Friday, June 13, 2014

Fatherhood: Don't go it alone!

Have you ever bought one of those pieces of furniture that come in a box?  It looks great on the showroom floor and even though the display clearly indicates "some" assembly required you are not fazed by the challenge - until it arrives.  You open up the box and out comes about a bazillion pieces!  The instructions are in eighteen languages and printed so small that you can barely make them out.  Of course, the instructions come with helpful diagrams about as useful as some ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic accompanied by the suggestion "two people required for assembly."  Now we men read that as "two people required if you are a wimp -- a real man can do it all by himself."

When it comes to putting these things together, here's my experience from early on in my marriage.  To "you know where" with the warnings -- I would try to do it on my own.  This normally meant that I would put pieces together wrong and have to take it apart (admit it, you’ve done it too) and attempt to balance pieces perfectly so those odd looking fixtures would line up perfectly -- and they have to line up perfectly.  I would not call for help until it became absolutely necessary and then my frustrated and feeble cry would go out as I call to my wife for help.  This is one of the most humbling and dangerous calls a man can ever make.  I suggest that every engaged couple put together at least three of these contraptions before marriage - this would cut down on the divorce rate but unfortunately increase the murder rate!

Some things are just too difficult to try to do on your own, and this Father's Day let me suggest that fathering falls into that category.  Now biologically speaking we all know that you can’t become a father on your own - even the proudest man has to admit we need a woman for that!  But I see way too many men trying to raise a child all by themselves, and it can be done, but how much easier is it to work with someone who has an equal investment in putting together that child.  When we try on our own we often have to take things apart and put them back together again or we end up connecting the pieces wrong and the end product is not what the picture on the box looks like.

Here are my suggestions for all you men hoping to fathers one day.

 1) Don’t have sex until you want to be a father.  If you don’t want to be a father, don’t have sex.  It's not wrong not to be a father.  Not everyone has that desire and that's okay.  So, if you don’t want to be a father, don’t have sex.  Some men want to be fathers but need to wait.  That's okay too.  You don’t have to be a father before you're 21, or 25, or 30.  Fathering will change your life and you may want to postpone those changes for a while.  That's okay.  But if you're not ready to be a father, don’t have sex. 

The "don’t have sex" advice is considered a little ludicrous but it has been biologically proven that a man will not die if he does not have sex.  Believe it or not, there have been men who have survived.

When my 10th grade biology class got to the much anticipated unit on human reproduction our teacher made the statement that sex is necessary for the survival of the species but not for the survival of the individual.  That drew more than a few objections from the class, primarily the boys, but it is true.  No death certificate has ever listed "no sex" as a cause of death.

You don’t have to have sex and if you do then there is a possibility that you will be a father in 9 months.  Even with advances in contraceptives you are taking that risk.  Every time you have sex you are potentially placing an order for a piece of furniture that is going to be a bear to put together!

Note: If you are married and not ready to be a father talk about this with your wife.  In fact, talk about parenthood with the woman you want to marry before you get married.

2) Get married before you become a father.  Raising a child can be done alone, but it is so helpful to have a wife who will be a mother to that child and help you.  It sure is helpful to have two people committed to one another and equally committed to put all those pieces together and balance all the responsibilities that comes with raising a child.  And even then the task can be overwhelming!   Being a father has been so much more rewarding than I could have imagined, but it has also been so much more demanding!  There are some things in life that you want to do your best to get right and fathering is one of those things!

Raising a child without being married can be done, but I don’t advise it.  Being a single parent invites so many additional challenges that make something complicated even more complicated.  Besides, sharing the joys and heart-aches of parenting with my wife has been one aspect of my life that has been so rewarding.  The joys are more joyful and the heart-aches are a bit easier to bear.  Co-parenting is one of the glues of our relationship and has been and will be one of our greatest endeavors.  I absolutely love sharing this crazy thing called parenthood with her, and although child-rearing issues can be divisive they don’t have to be.  In fact, they can be just the opposite.

Guys, find a woman you want to raise a family together with, marry her, stay married to her, and love her like crazy.  This will be one of the most difficult things you will ever attempt, but it will also be the most meaningful and wonderful things.

3) Grow up before you become a father.  Warning:  Fatherhood is not for kids, and sadly there are too many 30 year-old kids pretending to be fathers!  When you’re a kid you don't have to worry about others; others worry about you.  When you become a father it is no longer about you.  You don’t get to do everything you want to do.  Your money will disappear, your calendar is filled with responsibilities, your life takes on a new focus and that focus is not you.  Fatherhood is best entered into when you are essentially ready to give up your life for someone else (this should have been thought about before step 2).  Some men are not grown up when they become fathers and either they do grow up and make great dads or refuse to grow up and usually make lousy fathers.

Giving up your life for someone else seems like the death sentence, but ask any father and he'll tell you it is the best thing in the world.  Life is best enjoyed when you invest your life in the lives of others.  I don’t know why it works that way, but it does, and that's why fatherhood is absolutely amazing.

Happy Father's Day to all you dads!  And to those thinking about fatherhood; do it right and you will be amazed at what a wonderful thing it is to be called "dad'"!

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