- Read how Tayari Jones talks about prettiness and publishing as she thinks about the upcoming release of Silver Girl.
- This post is a great reminder from a father for a father and for a mother too about what not to do.
- My friend and coworker, David Swanson wrote a thoughtful short piece on church segregation and has a piercing question at the end of this post.
- Zadie Smith tells a lovely, funny story when explaining in an unexpected way how friends are generous.
- Mario Vargas Llosa’s writing is discussed at the Guardian in ways that put forward some interesting intersections between writing and politics.
Everyday my son smiles at me, at least three times. He smiles when I come into the room I’ve loaned him to give him that last bottle at night. He smiles and sometimes giggles when I come home from work. He smiles when I sing or play with him. He even bucks and kicks and tries to jump when I come in after being gone during long stretches in the day.
I tell my wife that I’m very aware that one day this will stop. I told her that the first smiles were mostly hers. During those days when I felt like he didn’t recognize me, or, worse, that he recognized me as some wierd, hairy big guy who kept returning to his space. I tell Dawn that those days traded themselves for the mornings where, if you look at how he acts, you’d think I was the best person on earth. Still, this is the same little boy who will one day disobey me on purpose, conduct himself in ways that make me sick or mad or crazy. He will one day do things that make me just about forget these splendid smiles. So I suck up these moments, and each time I walk away I bit more human.
But I’m a little nervous. I’ll tell you why.
1) I’m not as good as he thinks I am. I’ve spent the last six plus months responding to this person’s needs. Somewhere in his brain he’s concluded that I’m a good guy. I’m not as good and delightful as he thinks. I know that already. One day he’ll get it, and I think he’ll smile less.
2) I’ve made mistakes that’s he’s already forgotten. I remember things he can’t because his memory structures are yet to be fully formed. He clearly remembers that I belong. I think he’s finished with stage where he’s asking himself why we’re always around and never seem to stay away. Still, he doesn’t recall the little wrongs, the missteps and mistakes, the mumbles under my breath at 2AM or those several hours later when I still haven’t had my required allotment of sleep.
3) I’m slow at matching my life with his grin. In some ways, each time the boy delights in my company or laughs at something I said that really wasn’t funny or giggles because I tickled him or just because he is truly happy I’m with him, I see the distance between whatever’s happening in those eyes and what’s happening inside me. Having a child, one who lives where I live and doesn’t go away–not that I have any other kind, just to be clear–makes you grow. You see the kid, identify the praise in that smile, and walk away saying, “I’ve got a lot to live up to.”
4) I will certainly screw something up soon enough. Maybe even later today. Even if I’m a good dad, even if I get some marks for all the things only God saw–things the boy will one day devalue in some stubborn fit and grasp for independence–I am certain to mess up. A lot. I can see it already. Some embarassing comment made at the wrong time in the company of his friends. A misguided response to some secret he’s told me. Making him wear the wrong set of clothes for a field trip. Making him do anything.
There is so much room for him to reserve those beautiful smiles. I’m nervous. And I’m collecting each smile the best way I can. I’m trying to see his presence in my life as a gift like those stencils boast on the wall in my used-to-be-office-now-turned-baby-space. I’m trying to notice how God is using him to change me and make me a man who lives up toward something as a big as a boy’s smile and as wide the world around him.
I’ve been considering the engaging and insightful responses Dr. Butler gave to my questions. For days now I’ve been rolling them around in my head. Thinking about the boy. Thinking about the way he looks at me when I come home from work. Thinking about how I want to do this well, fatherhood.
I’m encouraged by the sharp, intellectually-satisfying, and richly faithful (and faith-filled) responses the professor gave. I’m not attempting a review of the book, either in this post or in the interview itself. But I will jump off of a response that Dr. Butler gave in order to make or underline or highlight one point: new fathers need models.
You’re familiar with the phenomenal television show, America’s Next Top Model. How can you not be? Tyra Banks created something interesting and all-kinda-thoughts-provoking in that show. But my goal isn’t to speak about that show. Well, one thing. My wife watched, or watches, that show like she needs a conversion and it’s the only religious episode in town. We have one television. And I just stopped trying to hold the remote when that thing comes on. But I digress.
Dr. Butler wrote
A father is not only one who takes responsibility for his actions, he takes responsibility to care for, provide for, nurture, and protect his children. This deep sense of responsibility is guided by his commitment to being present and fully participate in every aspect of his children’s lives. Many men understand responsibility to mean that we work hard to be good providers; but responsibility that is guided by relationship means that we work hard to give of ourselves those things that we have worked hard to provide. It is our presence, participation, and active giving that makes all the difference in the world.
Dr. Butler is lifting up a value, responsibility guided by relationship in order that we might give ourselves. Not just our things. Not just money and stuff.
New fathers need models to do this. It’s not something we learn in an age when too many sisters are raising children without fathers in particular or without male presence in general. It’s something we have to pay attention to. It’s something we might not even know we don’t know.
Presence. Being there. Sticking around. It’s bodily. It’s emotional and mental.
We have to learn how to stay put when we want to leave. We have to see and copy the hard soul and psychological work of anchoring our heads where our feet are, rather than running away physically or mentally. We have resist the urge, the inclination, or the habit of walking out, or shutting down, or clamming up. I didn’t see this everyday growing up. But I knew that I needed to capture everything I could and still do from my father when we did interact. I know now that I have to ask him hard questions that may surprise him but probably really won’t. I know I have to take good notes from the men in my life, the long list of men who’re raising good kids and who are aiding me in my quest to do the same.
When talking about the mentoring relationship where this learning happens, Dr. Butler said
It is the ability to tell and listen to the stories of life’s ups and downs. Also, finding mentors requires an openness to believe that another as a good word about life to share. Becoming a good father means that a man is willing to sit down to tell and listen to stories that speak about the everyday up and down experiences of life.
I love this language. The everyday up and down experiences of life. Who talks about that? Who listens to that? Who wants to? Really. It’s boring, we say. It’s unhelpful, I think. We could go on and on without heeding this counsel.
We must find and feed the mentoring relationships that equip us for the good journey of fatherhood and parenthood. When we believe that another man has a story to share, it removes the notorious lie that burrows into the head of a novice dad, the lie that says you’re in this alone. It’s never true that we have to parent alone, and mentoring reminds us of that. The community of others reminds us.
I’m glad for the answers that are in this interview and for the wisdom in this book. I’m glad that Dr. Butler is pointing out that there are models, top models, for fatherhood, and not just the ones on television.
I tried to work from home on a Tuesday one week after my wife returned to work from maternity. I set myself up to work on a sermon, to connect regarding a building project, to reply to multiple emails, and to have a conference call. I was only to be home until early afternoon. One of the grandmothers was to come.
It was my personal disaster. I got little finished. I felt frustrated by unmet expectations and a growing ignorance for what life would really be like with a newborn.
By the time maternal grandmother knocked on the door, I really only accomplished the call and replying to emails–all between screaming sessions provided by my strong-lunged son. I left home, rushed in head to get to the office or to the LBP or to any other place where I could do non-domestic things. I was at work for the next six hours, partly getting things done and partly regaining something left in the open-mouthed screams of my kid.
Equilibrium. I learned about that word in seminary. Every person, every family, every couple develops an equilibrium and tries to stick at it. Equilibrium has to do with being consistent despite change. We maintain ourselves and our relationships even though things change around us and in us. We maintain equilibrium, the result of something inside us.
Balance is the vehicle that maintains equilibrium. If you are centered, you got there through balance. If you’re off, well, you get it.
Upon first thought, I’d say that balance is a dance I’m good at. But I often confuse balance with the ability to do multiple things at once. That’s not balance. Balance sits in the background, or it rests underneath our busy legs and hands. Balance is at the center, sticking around with its cousin equilibrium. Balance is the unmoving anchor inside us. It enables you to keep your wits. Being balanced keeps your emotions from overtaking you or your intellect from ushering your heart out of the house.
I think one of the essential tools to using balance to maintain equilibrium is concentration. The ability to keep paying attention to the same thing. The skill of giving yourself to something despite the other somethings around you. When you can concentrate or focus on something, you can acheive equilibrium. Balance is easier. But the opposite is true when you can’t concentrate. You grasp at things you can’t catch. You feel split. You see things as disconnected rather than connected.
This is why I can’t work from home. And if you can’t maintain focus, if you can’t concentrate while being at home, you shouldn’t work from home either. You should work where you can thrive. You should work in a space where what you need for the work you do is present. If you need silence, working on a busy city street corner leads to unproductivity. If you require people, don’t go to the unpopulated trees of the Dan Ryan woods. If you need visual stimuli, why go to a dark room? If you need less activity on the eyes, why toil in an art gallery?
Questions for you: Describe your work space, what is it like? What keeps you balanced?