My oldest has spent the last couple months wishing everyone a “happy mother’s day” because she remembers how much fun we all had. I think she considers it to mean the same thing as “happy birthday” but specific to parents (she wishes me happy mother’s day as well).
Today (although, not following the holiday or my calendar well, I accidentally ended up on a work trip this weekend), I am not interested so much in being honored as in honoring my fatherhood, which to me means two things: my children, and sharing those children with my wife. (This is specific to my situation; others will honor fatherhood in different settings and permutations, and I am glad to honor those as well.)
I love to watch my children interact with caterpillars, to feel their bony little heads collide with mine in the morning when we’ve gone camping (there must be something magnetic about bone tissue in small tents–no matter where they start, by the time I fall asleep they are hard little spheres of flesh and bone around my head). I love to watch them laugh, to see milk poring down their chins as they enthusiastically munch on cheerios. The middle one loves to water plants with our large watering pot which is almost her size, dipping it into my wife’s makeshift cistern, then proudly scattering moisture over flowers. The youngest feels like a living, enchanted mirror, exchanging laughter for smiles and coos for baby talk.
I ache at times with the recognition of how fragile we all are and how much responsibility we as parents bear for our children. The emotional intensity of my proselytizing experiences as a young adult are a pale flame compared to the strength of my attachments and worry over my children. I want them desperately to know God’s love and to be grounded in the face of adversity, to have meaningful and powerful relationships with humans and divinity. I also, however selfish it is in the Christian tradition, don’t want them to suffer.
For me, blessed without merit with biological parenthood, my children are my union with my wife. They share our genes and increasingly our affectations. When we eat together around a table, asking each other what we learned that day, I sense the irruption of the sacred into our often distracted lives, and I struggle to honor them and our shared experience.
It’s easy, and often appropriate, to draft these strange holidays (such a meager shadow of the Catholic liturgical calendar) into animated debates and discussions, particularly because devotions to children so often meld into sentimentalism, and, more importantly, because our experiences of parenthood are various and sometimes challenging or dissatisfying. Nevertheless, welcoming other experiences of fatherhood (while recognizing that life is lived and meaning found most fruitfully in the interactions of ideals and actual experiences), I thought I’d leave this area open for sharing about personal meanings.