Here I am again and I’m singing Willie Nelson’s song, ‘On the road again, like a band of gypsies travelling down the highway’. I’m writing this from Hobart, Tasmania where we are showing the film Absent to over 250 enthusiastic Tasmanian viewers. Next stop on the road is Adelaide and then Perth. The responses to the film and the questions on fatherhood and the importance of fathers have been fantastic. Earlier in the week in a packed out viewing in my home town of Wollongong, New South Wales, Grant Lowe, an expectant father, asked a very simple question of Justin Hunt, the director of Absent in the Q & A after the movie. His question was,
“I am expecting my first child in 3 weeks time. What advice can you give me?”
Justin smiled and said,
“Are you ready to lose some sleep?”
Grant laughed, realising a little bit of what was ahead but then Justin moved in with a very interesting and profound answer.
“You are going to experience both great love and great fear, all at the same time. Great love because this little one, as you cuddle him or her, will arouse great emotions in you. You will love like you’ve never loved before and you will feel helpless all at the same time. As well as that, your deep love will stir in you great fear because you will want to protect this little one like you have never protected anything before. This combination of love and fear is a great mystery but it is the foundation for successful fatherhood.”
To be quite frank I have paraphrased Justin’s words somewhat, but I can assure you this is what Justin was getting at. It is hard to imagine fear and love in the same sentence but this is the simple fact and reality that confronts every father, especially with his first born baby.
The other side of the coin of course, is watching his wife go through the unbearable pain of childbirth and also the sense of danger in the process and feelings of helplessness as a man to make any difference to the situation. Having said that, your wife needs you at such a time as this, like no other and your presence at the birth, holding her hand, should never be underestimated.
This feeling of helplessness will continue throughout your fatherhood experience because in some ways, with children, you are never really in control. This accounts for the continuing sense of fear. This fear is expressed in other ways because of your intense love for your children and the need as they grow older to allow them to make their own decisions which at times can have the potential to be quite harmful to them.
The good news is: as the fear grows, so does the love. In one of the great poems of antiquity called the Song of Solomon, the poet says, “for love is strong as death”. The really good news is: love grows stronger than the fear, day by day and year by year. This is the great mystery of fatherhood and as fathers we must embrace the mystery. This reminds me of the book by the 11th Century saint called ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’. One of the characteristics of manhood is the desire to be in control but as Justin has pointed out, when dealing with these two emotions of love and fear, it is very hard to be in control. It is simply best to embrace the reality that these two emotions bring and enjoy the beauty of the journey. Some things can never be explained.
Accept the mystery of the challenge of experiencing fear and love all at the same time and concentrate on loving your children the best way possible, at all times and in all ways because love is stronger than death. As Steve Biddulph says,
“Love grows the brain” and as I have often said, “Love is the most powerful force in the universe.”
Enjoy the journey of fatherhood.
In fear and love