago: “[A]ctive love is a harsh and fearful reality compared with love in dreams.” Fatherhood is just not what he bargained for. Yet, through the exhaustion, financial stress, screaming, and general chaos, there enters in at times, mysteriously and unexpectedly, deep contentment and gratitude. It is not the pleasure or amusement of high school or college but rather the honor and nobility of sacrifice and commitment, like that felt by a soldier. What happens to his children now happens to him; his life, though awhirl with the trivial concerns of children, is more serious than it ever was before. Everything he does, from bringing home a paycheck to painting a bedroom, has a new end and, hence, a greater significance. The joys and sorrows of his children are now his joys and sorrows; the stakes of his life have risen. And if he is faithful to his calling, he might come to find that, against nearly all prior expectations, he never wants to return to the way things used to be. Reflecting upon this transformation, it must be concluded that virtually all of the goods that fatherhood has to offer originate outside of or are only tangentially related to the will and rational planning of a father. All of the Norman Rockwell moments in fatherhood—watching a son cleanly field a ground ball or a daughter sing in the school choir—are real, overpowering, and ultimately not of a man’s doing. In some nominal sense, of course, men give consent to be fathers, which is to say that they willingly hold their post while a swarm of unforeseen contingencies relentlessly comes their way. If they choose not to escape this form of bondage, most fathers, I would hazard to guess, would rightly regard themselves as “the luckiest men alive.” In their hearts they know that the goods of fatherhood are among the highest available in this life and that those goods are principally the result of forces—tradition (and perhaps even Providence?)—outside their rational plans.


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