Why I wanted to become a father, retrospectively
In some ways, my desire to be a father is selfish. And not just a little selfish, but quite a lot selfish.
I want someone to take care of Robyn and I when we are frail. I want someone to love me the same way I love my parents. I want something of myself to continue after I die. Being a parent is also a respectable thing to do where I come from and having that respect is something I don’t mind.
I can’t deny that those selfish reasons are motivating. But I hope, and to some degree pray, that my intentions are purer.
I hope that part of me always wanted to be a father because of the inspiring love of my own parents. The way Robyn put it earlier was that we could never repay our parents for the childhood we had, but we can pay it forward.
I hope too that I and all who actively choose to be parents must be optimists, deep down. If we choose to conceive a child, we must think living a human life is worth it. That the chance to live and to breathe, to learn, love, sing, think, dance, pray, and all human things are worth it. Worth the trouble, fear, pain, and inevitable suffering that human life brings. That Robyn and I chose to become parents must mean that we think life is worth death.
And by choosing to conceive a child - which is really creating a life when it comes down to it - we think we ought to give that opportunity to be part of human history to someone else. Even if providing that opportunity comes with a beyond-financial cost to us as parents, plus considerable added risk, stress, and responsibility.
As I’ve reflected on my own character, I’ve also come to see being a father as a sacrifice for the community. I hope that is part of my motivation, for becoming a father, too. I see that sacrifice occurring in two ways.
First, being a father is an exceptionally rigorous course in how to live a more virtuous life. Fatherhood imposes its own will on how I live my life. Fatherhood makes me make sacrifices. It makes me love deeper. It makes me scrutinize my own choices. It makes me communicate better and be more patient. It has made me a better listener and much less lazy. I also drink a lot less alcohol.
All that intense training - and believe me it’s training - has given me no choice but to a better husband, son, brother, and neighbor. It will eventually make me a better friend, I think, when we actually start seeing friends regularly again.
Second, as parents we are important stewards of human potential. Every person, myself included, will have a limited amount of energy and talent to give in our lives. We will have to use some of that energy and talent to maintain our own existence. Ideally, if we learn to take care of ourselves relatively quickly as adults, some of it will be left over.
What’s uncertain is how we will use our surplus energy and talent. Will it be used to serve others or ourselves? Will it make our species better off or worse? Will it be wasted?
When we became parents Robyn and I created the potential for our children to have surplus energy and talent. We are now responsible for helping them shape how they use that surplus, because we have a disproportionate influence on the sort of people they become.
That stewardship is a sacrifice we make for the community. Admittedly, that sacrifice is perhaps the most joyous sacrifice I will ever experience. But I still I consider it a sacrifice for the community because more than likely we will be gone when our childrens’ energy and talent really bears fruit and won’t be around to enjoy it.
When our family was on the plane to Florida, I looked over at Bo sleeping in Robyn’s arms and realized I’ve always wanted to be a father but never really thought about why. This post is my best attempt at retrospectively figuring it out.
If you are a parent or aspire to be one, what’s your motivation for why?
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