I’m very … particular. Hang out with me long enough and you’ll see what I mean. How papers are written, how posters are designed, how food tastes, how clothes fit, how temperature is regulated, everything has to be just so. If something is even slightly off, I can tell. Most of the time, I don’t say anything. I don’t want to be hypercritical of others and I don’t want to be a burden. But inside, I’m anxious and restless.
Imagine a life like that, a life of anxious pickiness. Then, insert kids, four of them, disrupting all order and living life with their own plans on where half-eaten apples should go, how many toys can pile up on the floor, and whether or not the Lego Ford Mustang you spent a whole weekend building actually deserves to stay in one piece. It’s a recipe for “not quite right.” It’s a formula for crazy. It’s my life.
Sometimes, when I’m overwhelmed by it all, I long for a weekend all to myself. Three days of blissful solitude – wouldn’t that be perfect? I could clean the house and actually keep it clean. I could eat what I want, watch what I want, sleep as late as I want. I could ensure that every single thing was just right and exactly how I like it.
Peace and perfection – that’s what that would be. But, on the rare occasions when I get it, I find that it doesn’t work out quite well for me.
Sometimes, over the summer, my wife will take the kids to visit her parents for the week and I’ll remain home because of a work obligation. It ought to be a dream come true, but what happens? I stay up too late and I sleep in too late. I eat food that isn’t good for me, and I eat too much of it. The house ends up messier, not cleaner, and I end up a wreck, guilty and missing my family.
In other words, I’m not my best self when I’m not being a father.
Those rare moments when I’m left to my own devices are a reminder that fatherhood is not an obstacle to my peace and happiness. Instead, it is the vehicle, the driver, the very stuff of my life that makes peace and happiness possible.
My children make life disorderly, unpredictable, and a little crazy at times, but they also make me a better person. I eat better, talk better, act better, pray better, and live better when I have my family with me. I’m more disciplined, more honest, and even more holy when they’re around.
It makes sense that it would be this way. For one, my children depend on me to be the best father I can be, for the sake of their own growth and prosperity. And, since I’m hardly ever without them, they become a built-in source of accountability that keeps me moving in the right direction.
I’m also better when I’m being a father because fatherhood is my vocation. God would not have called me to this particular state in life if it were not also through this state that He desired to make me happy and holy. This is the way for me, and there is no other.
If you’re a father who gets overwhelmed with fatherhood, I encourage you: don’t avoid fatherhood or long to be without it. It’s okay to step away for a bit, to go for a drive or attend a retreat to recharge and recollect yourself. But, don’t fight against fatherhood. Don’t resent it. Instead, lean into it. Seize it. Love it and accept it wholeheartedly.
One day, when you stand before Jesus on the precipice of real peace and perfection, He will want to see that you tackled fatherhood head on and lived it to the fullest. And you will be all the better for having given it your best shot — broken Legos, half-eaten apples, and all.