the second promise
reflections on parenthood
“The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children.” — G.K. Chesterton
I’m now living the most clichéd version of life that I looked down on in my rebellious days of youth. I had thought then that there was nothing more boring than just following the default path, blindly being obedient to all authority that tried to make me live life as if it was a todo list of tasks that I have to complete to become a well-adjusted member of society. Graduate. Find a job. Take a thirty-year mortgage to buy the overpriced birdcage of an apartment. Get married. Have kids.
I never wanted to become well-adjusted. I wanted to get to my own conclusions. I knew that blind obedience does not lead to a fulfilling life and I wanted to make my own decisions. I thought all of this and then replaced the hangovers (from drinking “bambus” wine cola cocktails mixed in store bags because plastic cups were too expensive) and ringing-in-my-ears mornings (caused by moshing too close to the punk-blasting speakers) with waking up next to the most amazing woman I know and the sweetest little daughter, and petty attempts to make something resembling Jacque Pepin’s omelette. I’ve never felt more fulfilled, even though the ringing-in-my-ears remained. After making a promise of being a good husband, I made a second promise that I’m not absolutely certain I can keep — that of being a good parent.
When I was younger I thought that this didn’t make any sense — why promise something I am not absolutely certain I can keep? I am now old enough to know that these promises are proofs of faith towards my wife and daughter. I am now old enough to know that there are not only bad days, but also bad weeks and months and that’s when these promises manifest. It’s easy to be a good husband and parent when times are good, not quite so when times are bad.
Parenting affects marriage — it becomes a deeper, more alive and more serious presence. It seems like before we became parents we were just having fun, living from one dinner in a nice restaurant to the next, thinking only about how we can enjoy ourselves in our free time. Now it seems the sweet talks and pleasurable conversations kept us in the shallows and sacrifice for each other required by parenting gave us depth. Like how you can only tell who your real friends are when you need help, you can also tell the strength of your marriage when you become a parent because it makes you start depending more on each other and the potential for argument grows.
They say that you really become an adult when you become a parent. Nothing makes you grow up more quickly than having to care for another helpless human being. Parenting is the abdication of freedom that is common in youth, but at the expense of freedom I’ve gained immense meaning and fulfillment. What good is freedom when there is no purpose? No one can deny that we are a little family now, one we can sculpt how we would like. It’s our little attempt at harmony fighting against disorder and entropy.
Becoming a parent makes time more valuable. Every minute counts. There were a lot of opportunities to squander minutes, hours and even days on frivolous activities before I became a parent. Now this is more difficult because of the voice in my head that is louder now, a voice that asks me if this the best use of my time whenever I’m doing something stupid. There is still enough time for everything that I want to do, but only if I don’t waste time.
Parenting is not passive — it’s active work that requires sacrifice. But I’ve never been happier, more fulfilled, more stable. Our little daughter has brought so much joy and happiness into our life. The amount of pure love her smile brings us can’t be compared to anything else.
Others can question our choice of becoming parents considering the world we live in, considering how everything seems to be falling apart, considering the amount of war and disorder that plagues our modern times. Yet you need only to take a peek at history to see that we are not living in such difficult times and to realize that people in the past had more — not fewer — children, despite all of that. The world has always been falling apart yet here we are. If we waited for the perfect stability before becoming parents, we would wait for a long long time. I also never understood the argument that proliferating your own genes is selfish. I don’t think I’ve heard anything more self-hating than that and nothing more ridiculous as an attempt to take the moral high ground.
You were born so suddenly, even though we prepared for it and had bags for the hospital ready in the car trunk. It felt like it’s not really happening. I feared that your birth would start during rush hour and that we wouldn’t make it to hospital because of traffic jams. Luckily it started on a slow Sunday morning. I drove like a maniac through the fog, not seeing the road ahead. It started like that, and it continued like that — we don’t know what the next day is going to bring, but we can only try to be the best parents we can. Witnessing your birth is one of the most surreal experiences of my life, and I didn’t properly register what had happened right away.
Fulfillment never comes from that which is easy, and parenting is just another example of that. The good always requires effort, while the bad is effortless. There’s nothing easier than not doing anything but nothing more costly.