Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The best choice we ever made

Psalm 65:8 (NIV)

The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
   where morning dawns, where evening fades,
   you call forth songs of joy.
I began this project, 100 days ago, on my oldest son’s eight birthday. Using some incredibly loose gestational math, as well as one specific memory, I realize late July and early August are when Kristie and I made the conscious decision to become parents.

I’ve written before about the abandonment of our agreed upon five-year plan (wherein we would not have kids until we’d been married five years), but I want to dig a little deeper into the decision-making process. We were living in Clinton, Iowa, at the time. That’s pretty much in the center of the eastern border of the state. You know where Iowa sticks out the farthest while Illinois just in the most? That’s where Clinton is.

On July 12, 2003, we were driving back to Clinton from the wedding of two college friends in lovely Annandale, Minn., about an hour northwest of the Twin Cities. Flying to the Twin Cities from Clinton is out of the question, since we’d have had to go through Cedar Rapids or the Quad Cities. There’s no real direct way to drive there, so we went slightly out of our way to stay with two different couples, one on the way up, another on the way down. All of which is to say: we spent an awful lot of time in the car for this trip.

Now, nine years and three kids later, we can’t even make it from our house to the pool four miles away without having to shout just to discuss what to have for dinner the next night. But back then, still barely newlyweds ourselves, 15 or so hours in the car over one long weekend made for an awful lot of fairly deep conversation. At the time, it reminded me of all those trips from college to visit our parents, or that first summer when we lived in Independence, Iowa, and hit the road at least two weekends a month, if only to do laundry for free. Today that trip represents a long-closed chapter of our life as a couple.

I don’t recall how the subject of having children came up, but I am sure of a few things. One: We were still in Minnesota. Two: She started it. Three: I was taken completely by surprise.

Like a lot of big topics in the course of our time together, Kristie had been thinking about the subject for at least a few days, if not longer, before actually saying something. I, conversely, was busy wondering if the Cubs would make the playoffs. Jumping ship on the five-year plan was no more on my radar than matching tattoos or skydiving lessons. This from the half of the couple who, even in the first six months of dating, was adamant about one day being a dad. Emphasis, though, on one day. As in five years after the wedding, not 13 months.

Still, as has been the pattern over many years, my lovely wife made a compelling argument. I’m convinced this is why she ponders things internally before tipping her hand. When she says, “Honey, I’ve been thinking…” I know (now) I’m about to do some serious soul searching. It’s not as if she bullies me or always gets her way over my half-hearted objections. But I have come to learn how her mind works, that she takes no large matter lightly and that it’s always in my best interests to hear her out and have an honest discussion.

That said, there are two truths to consider. The first is it was far easier to have such discussions before we had children, and naturally now most of our discussions are about the children, which makes it that much more difficult to find the right time to engage. The second is my recollection is our discussion about having a kid was much more simple than I’m making it out to be. As best as I can remember now, it boiled down to this:
Her: Well, why not?
Me: Um, I don’t really have a good reason why not.
Her: So… yes?
Me: I guess so?
Obviously there was a bit more to it, not to mention the long pauses as I stared across the dashboard at the Minnesota highway, trying to rectify my long-stated desire to be a family man with the very real decision of actually starting a family. I knew it was something I wanted, but I also knew it was something that would change everything completely and permanently. And while I did feel the very strong call to be a father, I was full of doubt about whether the time was right.

Ultimately I told myself becoming a parent is something you’re never fully ready for because you simply can’t imagine what it’s like until you’re doing it. Heck, I’ve been a dad for eight-plus years and there are many parts of fatherhood I am in no way prepared to handle. But those things (teaching the boys to drive, picking a college, dealing with dating) are more or less on a timetable I can chart from here, much like the major changes in my own life (graduating high school, applying for a real job). Whether I was mentally ready or not was largely immaterial because the calendar dictated when I would be forced to confront such matters.

But for us, when to have children was completely controllable. I realize now how lucky we truly are in this regard. I also feel we started our family at exactly the right time, and while I wish I knew at the outset several of the things I’ve learned three babies into this rodeo, I also understand how much I have changed over the last eight years, not to mention developments in the world of baby-related products. And, as the oldest child myself,

When we took that drive back from Minnesota, we were both 23 years old. We knew the discussion was incredibly important and the matter of bringing a child into the world was nothing to be taken lightly. But we had no real idea what it would mean to be parents. We couldn’t really imagine Jack, Max or Charlie. We were barely adults ourselves. But we knew each other, we were committed to a lifetime as partners, and we knew the time was right, even if we didn’t quite understand how we knew.

I’m not sure if either one of us ever prayed about this decision, and I know we didn’t pray about it as a couple. We weren’t regular churchgoers in those days. I wasn’t in a period of questioning my faith or anything, I just hadn’t been doing a great job of making it part of my daily life. But still, I like to think we didn’t just make this decision on our own. I like to think “we knew the time was right” translates into “God was at work, opening our hearts to the idea we might be ready for children.”

Back in February, as I sat in a church pew, listening to a sermon and staring at a blank card and then felt my hand writing “start a prayer blog,” I felt strongly God was calling me to action, which is why I’m still typing these posts. I don’t recall that same clear sense of a call to action driving south on Interstate 35. But I do know if we hadn’t agreed to start a family back then, my life would be inconceivably different from what it has become. And though there are trying hours and difficult days, I have never once regretted becoming a dad.

Having a child did, as I told Kristie in the car that sunny July Sunday, change everything about my life, completely and permanently. Having two more kids along the way also was immeasurably significant. And so here I am today: married ten years, father of three sons and ever grateful for the blessing to live this life. I am so incredibly lucky, and all I can do is thank God for the opportunity.

A prayer for August 1:

Lord, you have blessed me with the opportunity and responsibility of fatherhood. You have trusted me to raise these children in your world, to be their guide, to encourage, to comfort and to urge them to live lives worthy of you. I ask your help God, both to be the parent my children deserve and also to look at my own life, that it, too, may be worthy of you. I want to be who you call me to be. I want to be a good dad, and I know I can’t do it alone. Thank you for your strength, love, guidance and grace. Amen.

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