Sunday, December 26, 2010

On Fatherhood

I woke this morning without waking. I was submerged, lost in the words of a book, and when I rose, I realized that my family slept beside me, and I was blessed.

The seasons of my life used to be marked by school-time. It was in time to the academic calendar that I lived and breathed, and in time to that calendar that God taught me and grew me. When school was ended I felt rootless - or more accurately, shallow-rooted - for I did not know how the seasons of my life would be marked anymore, or how I would be taught, and it seemed the voice of God grew cold. Now I think perhaps I see. I had previously thought I understood a certain initiation into the lonely world of men. If I try to put my finger on how I know this world exists, I can only point to fragments - a remembered image here, a trope there - but I believe it does. The world of men who every morning leave the things that really matter to spend the best part of their day apart from them, and when they return are too weary to love and drink those things as they should - the world of men who accept this as not only a worldly necessity but their duty - I believe this world exists. And I am part of it. I say men; perhaps I should say providers - but I do not know. I am still exploring these cold, harsh badlands of the soul.

And now ... perhaps a new age of my life begins as well, and with it new lessons to be taught, new parts of me to be coaxed out of dormancy and nurtured. Surely my father realized with a start some mornings that his wife and child slept beside him, and all was well. Surely my mother as well ... is it the same feeling, for women? I do not know. I am inclined to doubt it, though I suppose they must be similar. But I know that I experienced such a moment this morning and felt a kinship with all the men who had experienced it before me, running through my breast like a spike of metal that shot through time, pinning me, anchoring me, to another world of men.

They say that everything changes when you have a child. That is not how I would describe it, although I suppose it is literally true. I have been a father for sixteen days now, and thus far my actual child-rearing duties have consisted largely of soothing my daughter when she is upset and changing her diapers, and both of these feel as natural as breathing (though I will admit to a certain mystification at how my daughter's poop gets some of the places it does. I can understand a projectile rebounding in the confines of a diaper, but I am being forcibly disabused of my naive notion that a human butt can only point in one direction at a time). There is, oddly enough, no sense of change. The evidence is present in the reorganization of my priorities, but the reorganization feels so pervasive that I can already scarcely remember a time when it was not so.

No, it is not my daughter who occasions a sense that everything has changed. The sense of change - for there is a sense of change - is to Thayet's account, not our girl's.

Esther Selene once told me that before I could be a father I would have to learn to be a husband. I expect she meant it prosaically at the time, but I have been reminded of her words often, these past two weeks. You see, it is not when I am changing my daughter's diaper or holding her close to assure her that all is well with the world that I most feel like a father. It is when I can soothe her so that Thayet can sleep - when I feed Thayet because her hands are busy with the baby - when I can interpose myself between my wife and the world's desolation so that she can rally herself for our child.

I do not mean to suggest that taking care of our daughter is "women's work," or yet that Thayet does not interpose herself between me and the world's desolation. Of course her shield shadows me. She is my queen, my wife, my riduur, bal mhi juri kando an a tome. It cannot be otherwise. And yet ... to shelter Thayet in this way, to create space for her to be who she is meant to be ... that is when I feel most like a father. This is not news, of course. My own father told me once that this was how he understood Biblical headship, and I understood it at the time. But I understand it again, and differently. To pour out one's self so that one's beloved can be about it may not be "men's work," but it is certainly - at least - a man's work. As it was, and is, the Lord's work.

It is not a work that I perform all the time, of course, nor yet perfectly. But I think I understand what it is. Like a redowa, the strings of my soul thrum when I get it right. Like a redowa, it leaves me wanting more. Unlike a redowa, it makes my soulstrings sound with joy, not delight.

I have it on good authority that I am besotted with my little girl. This is undoubtedly true, but it describes a whole galaxy of things that are happening in my heart. One of them is the joy of discovering a new person. Another is the joy of discovering my daughter. And another is wonder at the ways of the Lord, for shining enough light that I can better see the structure of my life, and its path more clearly. This is the work I was made for. This undergirds the things I do, and even my profession, like worship undergirds dance. My family sleeps, and all is well.