Even though some days it’s hard to remember, there was a time when I wasn’t a dad.
Fatherhood changes you. I know that’s so obvious that it almost goes without saying, but for those of you reading who haven’t spawned yet, it’s hard to really grasp what that means. Some things are obvious – you lose a lot of free time, for instance. You feel obligated to start stocking your fridge with fruits and veggies, even if you don’t like fruits and veggies, because you know your kid needs to eat them. You get less time to play video games – at first because your baby needs to be fed, changed, or burped, but later because your baby becomes old enough that you have to share your video game system with them. The list goes on and on.
But the biggest change I noticed in myself was in my attitude toward other people’s kids. Before I was a dad, children scared the crap out of me. They were unpredictable, they were needy, they might explode at any minute with all sorts of various, disgusting bodily functions. I had a job opportunity at a place that worked with kids – putting on parties for them and the like – and all I had to do was show up. The job would have been mine had I just been present. Instead, I ran like hell. The idea of working with kids was as risky and distasteful to me as sewer diving.
All that changed after I had my first kid. It was more than a change in my perspective, I think – I didn’t gain a cerebral appreciation for children or anything like that. It was more a fundamental alteration of me on a baser level – like a sex change, or a lobotomy. I became subject to the mind-altering effects of “baby smell”, which turns normal people into cooing, grinning Neanderthals. I started to judge shows intended for toddlers based on their merit, separating the great (Yo Gabba Gabba) from the insufferable (BarneyBarneyBarneyBarneyBarney!!!). I used to hate the sound of children crying – it was like fingernails on a chalkboard. These days, when I hear a child crying my ears perk up like a wolf’s, and I can instantly process several things about the crying – 1) is it from one of my kids? 2) is it a cry of pain? and 3) can I safely ignore it?
True story – a couple of weeks ago, I was at an event with several families from my church. Because I don’t believe in traditional gender-role assignments in mixed company, I volunteered to watch the kids with one of our pastors. We took the monsters downstairs and let them run amok for a while, stopping them only when they were doing something dangerous or eating something sharp or just making us want to tell them to stop doing something. While I was down there, one of the kids – Naomi, the youngest daughter of my friends Kevin and Maureen – wanted to show me a picture she’d colored. She climbed up into my lap, looked up at me with gigantic blue eyes under a mop of curly brown hair, and smiled. I melted pathetically, in the least-manly way possible.
Now, while I don’t really take a hard-line view of God having a certain defined gender, for my own faith purposes I can easily see God as a dad. God seems to have the same fondness for babies that I have felt since I became a father myself. The Bible is chock full of stories of God focusing on children. He loves to surprise women with babies – especially women like Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth, or Mary – who for one reason or another did not expect to have children. Both Sarah and Elizabeth believed that they were too old, Hannah was already experiencing infertility, and Mary was a friggin’ virgin. I bet Mary must have had a pretty heated conversation with her guidance counselor after that particular bomb was dropped.
Stuff like that makes me think that God really does have a soft spot for babies, just like many of the other dads I know. After all, nothing about the story of Jesus requires pomp and fanfare over his birth. He did his miracles as a man, after all. God could have revealed the fulfillment of his promise when Jesus began his ministry. Matthew 3:17 says this – “And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (NIV) He said that a bunch of grown dudes. I’m sure there was little ambiguity among those guys that a) Jesus was God’s son, b) God loved him, and c) God was pleased with him. If that was the first time that God had pointed it out, I’m sure everyone would still have gotten the message.
But God didn’t do that. Just like every other dad does, when his son was born he went nuts telling everyone. He told wise men, shepherds, priests, widows – if there had been an “It’s a boy!” cigar big enough, he would have choked the world in smoke with his pride.
I like things that make me feel like I might have a hope of understanding God, and this is one of them. When my son Teaghan was born (ten weeks early, three pounds and two ounces, nineteen inches, red-skinned and covered in downy white hair) I was left in the hallway by myself as my wife and son were wheeled away. It was a very serious moment – the boy was so small and so early that they told us we should expect some pretty serious health issues as a result, and while they didn’t tell us that he might not make it, the implication was there. And yet, there I was, grinning like an idiot, giving a short little “whoop!” so as not to make too big a scene. I would have shared the news with shepherds or wise men, but I couldn’t find any.
So while everyone is talking about keeping “Christ” in “Christmas” this year, of course we should all remember that, before anything else, it’s a birthday party. But let’s also try to remember that even though we’re focusing on the birthday boy, let’s also take a moment to appreciate the proud dad who put the whole shindig together.
Merry Christmas, folks.