Norbert Brown knows that being a “weepy kind of guy” makes life more difficult for himself. But at least now, he understands why.
My third, youngest child is sitting beside me in the well-appointed theater of a Midwestern university. The dean of the college of arts and sciences is on the stage, talking about the opportunities the school offers for students to pursue not a single major or even a major and a minor, but double majors and double or TRIPLE minors. Whatever subjects in the great wide world engage and fascinate them. They can study in two or three different countries before they graduate, and they can craft their own curriculum and finish school as the only expert of their kind in the universe.
And I start to cry.
Not a big, weepy kind of cry. There aren’t even any tears running down my cheek; I’m the only one in the room who knows I’m crying. And I realize that I’m good at this stealth kind of crying because it happens A LOT. And at the same time I realize that I don’t really understand what it is that’s making me cry.
I’m not being sentimental. It isn’t that I’m crying because I’m so proud of the handsome, brilliant giant sitting beside me, who was once so small and helpless that I held him in my arms. Nor are they tears of joy, at the prospect that said giant could, if he chooses this school and they give him a fat scholarship, graduate in a few years with a double major in archeology and astrophysics along with minors in classical French and piano. I’m proud. I’m joyful. But that’s not what’s making me cry.
These are the same tears that show up unbidden in the theater, when the singer’s voice wraps perfectly around their solo. They’re the tears I choke back when my son’s baseball team gets a double play exactly right. Or when I read a sentence by Kurt Vonnegut or Neal Stephenson that is so finely crafted it’s like a crisp clear note on a Stradivarius. The source of these tears is akin to that gut punch of emotion you’ve experienced if you’ve ever driven through the tunnel that goes into Yosemite Valley on a sunny day, and emerged into bright light and the same perfect landscape that gob-stopped Lewis and Clark.
They are tears of wonder.
And on this particular day, I realize that the source of the wonder is this:
We are a race that started out in caves. We chose to live together out of necessity – we could protect ourselves from predators more effectively together. Through our first few millennia on this planet, all any of us tried to do was survive and procreate.
Yet somehow, in the midst of all the procreating, we started to CREATE as well. And slowly at first, then faster and faster, we built a world. Terrible things happened; horrible things happened. But so did beauty. So did knowledge. So did music, and painting, and science, and literature, and travel and all the spectacular, amazing things that make humans human. And now a pleasant, smiling dean of the college of arts and sciences is offering all that we as humans have ever done to my youngest son.
I am grateful for the tears. Not so much for the tears per se—although I’m able to manage it, being a weepy kind of guy is kind of a pain in the ass. But I’m grateful for the response within me that makes me cry—my capacity for wonder. I think many of us—men in particular—try to dull that response, and if you do you don’t know what you’re missing. My ability to experience wonder does not mean I have a rose-tinted view of the world, but it does provide me with a shield against the sometimes overwhelming tide of cynicism and negativity that we all face every day. It’s not that I think everything in the world is sunny and beautiful and that it’s all going to turn out okay. But I recognize that SOME things ARE sunny and beautiful, and that even though history doesn’t tell us that everything turns out okay, it does tell us that beauty and goodness have a resiliency in our world and that as a race the general direction we move in tends to be forward.
Being a father affords so many opportunities to wonder at the world we’ve made, and it gives you a front row seat at the wonder your children find in every new discovery. And that wonder, if you allow yourself to see it and share it and experience it, answers the question, “How can I bring a child into a world like this?”
photo: mbtrama / flickr