Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Fatherhood, Again

Thanks for the kind comments and congratulations from so many of you. The last few days have been, as you might imagine, rather exhausting. Melissa and I have managed to have our three children far enough apart (there is an average of about 3 years, 7 months between them) that we have felt as though we were relearning everything that we should have figured out (at least once, if not twice) before. Not that it all seems "new," necessarily: just, well, unexpected. As if we were going around saying--when fitting the baby into the car seat, or changing her diaper, or trying to get her to burp, or rocking her in our arms, trying to get her to go to go back to sleep after a 2am feeding--Oh, wait, this again?

For what it's worth, yes, I get up with Melissa for those 2am feedings, maybe rubbing her feet while she nurses Alison, though admittedly I often fall right back to sleep. I take my turn at rocking our little baby, cleaning her up, keeping the other girls from pouncing on her and treating her like a doll, and so forth. Does that make ours an egalitarian, "modern" marriage? Beats me. I know it's not how my father did it (I grew up in a family of nine kids, and for most of it my mother was very much on her own); but at the same time, it's how just about all of my brothers approach child-rearing duties with their wives. We're all a bunch of early rising, diaper-washing, bottle-warming husbands, though I hardly mean to imply that we perfectly shoulder our share of the responsibilities. Still, the trend is consistent enough to suggest that fatherhood, for many of us of my generation at least, means something much more egalitarian than it used to.

I suppose I could write a lot on this topic (and may later, sometime when I'm getting more than 3 hours of sleep a night), but for now, just about everything I can think of saying has already been said, in a fine essay published in First Things by a close friend of mine, Damon Linker. The essay, "Fatherhood, 2002," is a wise, reflective, incisive look at the needs and hopes of most of those who are becoming parents (and particularly fathers) at this moment in our history. While Damon and his wife Beth are just rookies at the parenting game, I've yet to read any single essay that expressed my own aspirations, and self-understanding, in regards to being a father as well as this one did. Enjoy.

(Oh, and given that Damon's vision of fatherhood is not only a relatively egalitarian one, and includes a nod towards the need for more and better family-friendly policies in our society, the essay came in for a fair amount of criticism from the many conservative readers of First Things. While several of the correspondents made interesting points, more than a few charged Damon, essentially, with being a (forgive the crude language, but its accurate) unmanly, pussy-whipped, New Agey drip, singularly ignorant of the "real world" of masculine parenting. Not only can I testify that such isn't the case, but Damon ably demonstrated such in his response to his critics, here. Nothing like a little intergenerational argument to liven up your day.)