Fathers who are deeply spiritual have more in common than they might think with fathers who don’t consider themselves spiritual at all.
Imagine three fathers who have overcome fertility problems to have kids. While putting their children to bed for the night, they reflect on how fortunate they are to be dads, thinking something like this:
Dad #1: “I am so grateful to God for giving me these children. I didn’t always know if I could even be a father, but He made it happen. It’s not always easy, but looking at my kids right now, I’m almost overwhelmed by how much I love them, and that reminds me how much God must love us that he sacrificed his only Son to save us. I pray for the wisdom and strength to be a good father, because I know I can’t do this without the Holy Spirit.
Dad #2: “I’m so glad to be a dad, but I knew it was meant to be, even if it did take IVF, acupuncture, meditation, and that special fertility-enhancing herbal blend to finally make it happen. Being a dad isn’t easy, but concentrating on the love I feel for them in this moment will help me stay centered and get through the tough times. I can’t tell what’s still to come, but I know that everything happens for a reason, so I’ll just do the best I can and trust that I’m being the dad I have to be.
Dad #3: “I feel so lucky to have these kids. I thought it probably couldn’t happen, but I have the amazing luck to live in the right time with the right technology that fertility treatments made it possible. It’s not always easy, but looking at my kids right now, I love them so much I feel like my heart could burst. I know there’s no such thing as a perfect dad, but I’m doing my best and I really hope I don’t let them down or make them suffer from my mistakes.
Which dads were having a spiritual moment?
If you define “spirituality” narrowly, according to a particular spiritual tradition such as Christianity, then only Dad #1 appears to qualify. He was the only one to frame his intense moment of paternal emotion in terms of God. If you broaden your definition of “spirituality” to allow a wide range of supernatural beliefs, then Dad #2 was also having a spiritual moment; he just framed it in terms that made spiritual sense to him like fate, and assigning causality both to to factors that have a scientific basis (IVF) and ones that don’t (acupuncture). If you think “spirituality” is not about what god or supernatural force is involved, but more about embracing the full power and richness of human emotion, then Dad #3 was having a spiritual moment, too. He believes he owes his present circumstances to a combination of luck and science, but he feels that same love and the weight of his responsibility as those other dads who think there’s some divine or mystical force behind it all.
Framed in terms of spirituality, those three hypothetical dads look pretty different, and if they were real guys having a real conversation about the role of spirituality in fatherhood, they’d probably get into a flame war if that conversation was online, arguing over what counts as spirituality and whether or not it’s desirable. If you just look at what they’re feeling as dads, though, and leave out the differing spiritual perspectives, they’re all the same guy. (At least, that’s how I tried to write them.) Each man is expressing gladness at being a father, a feeling of love that feels bigger than he can hold, and a desire to do right by his kids.
I don’t object to discussions of spirituality, but I think they can obscure the common ground between people because so much time is spent debating what “spirituality” is, or when not debating, failing to notice people aren’t talking about the same thing. To each individual, their concept of spirituality can be so important as to consider it a guiding principle, but that concept varies so much that it’s almost impossible to discuss the same thing. If someone wants to base spirituality on faith in a god, it’s easy for me to respect that without sharing it. If that later turns into some assertion that you can’t truly love your kids unless you’re spiritual…well, now it’s time for spirited disagreement.
To sum up, spirituality is the most important thing there is—except for when it’s completely irrelevant.