I got married at 20 years old to a young man who just couldn’t wait to be a dad. I helped him fulfill his grandest dream four times over. Jimmy would have sired six children, but I copped out at four, feeling that was more than enough. He was a fun dad, indeed. He brought our kids up laughing. Who’s to say what planted this seed in us—to want to be parents? Times are different now—it seems buying houses, raising children and opening bank accounts have been outdone by traversing the globe, experiencing cultures, and cultivating a deep spirituality. Parenting young is an old trend. That’s fine. I get it. It feels confining. Uncreative. You’re locked into a lifestyle at 20 years old with fewer options than if you’d chosen to be a free spirit on the road to “finding yourself.”
It sure sounds more expansive to spend your twenties doing college, grad school, hitch-hiking across Ireland or backpacking through the Himalayas rather than “settling down.” Postponing parenting can’t hurt; some of the best parents I know waited years longer than we did to become pregnant. But if self-development and deep spirituality is one of wanderlusts’ goals, I’d say parenting accomplishes both, hands down. Parenting stretches a person beyond what they can imagine. Jimmy and I would tell anyone who asked how raising kids forced us to not only expand our Creativity, but to also travel outside of ourselves, our personal needs and wants.
I can think of very little that is more transformative than the act of raising children. The moment an infant takes her first breath, instantaneously, both father and mother are exponentially changed. Science tells us that in men, the primary adaptation while nurturing their young is the shift between left brain and right brain function. Our individual Creativity derives from the same right brain function, which means the act of parenting actually serves to foster Creativity! Interestingly, the changes that occur in parents seem to align with the great tenets of most religions. What Jimmy and I couldn’t know in our early twenties was that this act of parenting would become our path to enlightenment.
Take patience, for example. One can read about being patient from a book or one can practice patience with a screeching infant in the wee hours of the night. One can meditate upon becoming more compassionate or one can experience compassion while soothing a teenager’s broken heart. Eating the burnt toast is the epitome of selfless behavior, as is pretending to enjoy ten rounds of Candyland. Trusting in the cosmos if you’ve ever had a child is a completely separate form of trust and involves a faith that moves mountains. Suffering, too, as is found in Buddhist and Catholic teachings, can bring redemption, and most parents have had their share of suffering in ER rooms or maybe even in just one more game of catch with a 10-year-old after having put in an 80-hour work week. When the kids are finally grown and gone, there is the lesson of letting go, which may or may not feel like a reward for a job well done, depending on how the children manage to launch. Fathers (as well as mothers) go through as many changes as the developing child, and this season can feel like an 18-year-long church retreat—with ups and downs, lack of sleep and less than desirable culinary choices.
Parenting proves to be a way to grow, to change and to gain many of the qualities sought after by the great mystics, gurus, church fathers and mothers. As we lose ourselves in parenting, we find ourselves. Father’s Day is a time to reflect on the transformation within us, appreciating all of the Creative ways in which we’ve grown.