My wife was born three-and-a-half decades ago this week. More than one of those has been lived with me as her husband. Sometimes I quip with friends on their birthdays, “I’m glad you were born.” Although it often comes across flippant, it’s really a serious statement at heart. And in a sense, it’s the essence of what we mean when we utter the more banal, “happy birthday”.
My life would be different (worse) without you in it. I am a better person because you are here. You make the world a brighter, happier place. I’m glad you were born.
When I wish my wife happy birthday this week, these are the things I feel – the things I want to express. And these are the things that are nearly impossible to communicate in such a colloquial greeting.
In a broader sense, the birth of a human being, any human being, fundamentally changes the world. In the Christian and Jewish scriptures, when God promises Abraham that he will be a conduit of prosperity and love for many generations into the future, he’s speaking quite literally in some respects. The people Abraham and Sarah create together will influence the shape and scope of history, they will invent and love, lead and bless, generate new thought and steward old. The way in which God’s promise to Abraham will ‘flesh out’ is through flesh and blood. Our world takes its shape because you are in it – your parents and grandparents – your children and grandchildren.
When I think of my sons, I feel the weight of this reality. Sometimes perhaps I feel it too poignantly (I’ll come back to that).
My boys are 5 and 1.95 today (the youngest has his birthday in about 2 weeks). And without-a-doubt, my small world has been irrevocably changed because of their presence in it. And that’s just in my minuscule sliver of the universe! Almost anyone who is a parent identifies with this earth shattering experience.
I remember vividly the days before my oldest clawed his way to his first breath in the cesarian operating room. Before that moment, I was accountable to Paige with my time and energy and money, yes. But largely I was free to do what I wanted, when I wanted with few interruptions. In short, I could afford to be far more selfish than I can today. When I heard that first throaty scream and soon held that wrinkled, blue-eyed gem in my arms, I was forever changed. I couldn’t have felt it before – instantly I knew my life was no longer my own. He changed my world.
Maybe not the best advertisement for parenthood, right? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bitter, angry, put out, or regretful for the gravity-shift that moment represents for me. I wouldn’t change a thing if I had a choice. I just want to give voice to my reality.
Almost as if in an instant, I began feeling the weight of my sons’ lives on the world – even for generations to come. Not only is my small life irrevocably changed because they are here, yours is as well. They get to choose the influence they’ll create. As their father, I get the opportunity, privilege, and responsibility of shaping the nature of that influence. Thinking about Finn and Sawyer, I know, I am not him; I don’t live through him; his life is not mine; he will make his own successes and mistakes; he will impact the world as he chooses. And yet I am not a wallflower in his life, cast aside as useless or irrelevant.
Sometimes I feel entirely too pressed by my potential influence. The weight for the impact they will inevitably have on this world feels crushing at moments. It is at those split-seconds that I have a tendency to react out of my own fear, inadequacy, or confusion as their father. My oldest will openly defy a reasonable and important request: “Don’t drive your RC car into the street!” “Put your shoes on before you go outside”; “It’s time to go to bed”; “Yes, you have to get a flu shot this year”; “Get in the car, it’s time to go”; — and inside, the images of his impact on the world rise to the top. I imagine him (as horrible as it sounds) as a career-criminal, an unethical and selfish CEO, an arrogant and unconscious bully, a broken and medicated pusher of pills. The same is true for my youngest sons’ ordinary, understandable, expected, normal foibles. But never-the-less, my fight or flight response kicks in.
I’m ready to go to war. These are not the kinds of influence I hope he will create in the world. These are not the kinds of decisions I long for him. I know he was made for more. And I’m ready to fight for it.
Too often, that fight comes across in the moment as anger and yelling at my boys. I react not to their normal boyhood choices but to the weight of the world they will or will not create as adults. I react not to Sawyer’s refusal to eat broccoli, but the the diabetic-induced neuropathy of scores of his great-grandchildren. I react not to Finn’s hyper-focusing on the iPad, but to the generations of people who will not benefit from the medical innovations he did not create because he flunked out of school due to uncontrolled ADHD.
My anxiety is a little amped up here. And it’s the truth. It’s all the truth.
I’m glad my boys were born. I’m glad my wife was born. I’m glad you were born. The world will be a different place because you and they are in it. We get to shape that. We get to help each other shape that. May we not forget these realities – and may we hold each other in gentleness in grace as we make our way.