By Chris Stefanik
Sun contributing writer
I’m a proud husband and father of five. Like the joys and pains of marriage, the joys and pains of fatherhood far outweigh what I could have expected.
I have to laugh when not-so-young adults tell me they don’t want to get married because they aren’t ready for kids. Can one possibly be ready for a child? I have five and I’m still not ready for the first. I certainly can’t afford the first! No doubt, there are legitimate reasons for waiting to start a family. But if everyone waited until they felt completely ready reproduction would come to a grinding halt.
Thankfully, an overwhelming surge of love kicks in the moment a new parent looks at his child. That love equips him more effectively than any amount of formal training or money ever could.
In addition to the realization of my ill preparedness, fatherhood has also brought me face to face with my limitations. Childbirth makes it clear at the outset that parents are in over their heads — part of something far bigger than they are, something they can never fully control.
This is true in a special way for dad. As much as I want to feel like we’re a “team” during childbirth, I know deep down that shouting “RUN!” from the bleachers doesn’t make me a New York Yankee.
I’ve stood by my wife through five c-sections. (Yes, she is a saint.) But accompanying my sense of feebleness during that operation is indescribable joy. With each birth I’ve known that I stood in the most privileged two-foot-square space on earth, next to my wife as she brings new life into the world, strapped cruciform to the operating table. I wonder if Joseph felt that way, standing at the crèche as both contemplative and sentinel.
The overwhelming experience continues when I get to carry a child from behind the safe walls of a hospital and into the world. I always want to ask the nurse, “Are you sure you’re letting me take it?…out there?”
Suddenly it’s clear that everything has changed when I load the precious cargo into the car seat. The world looks different. All that is precious and valuable is now in that car. Hands on the wheel at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.; I hadn’t driven that cautiously since driver’s ed class! But alongside the terror of driving in L.A. traffic with an infant and post-op wife I found a new courage welling up in me as well.
It’s the courage of a hero willing to lay down his life, the courage of a wolf willing to kill or die if anything presents a threat to its young. It’s the force of a million years of evolution combined with the power that comes from the grace of office. It’s the power of fatherhood.
The second a father takes flight with his family from the safety of the hospital into a world of sin, traffic, and ever encroaching need, he becomes the wall that stands between that child and the world—the image of God, the protector and provider. Despite the stark realization that I’m far from almighty, fatherhood gave rise to something infinite inside my chest.
I’ve been on the roller coaster of fatherhood for twelve years now. It’s tried and tested me in every way imaginable. Before kids, I was ready to canonize myself. I was so patient. Apparently it’s easier to be patient when no one is trying your patience. Some of my friends without children are still very patient and they have wonderful advice for me.
And as cute as they look from a distance, children are crazier than I had imagined. Thank God they’re small. Add four feet and 150 pounds to a two year old and no one would be safe. Imagine coming home from work and finding a 6’2’’ man naked in your hallway covered in marker, angry at the world because he can’t look up and see his forehead. It’d be time to call the cops.
Yet in the midst of the insanity and constant noise I’ve found new steel in my soul. It’s not as polished as it was before children, but each ounce of virtue in me has been purified by fire. I’m a bit charred, but I’m real now. (No doubt, my celibate friends have experienced similar purification through their ministries!)
Ill-prepared, powerless, terrified, a bit broken…overwhelmed with love, luckiest man alive, mighty protector, man of steel…that is fatherhood.
Twelve years after the first birth I’m still not quite ready for all this. How does a 35 year old let his preteen girl know how much he loves her? How does he talk to her about her crush, or bond over how awesome Taylor Swift is? How does he ride the waves of puberty hitting his home like a tsunami? I’ll let you know when I have it figured out.
But I’m blessed to stand here, in over my head since day one, between her and the world. Here I’ll always stand, as my father always will for me.
Speaker and author Chris Stefanick is Director of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver.