Hands down, the hardest job I’ve ever had is being a father. I think back to when I was in seminary, when I was studying to be a different type of father, the world seemed riddled with social experiments and arduous studies. They had us working in nursing homes, homeless shelters, or handing out meals on the frozen sidewalks along the Southside of Chicago.
I’ve had jobs that were physically, mentally, and spiritually draining, where at the end of the day all I could do was return back to my doma, throw my head down on the pillow, and resist the urge to seek physical relief — we seemed to work under a mirror of stress that was constantly projected onto us by those we tried to serve.
That was over a decade ago, and now I’m a father with two young sons, 4 and 7; and I find myself crashing down on my bed at the end of the day, two exhausted to even recoil into self-gratification. However, the fear alone of children walking in at the most inopportune times sends more chills down my spine then the eyes of God staring down at me from the crucifix that hung on the wall in my room while in seminary.
I’m reminded of a joke that I heard the comic Kip Odata tell on a radio program when I was a young teen, struggling with my new blindness. It went like this:
A father walks into his teenage son’s room and says, “Son, you gotta stop that, or you’ll go blind.”
The son responds, “Dad, I’m over here.”
Being a parent is full of daily challenges. Trying to get the boys up out of bed and dressed for school; throwing everything down at your desk because you realized that if you miss the bus, your 90 minute commute will get you to daycare after they close; getting up for the third glass of water, when all you want to do is sit next to the woman you love for a few minutes of silence; These are just a few of the daily routines that you both love and fight with each day. Compound that with the challenges of being a blind dad, and you find a whole other level of difficulty, the kind of things reserved for advanced video gammers — such adventures as not realizing just how much snot is flowing out of your sons nose and crusting on his face, finding a pile of mashed sweet potatoes and green beans under the seat cushion; feeling around on your hands and knees in their bedroom, trying to find the source of the lingering smell of poop that is way to strong to just be a fart.
These are just a few of the joys of parenting that leave me drained at the end of the day, like a sherpa leading a herd of disgruntled cats to the summit of Disney’s Space Mountain. Yet, despite the woes of parenthood, the most subtle giggle, or the tiny whispering breath of a child’s deep sleep are two of the greatest sounds I’ve ever heard. The feeling of my child in the palm of my hand, or their fine hair rustled through my fingers are two of the best things I’ve ever felt. And the smell of a newborn child is greater than the fragrance of paradise blowing through fruit orchards on a cool spring morning.
Where there is joy, there is suffering. Where there is fear, there is the assurance of a parent’s hand. And where there is unknown, there is the never-ending question to find the truth. We are blind to our child’s future, we just have to take it one day at a time, living in the present, not worrying about the future unknown. Of course, that’s right where we need to be, in the present moment for our children. What we do in the now will have a major impact on their future, and make our labor worth every ounce of sweat and tears.