Andy Lax explores the effect of becoming a dad and its healthy departure from the focus on self.
A Journey Towards Selflessness
“My son’s the most precious thing to me; he’s changed me from being selfish to selfless.” – Actor Tim Allen
My children helped me easily erase my inherent self-absorption. Before I got married, I told my then fiancée that I did not want children. I was just too self-centered and narcissistic. How could I possibly give to little ones when I felt it was all about me?
But life’s circumstances have a way of helping one’s own evolution process. As my children grew up, so did I. I attended to their every need, forgoing my own. I addressed their problems and put mine on the back burner. It was not what I wanted to do, but rather, doing what they wanted to do. Of course, I could not be the perfect parent but 99% of the time, I tried to see matters through their perspective … which was the decisive factor of why I never would have left.
We use the term, “Parental sacrifices.” However, sacrifice implies that we’re giving up something so important of value. In truth, we’re gaining so much more—the meaningful satisfaction that we’re making the proverbial difference in lives. I’m so much happier now making my children smile than at any B.C. (before children) time trying to find self-gratification.
Before shutting the door on a child, understand that your selflessness can lead to your salvation.
Bonded for Life – Children as Healers
“The soul is healed by being with children.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Russian novelist and philosopher
Now when I became a new father, it sure did not feel as though my soul was healing. In fact, it felt as though I was an unwilling participant in one of those Omen movies, battling demonic forces. Non-stop crying (not just my own, but my son’s) can be gut-wrenching.
But even during those dark days under the sun, there were lighter moments. In a tired stupor, I inadvertently put a pacifier in our Yorkie’s mouth. I danced with my son in my arms to a waltz which actually led to some rare giggles. I splashed myself with water to my son’s delight.
Seize those moments as they’re life-sustaining. And recognize them when they surface. And realize there are more of them that you’re not noticing or discounting.
During difficult times, my prescription would be just to dispense lots of hugs. Sooner or later, the clouds lift, the sun shines, and you bask in the eternal glow of a special father-child bond,
Capitalize on the unbridled joy that you can attain with your child. You should now see us as we run in the park together. You would think I don’t have a care in the world. It’s just that my soul is full of unconditional love for him, and that we appreciate the gift of presence that we give to each other. There’s also nothing more gratifying than being told by your son that you’re his best friend!
You need not lose out on the joy and happiness that you can derive from being with your children. Disconnecting from them will make it much more difficult to fill your emotional tank.
Life’s Shifting Fortunes
“When you get into a tight place, and everything goes against you till it seems as if you couldn’t hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that’s just the place and time that the tide’ll turn.” – Calvin Cooledge
Leaving is surrendering to the idea that life can’t get better in your present circumstances. Try not to give into this impulse. Here’s another food for thought: Even if things don’t get tangibly better, your perceptions of events can change, transforming negative attitudes into much more positive ones.
All my life, it seems as though I’ve been looking at the glass half-empty, embracing the limiting belief that the unfavorable status quo would remain forever. I once told my wife that I feel checkmated—that no matter what moves I make, happiness would remain elusive and that I would lose this game of life.
But it was perhaps time to start another game of chess: one with positive expectation and the realization that even with life’s downs, there are ups.
Case in point: We were told by a neurodevelopmental specialist that our son would never speak, be able to do anything functionally independent, and that I better get him ready for an institution. The milestones my son has reached would now amaze this specialist whose only specialty was to try to take hope away from parents.
Small miracles occur and the pendulum of life swings. Divorcing yourself from your family is preventing the pendulum from swinging its full arc. Running away from problems precludes you from running towards solutions, and the happiness that is derived when troubles melt away.
I Want That Life
“Be careful what you wish for” – Anonymous
It may feel as though God has given all the easy parts away. You may long to leave what you consider an unsatisfying marriage or partnership, and overly burdensome family life, and replace it with the ‘Good life.”
But you don’t know if this change will ultimately be satisfying in both the short and the long run. We tend to fantasize about what life would be like as we free ourselves from perceived shackles. Chances are, there will be other challenges that come our way, especially as many of us are self-saboteurs.
Instead of walking out, is it possible to simply forge a better relationship with your significant other? Can you figure out how to row the oars together as you go upstream? At times, divorce, separation, or break ups may be the only option. Such separation may even be advantageous to kids in certain situations.
Still, avoid rash decisions. Too many men (and women), however, don’t want to put in any emotional sweat equity in forging common ground. Some men may even be allured by a mistress in waiting—someone who can purportedly lift emotional baggage.
The realization is that we take our issues with us, in one form or another. At the risk of moralizing, there’s no better place to work out in issues than at the home front, if at all possible.
Adversity – Your Defining Moment
Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Cultivating the art of parenting is to face adversity and not run from it. Navigate right through adversity, embrace it, and not let it overpower you emotionally. Sure there will be defeats along the way but the victory is not giving in to fear or flight.
Consider dad hero, Dick Hoyt, now in his 70’s. He, too, was told that his son, Rick, belonged in an institution as Rick suffers from cerebral palsy and is a quadriplegic. Dick has only recently retired from running marathons with his wheelchair-bound, disabled son.
In well over three decades, “Team Hoyt” has compiled quite an array of accomplishments, running over one thousand races, including over thirty Boston marathons. Triathlons and ironman competitions have also been part of their schedule.
While Rick is unable to walk and talk (in the conventional sense), he is able to convey emotions. I’ve seen videotapes of some of their races and you can see Rick’s glee in participating, and especially completing the races.
But through the father’s sheer determination, resolve, and steadfast love and attention, Rick has also been able to complete high school and college, and now lives on his own with the assistance of personal attendants.
Dick Hoyt is the quintessential father model prototype who did not cave in when he was told that his son was a virtual vegetable and should be institutionalized. He did everything within his power to provide his son with a life filled with options and opportunities.
I only aspire to be like Dick Hoyt, and remind myself how men like him react in the face of adversity. When you face difficult circumstances, realize there very well may be a “Dick Hoyt” within you.
A Father’s Influence Knows No Bounds
“Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.” – Charles Swindoll, evangelical Christian pastor, author, and educator
So as you’re finding your inner fortitude, realize that you’re making a better world by standing beside your children. You can model callousness and indifference, or love and devotion..
Ultimately, the latter is what brings life true value.