Katie and I got married many moons ago, agreeing neither of us ever wanted kids. Then just over seven years into those moons Katie changed her mind - or at least changed the definition of ever. This apparently after a long conversation with God. I spent the next month asking God if he was really having conversations with my wife. And Katie spent the next month getting pregnant with Elliott, our first son. I obviously had some role in that. A role that was likely God's way of saying, yes, I've been talking to your wife.
So there I was. Forty two years old and an expectant father of a child I was committed to never having. And here I am today. Fifty years old and writing a book about how cool it is to be a dad.
One of the biggest hesitations I had about having children was I was scared to death a child would steal my enjoyment for life. I had it made, after all. A good job, a loving and understanding wife, and the freedom outside of both to do pretty much what I wanted to. Having a child, it seemed to me, would mean the remainder of a life imprisoned by the ever blaring needs of a child. All of the things I enjoyed doing, the things I wanted to continue doing, would face certain death the moment our son arrived fully intent on slaughtering each and every one of them.
I know. It sounds like I had grim expectations of fatherhood. I did. Worse yet, I was right about a lot of them. Having our boys did result in the much anticipated death of the simple life. But I was also wrong about something. Or maybe I spent so much time considering the possible costs of having a child that I never considered the alternative. That I would be too busy enjoying my kids to notice what I'd given up.
But that's exactly where I am today, though. Enjoying our boys. Just eight years removed from thoughts of suing God for disrupting the perfectly healthy mind of my wife and the routinely uncomplicated life I'd settled into, I now send him thank you notes.
Some days when I talk with other dads I sense that might not be a common thread among us. Enjoying our kids. That makes me sad. Sad for their kids, especially when I think of the borderless smiles that magically appear on the faces of our boys when they know together we are sharing a moment of enjoyment. Sad for dads who are denying themselves an opportunity for enjoyment in it's most enjoyable form. Often an unknowing sacrifice they make to pursue interests they believe hold the ultimate joy. A pursuit, quite tragically, that almost always ends in the discovery of the ultimate lie.
Several years ago when we first moved to our current home here in Ashland, Virginia, I used to take long walks in the morning with Elliott along the railway that runs through the center of our town. Elliott was - and still is - an early riser. Pushing him a few miles in a stroller before sunrise was as close to enjoyment as either of us could get while the rest of the world hung out with their blankets and still sound asleep alarm clocks.
One morning on our return trip and as we got close to home, we came across a man gathering his newspaper at the edge of the road. As we approached, he stared at us, his long, thick bathrobe nearly brushing the road, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. I'd seen that cigarette glowing many mornings before in the night's leftover darkness, rocking in the front porch air as we walked by. But I never wondered much about the man behind it.
As I pushed the stroller up next to him he took the cigarette out of his mouth.
"How old is he?" he asked.
"Almost two," I answered.
"Make sure you enjoy him," he said, "they grow up quick."
The man put the cigarette back in his mouth and wandered up his driveway toward his porch, his newspaper hanging from his side looking rather unwanted. I stood there for a moment wondering how accidental it was that our paths had just crossed. His message seemed too deliberate, yet at the same time it hardly seemed like a message at all. I think we deliver a lot of messages to folks based on things we've done in our lives and know to be true. Some messages, though, are delivered after a grand revelation of things we wished we'd done but never did. I stood on the side of the road that morning wondering if the only healing for that kind of perpetual wishing is a perfectly timed retrieval of the morning newspaper.
I would push Elliott's stroller by that house dozens of times after meeting the man that morning. From then on he would always wave, like a weight had been lifted. He didn't say anything. He didn't need to. I knew what he was thinking. I'd always peek inside Elliott's stroller just as we walked by, hoping the man would somehow get just a hint of how much I enjoyed my boy. And maybe even take a little credit for it.
A few months ago there was a lot of commotion happening at that old man's house. Then a few days later there was a large gathering of people there. Cars lined the drive and his yard and spilled into the streets Elliott and I used to walk along. When I saw the flowery wreath on his front porch, I knew the old man had passed away. I looked at all the people in his front yard and guessed one or two of them were probably his children. Something told me I should stop and tell them their dad once told me how much he enjoyed them. I quickly decided it wasn't my place. Deep inside I guess I hoped he'd found a way to tell them that on his own.
One of the best things about being an "older" dad - quite possibly the very best thing - is knowing so many dads who've already raised their kids and sent them on their way. And all of them, because they either did it or wished they had, have told me to enjoy every minute I have with our boys.
And I do.
Over the next two parts of this chapter, I'm going to talk about how we can enjoy our kids, and why we need to.