A while back I knew a man who prayed for children. So far as I'm aware not even to get children, but to make a new man of himself. His theory was that the more children he had the more he'd develop his character, and in the act of procreation he was creating a new version of himself -- more patient, and kind, and giving, and in general more Christian. He'd create something out of his body and the end product would be the Fruit of the Spirit.
It was an awful theory, because all I ever saw him do was flip out because he had too many kids and couldn't handle them. You could tell when he was holding back, almost as if he knew he'd be yelling again in no time and he had to make up for it by smiling forcibly -- a fake-ass crocodile smile on a bald head on borrowed time. I don't know how he's doing now (or for that matter how his kids are doing), but I think of him every now and then, and I laugh about it. We're told that God moves in mysterious ways and what they should have said was God is also a malicious, banana peel-dropping prankster. God never made him a saint but He at least gave me a clown.
I on the other hand never prayed to be a better father and so far I'm better off for it. At least I never prayed this before having children. I never even wanted children before having children. I was happy reading books and playing games and wasting my time doing whatever -- so long as it was my whatever, and nobody else's. The announcement that I was having children was like hearing I was being drafted and sent off to war. I had no idea I would enjoy it so much as I do. Which makes me think maybe I should also try combat.
Nobody can prepare you for the experience of having kids. It belongs in its own completely isolated category, and opens categories of feelings and experiences that can't be appreciated until you get there. And like almost all of life we're better off for not knowing. Joys that are anticipated lose some of their savor -- we dream about them, and the fun of dreaming about them is most of the fun. Expectations are set too high and we're often disappointed. Nobody can do with this parenting. What God throws at you is a total surprise -- He left you no room to spoil it.
A short list of things you never knew you needed:
-Having someone grab your pinky with his whole hand while you're walking.
-Seeing tiny people run to you at the door after you get home from work.
-Getting to pick someone up after she falls down, and letting her know it's okay, and having her hold you tight.
-Having someone ask you a question -- a real and important question about life -- and being able to answer it authoritatively.
-Sitting down next to someone and showing them how to pray, and then hearing them talk to God on their own level.
-Having someone beg you to play with them because they think you're so fun.
-Driving off to work and looking in the rear-view mirror and seeing someone in a diaper chasing you and waving from the sidewalk.
-Hearing someone cry in the middle of the night because they're scared, and getting to go to them, and knowing that they feel safe because you're there.
These are of course only a few of the things that make parenting beautiful, and they only happen a little while, and then they're gone. And it's impossible to get most of them anywhere else. I try to remind myself of this on hard days, but my life is moving too fast, and I'm "too busy," and I like to live inside my head -- not a bad parent, like Old Yeller up above, but an absent-while-present doofus. It amazes me how much I throw away for things that don't matter, and how being tired from working and being in pain rob me of you while you're standing right in front of me. Parenthood is the one time you really need meth and probably the worst time to use it.
*Here's an interesting question for you: we all know a woman who's gotten knocked up and has no money and no man have an abortion. But have you ever heard of a mother of two getting one? The teenager with no kids has few qualms about getting the job done. The mother of two knows what getting an abortion means. She imagines taking one of her living children and slitting his throat to save time and money.
Not to downplay the dangers of having a child out of wedlock. A policy of life has to occur in lock-step with a policy of marriage. Romance and fidelity and making things work have to be taken seriously before having babies can be taken lightly. The single mom aborts her baby before she meets him, but imagine meeting him and loving him for years, and putting him in a ghetto, and having to work all day to feed him, and never being able to raise him**, and having him end up dead or in prison. Which is worse? To kill the person you're guaranteed to love most -- preemptively, out of bad potential? Or to see them torn away from you because you were never able to save them?
I offer no solutions here, only a warning.
**Moses offers some guidance here. In Exodus 21, verses 2-4 (emphasis mine):
If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.