"As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them..." - Psalm 127:4-5.
A New Awareness
The mind of a father is different to that of a man who is not a father. This I have learned in the first six months of fatherhood. While it satisfies a part of you that nothing else in the world can, and brings what sometimes seems like limitless joy, it also comes with something sinister. You at once have a new awareness of the evil that exists in the world. Perhaps it is the male instinct to protect the helpless little fellow, perhaps it is that you have never seen such a stark contrast between good and evil as you do in the innocent smile of a fragile baby and the more malevolent things of the world. Suddenly you find yourself imagining every scenario that could possibly go wrong. Before having children there is a notable desensitisation to evil and violence, whether in thought or in TV and film. Perhaps as a result of being raised with such things as entertainment. As an engaged man and then a married one, the thought of anything happening to my wife, or the portrayal of such things in movies and TV shows, elicited feelings previously unknown - to that degree at least. But with a child of your own, it is a feeling altogether different.
A man might find, after having children, that violent films, TV shows or stories that were once mostly palatable, are now unbearable to watch or think about. I can say from experience that any such portrayal naturally makes you think of your own child or children, and the feelings that come about are near unbearable. I once stumbled upon an excerpt from the written recollection of a survivor of a genocide, who the perpetrators or victims were, I can't remember. The story told was of the writers mother being shot and his baby brother being impaled through the lower body by a bayonet. The mother and child both survived the initial wounds and crawled their way back together. Whether they survived their wounds thereafter, I never found out because when I thought of my wife and my then two week old son I couldn't possibly keep reading and had to distract myself with something else. The interesting thing about my reaction to that story was that I almost immediately imagined the wrath that would be measured out to anyone who tried to hurt my own wife or son in such a way.
The protective instinct of a father is something not exclusive to human beings. Most of us are not even aware of the violence that we are capable of if put into a situation where violence is required, or even not required. We would all like to believe that if we were a German in 1939, we would have had nothing to do with the Nazi regime. Statistically speaking however, we probably would have. Jordan B. Peterson claims that a majority of soldiers who return from combat with post traumatic stress disorder are not as much traumatised by what they witnessed, as by what they discovered they were capable of inflicting on other human beings. Society tells us as men that we should remain unaware of what we are truly capable of. In an ideal world, I would agree. But, as the old adage goes, "it's better to be a warrior in a garden, than a gardener in battle". This may turn some readers away, but I would rather know how to inflict violence on another person and never need to, than to be helpless against violence being inflicted upon my wife or my child. We are lucky to live in a wealthy and peaceful nation where it is likely to never happen..
A father also has a piqued cognisance of what it means to love unconditionally. Of course, as I have written about before, when I married my wife I promised her that my love was not conditional to how I feel. I promised instead to love her in action despite how I might feel at any given time. I've owed that to her and whatever children we may have since the first time I told her that I love her. But with a child it is another thing again. You can't look at the face of a smiling, innocent and still faultless baby and not wonder how the most evil men in history could have ever existed in such a state as this - how much their parents must have loved them, how high their hopes were for them. When I wonder what my son might be like when he is older, I doubt very much that he will be comparable to the evil men of history, but I know that no matter what, I will always remember that little face that used to smile at his daddy, and I will love him with the same measure if not more as I did then. I remember what kind of teenager I was, and I hope that he will not be the same. As I empathise with what I must have put my parents through with my bad temper and laziness, I dread even the thought of my son being the same, but again, I will remember his tiny face and love him all the same.
That is unconditional love. It means that no conditions can be put on my responsibility to love my children. My love for them can not be predicated on their behaviour, their looks, their achievement or my expectations for them. It must be relentlessly without gainful reason. I have gone through great pains (it is true that old habits die hard) to straighten a crooked path that I once walked. I know that my children will see my example and I can only hope that they will follow it. If they don't, I will still love them. I will still remember their tiny innocent faces and love them all the same. They may hurt myself and their mother, but we will still cherish them. They may disappoint us to great or small degrees, but we will always welcome them home. They may test our relationship, but it will only make us stronger. All these words are easier to say than they are to do. Granted, It is bold, to say the least, to make 'I will' or 'I won't' statements about such a far off point in the future. But, I care too much for these things not to think about them - I love my boy too much not to be prepared for the pain that raising children inevitably brings. These are the things on the mind of a father.