I am writing this post at 11 O'clock at night, in a field near the New Forest; I have a campfire burning low in front of me, and my 4 year old daughter asleep next to me. My wife and infant son are already tucked up in our tent - the only one in the field, given that it is a Monday night. The world is silent, save for the crackling of burning wood.
We have come to the south of England to celebrate my niece's birthday, and the past few days have been filled with the hustle and bustle of a family gathering. We return home tomorrow, and I am taking this opportunity to reflect on my life as a father.
I have often said in passing that whilst I knew my parents loved me as a child, I had no idea of what that love was like until I had children of my own. When I think of the things that I did as a child, I realise now how heart-breaking they must have been for my parents; and I dread the inevitable times when my children put me through the same.
Over the past 6 months or so my daughter has matured so much; she has always been a model child, but recently she has become very much a little girl. She will, to quote my mother, 'always be my baby', but outwardly her infantility seems to be a thing of the past. For example, she lay outside with me until after 1am last night talking about the sky, and was very excited to see her first shooting stars; she would not have had the patience for this even a few months ago.
So why am I writing about fatherhood on a faith blog? To answer that question simply I would turn to the fact that everything we do should be for the greater glory of God, but I feel more explanation is needed to do my view of fatherhood justice:
On our wedding day my wife and I promised to 'accept children lovingly from God' and raise them in the faith. This vow is, like all the others we made to one another that day, indissoluble and means that our interactions with our children are more than simply 'bringing them up' - each cuddle, each game, each firm word takes place not just to churn out another capable member of society, but to give thanks and glory to God and to form the faithful of tomorrow. Indeed I hope and pray that my children will be a credit both to us and to God, and that they will be counted my greatest achievement when my life on earth is done.
Why though, is it necessary to thank God for children - after all they have the power to cause emotional turmoil that ranges from delight, to anger, to sorrow, and back to delight again (sometimes within minutes). For the answer here I will quote my daughter, who, whilst saying her prayer before bed one evening said 'thankyou God for making the trees for the birds to live in, and thankyou for making the birds to live in the trees'. Cryptic, but the (perhaps accidental) essence of her prayer is that trees were created for birds and birds were created for trees in a beautiful complementarity. In the same way, I believe that husband and wife (both in gender and in sacrament) were created for children and children bring an additional dimension to the love between their parents. I challenge anyone to hold their new born child and consider the complete, yet miniature, person in their arms to claim, at the instant at which the child opens its eyes and looks at you, that there is no God. It cannot done.
The final thought of this post turns to why we love our children. It is certainly not out of a duty to God; there are ample parents in the world who do not believe in God and yet love their children dearly. However, for those who do believe, the innocence and helplessness of children is more than nature taking its course; it is another beautiful complimentarity - children need to be protected and educated by their parents, and it is through protecting and educating that the loving bond between parent and child is strengthened.
I do not doubt for a moment that fatherhood is a subject that I will return to in this blog, as it is a topic which is obviously key to my life; but I will leave my thoughts here for the time being.