For a nostalgic guy like me, it can be very difficult to “live in the moment.” And that’s not a good thing when it comes to being present in body, mind, and spirit as a husband and father. Not to mention, it’s sort of impossible for me to stop thinking about how I will provide for my wife and son.
In 1996, while most other 15 year-olds were listening to cool alternative grunge bands like The Smashing Pumpkins, Bush, and Stone Temple Pilots, I additionally had something they didn’t have: a cassette tape of the first album by The O.C. Supertones.
You’re probably familiar with hearing someone say “I grew up really Jewish… bar mitzvah, the whole deal….” Even if it was simply Seth Rogen on Conan who said it, you understand the concept of “growing up really Jewish.”
Well, I “grew up really Christian.” I learned to play the guitar in Junior High because I led the music for my church’s youth group on Wednesday and Sunday nights. Every summer I went on a mission trip to a different state or country, doing repairs on widow’s homes during the day, then participating in drama and singing performances at city parks in the afternoons. (Yes, I had a trendy W.W. J. D? bracelet.)
And while DC Talk was the coolest Christian rock band back in the those days, I also was a huge grassroots promoter of The O.C. Supertones- the main Gospel ska band of the ’90′s.
Last week as I felt like listening to nothing but all of their albums back-to-back, a line from their song “Unknown” stood out to me. I have been listening to that song for 15 years but it finally made sense to me at a time when I needed to hear it most:
“Killing ourselves faster than fast; living in the future, living in the past.” I haven’t been able to shake the thought of how constantly I do just that: I participate in the self-destructive behavior of either A) dwelling on how I should have/could have/would have done things differently in my past, if I was able or B) dwelling on how much better life will be a decade from now when my problems will hopefully have worked themselves out.
I realize that with all the positive vibes I constantly send out in my daily writings here on The Dadabase, I may sometimes make my version of being a dad and husband seem easier than it actually is. And perhaps it seems that Jack never causes any stress for my wife or I. But despite my optimism and quirkiness, my life is as normal as they come. I encounter the same basic stresses as all other dads and husbands.
Admittedly, I question some of my past decisions and actions. And I seriously wonder about my future; financially.
Since moving from our secure jobs in Nashville before Jack arrived, we now live on a much smaller single income, with a kid. Yeah, the thought of money stresses me out big time. Living here in Alabama now, I can’t provide for them the same way I used to. Money sure isn’t everything, but Nashville’s good economy definitely eased things in my mind.
As I am wired to do, I ultimately feel responsible for providing for my family. So I question the version of myself who a few years ago led me to make the decisions to get me here today. And I often fantasize about a future time when I won’t feel the stress that I am feeling now.
Of course, my making a habit of mentally time traveling is not a good thing. Because if I keep going back far enough, I may fantasize about a time when I had no real responsibilities and no family of my own. And it is nothing but counter-productive and selfish to subconsciously covet the 21 year old college version of myself who made money by selling egg rolls and Hot Pockets from the mini-fridge in my college dorm.
The weight of my responsibilities is constantly on my mind. Will I be able to care for my family? Am I good enough for them? Should I have gotten something other than an English degree a decade ago in college, so I could be assured I’d make enough money to be the breadwinner at age 30?
This is an honest, vulnerable look into a guy’s brain. I’m never unaware of my need to provide. Never.
Other men have greater or less financial concerns and decisions to make. But still, as men, we are perpetually terrified of the realistic demon who reminds us that nothing we can do is ever enough.
It’s a matter of reminding myself that that even the ravens, who don’t even sow or reap, who don’t have storerooms or barns, are still fed. And I am much more valuable than a bird.
A few weeks ago on Mother’s Day, my wife and I had Jack “dedicated” at our church. If you are not familiar with this Protestant practice, a “baby dedication” is a public ceremony where the parents of a new baby promise, in front of the pastor and the congregation, to grow up their child in the faith. As Jack’s parents, it is our responsibility to lead and guide him in our own moral and spiritual beliefs.
My son will not be left on his own to figure out who God is and why we believe that God’s love is the reason for our existence. Sure, Jack will have to make up his own mind when he gets old enough, but my faith is so crucial to every fiber of my being, that as a father I believe that one of the most important tasks I will ever have is to teach my son about the next life, as well as, teaching him to love others as himself in this life.
While I do value the public act of dedicating my son to the building up and growing of the heavenly kingdom we believe comes after this earthly life, the private version happened before he was even born. As Jack was still in the womb, I prayed for him. And now that he’s here, I continue to pray for him. After all, I believe that I haven’t simply brought another life into this world, but that I am also responsible for bringing another soul into existence- a soul I am unmistakably accountable for teaching what I believe is the meaning of life.
Whether you have been following my daddy blog since the beginning (April 13th, 2010) or whether you just recently started tuning in thanks to Parents.com picking up my series, something noticeably undeniable yet decently subtle in my writing content is the intertwining of my family’s everyday life events and our Christian faith. According to Wikipedia, nearly 80% of Americans identify themselves with Christianity (from Catholic to Protestant, and everything in between). So I would assume that nearly 80% of readers will identify with me when I write about my faith. For the other 20%, who have a different religion or maybe not one at all, please know that I welcome you just as much to The Dadabase.
Because no matter which faith we call our own, something we all have in common is that we are parents. We have children who we are trying to raise the best we can. And just like the faith of our choosing, so parenting is also a journey. By no means do I have my faith 100% figured out- I’m being humbled and broken down more everyday, and therefore maturing as a believer.
There is a reason why the sentimental song “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys is always playing in the back of this dad and husband’s subconscious. Truthfully, I have to acknowledge that the days of my life are ultimately numbered; as are my wife’s and son’s. And that’s why I just can’t take one single day for granted.
If I’m being really honest, I might have to admit the song has at least made my eyes water more than once or a few dozen times, but only because of the deep and heavy subject matter that it always makes me think about. And I may or may not be the only person who has the same kinds of thoughts when I hear the song; I don’t know.
It ranked #25 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. Released in 1966, the song was one of the very first pop songs to reference God in its title, though it was not necessarily a religious song. No doubt about it: “God Only Knows“ by The Beach Boys has remained one of my favorite songs, ever since I first heard it twenty years ago on the 1991 episode of The Wonder Years, entitled “Heartbreak.”
While its nostalgic mood and melancholy emotion are what have always grabbed me, it wasn’t until a few months ago when my wife and I decided to watch the entire series of HBO’s Big Love (via Netflix) that I began to consider the value of the lyrics. The show features “God Only Knows” as its theme song, so a few times everyday for a few months, I was exposed to the powerful song.
It’s very possible to love “God Only Knows” without actually understanding the meaning of the lyrics. Admittedly, the lyrics do seem to be a bit confusing and conflicting. For example, the first line is, “I may not always love you but long as there are stars above you, you never need to doubt it-I’ll make you so sure about it.” Up until recently, I just assumed the speaker was doubting the future of his relationship with the woman he loved at that point in his life.
But the only conditional phrase in the sentence is “as long as there are stars above you.” The reference is to the love of his life still being alive. If the stars are above you, you are on Earth. If the stars are below you, you are in Heaven.
So as long as the two of them are still alive together on Earth, he will always love her. Because despite the grandiose idea that two people can romantically love each other forever and be married eternally, the popular rabbi Jesus taught his followers that “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.” Though it’s difficult for me to grasp and to deal with, I realize I will only romantically love my wife in this life, not the afterlife as well.
So much hangs on that phrase “as long as there are stars above you,” when looked at from an eternal (and Christianized) viewpoint. I want to be married to my wife forever, not until one or both of us dies. So when I think about how my romantic love for her is limited to this life and this Earth, it makes me sad. And the song “God Only Knows” always points that out to me.
There is one other particular line in the song that I thought was peculiar: “If you should ever leave me, though life would still go on believe me, the world could show nothing to me so what good would living do me?”
My interpretation is that the lyricist is saying suicide would not be an option for him if she died before he did, but in essence, life would lose its flavor and he would have to essentially find a new purpose in life. Because she is his life.
I think about that concept; probably nearly everyday. Yes, I have been blessed with my ideal wife and one magical son, but for how long? I don’t sit around and worry myself sick about them, knowing that any of us could encounter an accident or random freak medical condition or unseen poisonous spider bite. But in the deepest of subconscious ways, there is a part of me that does always worry about something happening to them, or myself.
I just can’t imagine my life without my wife and my son. Yes, my eyes are watering as I type these words. So what can I do? I can make sure through my actions, communication, time, and presence, that they know how much I love them. That they are truly, literally the world to me. With or without the stars being above us.
It took me 12 straight days to teach myself to solve the Rubik’s Cube; it was during this time that my wife and I found out we were going to have a baby. Of course, we didn’t tell anyone until over a month later, but during my “learn to solve a Rubik’s Cube” phase, I had several people crack themselves up with this joke: “If you’ve got the time and patience to solve that thing, it’s time for you to have a kid!” And they were right. My instincts were making it obvious that like so many actors, the time eventually arrives when it’s time to dabble with directing.
(Cue the song “In My Life” by The Beatles as the proper soundtrack as you read the rest of this post. It’s officially my favorite song ever.)
I can look back on my life with satisfaction, knowing that my accomplishments have outweighed my failures and regrets. I have met all kinds of interesting people from all over the world (most of whom are facebook friends). I understand the meaning of life. I am solid in my beliefs on the afterlife. I have married the woman I am meant to be with. I can now solve the Rubik’s Cube in two minutes and twenty-five seconds. And though this paragraph may resemble a goodbye letter to the world as I prepare for my life to come to an end like I’m 90 years old, I recognize that in some ways life as I know it will end, as it transforms into a new one. A more meaningful one. From “me” to “dad”.
On top of all this, I’m about a half a year away from turning 30, so yeah, I’d say it’s time for things to stop being about me so much and more about someone else. I have been the protagonist, but soon I will become a full-time director. All of life has prepared me to this new role. The cynic could see it as circular reasoning- that you spend your youth learning how to become a responsible adult, and then once you do, you just do it all over again with modified little reruns of yourself running around.
But I would say the cynic is still under the assumption that life is all about him- that life either simply ends when he dies or that hopefully when he dies, he’s been “good enough to get to Heaven” or that at least Hell won’t be that bad, but instead just a big party where the temperature is slightly hotter than desired while Jimmy Buffett plays an eternal concert and the margaritas are never-ending.
If anything, I could see how raising a kid will be a redeeming and cleansing process, helping me to see how little I truly know, helping me to appreciate my family and childhood teachers more, helping me to straighten out my priorities even more, helping me to ultimately give more than I take. I could see how this baby will ironically make me a better adult. And how the humility of changing diapers is only a small part of this evolution of my life.
And yes, Baby Jack will probably already know how to solve a Rubik’s Cube before he gets to Kindergarten.
All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:
Twenty-eight weeks. (The beginning of the 7th month.)
I’ve been thinking how it’s kinda weird that in order for two people to reproduce, there’s no paperwork involved before things can get started. Giving birth to another human being is one of the most life-changing events that can happen to a person. And not just to the family of that new baby, but also to the world-wide network regarding that human interaction of that person’s present and future life. For example, in 1981, my parents had me, and now 29 years later there’s a guy at Aflac getting a commission off my paycheck every week because he sold me an insurance policy three years ago. I am affecting that Afflec guy’s life simply because I am alive. And that’s the slightest of examples!
In the back of my mind, I question why God is okay with the fact that it’s so easy and natural for human beings to be born. If I was God, I would be pretty tempted to prevent certain people from being born, like Adolf Hitler (a pretty obvious choice). And not let future serial killers and rapists be born either. Instead, God allows all kinds of people are allowed to be born into this world, under the best and worst circumstances.
But God doesn’t prevent “ignorant people” from having babies, nor does He keep “bad people” from being born into the world, nor does He prevent unwanted pregnancies. Ultimately, every time a person is born, it’s another opportunity for someone to bring glory to Him, whether they ever do or do not. Not every child who was abused in their youth grows up to repeat the vicious cycle and by becoming an abuser themselves, even if most do. And what about all the babies who were born into this world as a result of rape? What about all the orphans throughout the history of the world who were born destined to die young of starvation or disease?
It’s pretty easy for babies to be born, given that that the father and mother physically can conceive. No paperwork and background check required. So as I tame my wildest fears regarding all the ways I can mess up this kid who is planning to arrive in two months, I have to remind myself, millions of babies have been born into this world under the worst of circumstances and actually turned out okay. My future is as unpredictable and uncertain as anyone’s. Yet I must daily resist thoughts of financial concerns and pointless worries regarding my own conceived incompetence. But all I really can do is enjoy this new life and remind myself of all the countless times God has provided for me before.
All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography: