What I lost, and found, when I became a father
A few years ago, when my wife and I talked of having a child, I wasn't sure I was ready.Skip to next paragraph
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This wasn't because of my lack of ease with children. Quite the contrary. Despite my adult appearance, children sense in me a kindred spirit. I've never entirely left their world behind. It's a world of dependence and trust, where play matters more than work, and tomorrow can seem an unbearably long time to wait.
Yet the true nature of my relationship with kids was often missed by my more mature peers. I'd always been told I'd make a wonderful father. But each time I heard it, it took me by surprise. With children, I'd always felt like a fellow traveler, not the guy who chose to start them on their trip.
My brother likes to say he stopped being a kid only when he had one. I think I know what he means. The selfishness of singlehood - which many of us carry into our contemporary marriages - necessarily disappears when you have a child. With someone as dependent on you as a child, you have to put your own needs in second place.
Still, the possibility of having a child evoked something deeper in me - something about my youth slipping away. I wasn't sure I wanted to lose the kid inside me. It wasn't that I minded getting older. As my life goes forward, I'm getting closer to where I want to be. It was the possibility of getting older in particular ways that bothered me. I worried about getting older in a manner that erodes my youth rather than enriches it, and I worried about forgetting too much.
It didn't help that once we had made up our minds, there would be no going back; having a child is one of life's irreversible decisions. That makes it especially significant.
But over several years, as my wife and I talked of having a child, more than self-doubt was involved. We also had to contend with a kind of self-satisfaction. We had reached a delightfully settled point in our lives. Self, career, and marriage were each rich and harmoniously intertwined. Life was less of a struggle than it had ever been before.
But eventually we did what I wasn't sure I was ready to do.
Today, my wife and I are the parents of a beautiful young girl. I can see now more clearly the truth of what my brother likes to say. Part of the kid in you does tend to disappear when you have one. It's the selfish part; the part that had always put you first. With my daughter, I watch more "Sesame Street" videos than the mystery movies I prefer. While my wife and I enjoy Thai restaurants, eating out now more often means stopping by the local ice cream parlor my daughter favors.
But as I raise my daughter, I've also discovered a larger truth: As a parent you may lose some of the selfishness of childhood, but you also recover another childlike part of yourself. It's the part of yourself that enables you to see the world anew.
This is because raising a child well involves seeing as a child sees. As a parent, you need to remember what it's like to view something for the first time. Only then will you stop to show your child the things he shouldn't miss. The moon over a lake. Rabbit tracks in the snow. The top of a church steeple.
Being a good father, I've learned, involves more than being the guy who chose to start my daughter on her trip. It's also about keeping enough of the child in me to be a good fellow traveler for her, adept at pointing out the sights along the way.