Becoming a parent is like being appointed a God without any divine powers.
On one hand, I am intimately responsible for every facet of Mendon’s well being and sustenance. In a frighteningly real sense, his precious life is placed in my care as if I were the maker of his heaven and earth.
Yet, on the other hand, he is as fragile as a robin’s egg caught in the middle of an interstate freeway. If I am honest with myself, I can not really stop terrible things from happening to him. Unlike Zeus who tames the lighting in the sky and Yahweh who parted the Red Sea on command, I have all I can handle to keep track of where the pacifier went!
Even if I were the most conscientious and doting father conceivable, I still cannot prevent other people’s clumsiness and foolishness, harness and control the elements, or guard Mendon’s solitude from the unwanted intrusions of sickness and death. All I can do is accept this paradox for what it is and take each day on faith. And I’m not talking about that cheap and easy Hallmark card style faith which promises all will be well. Bad things will happen to me, to Mendon, and to everyone else. To have faith that bad things won’t happen is not a mark of pious devotion but a sign of profound self- delusion.
On the contrary, I am talking about the kind of faith which helps us understand that even though bad things happen, it is a very good thing that they do. I’m talking about having faith in faith.This is the only proper attitude which allows us to accept the full monstrous weight of parenthood without getting sucked towards the extreme poles of delusional self-grandeur and pathetic hopelessness.
To be faithful is to be alive with excitement. No matter what happens, life will persist. Long after I have come and gone, I will be part of a life cycle that is never ending. Even after Mendon lives his life, he too will return to the place he sprung from.
To grapple with the complexity and terrible responsibility of being a parent, we need to find ways to make rituals out of our limitations. We need to find ways to celebrate our inconsistencies; to honor our mistakes; and to accept that we are not going to get it right.
One ritual in particular helped my wife Amy and I to honor our limitations. By planting my wife’s placenta in a natural setting that has special meaning to our 15 year old love affair, we wanted to not just save her internal organs from the incinerator at the hospital, but to physically mark our entrance into the sacred guild of parenthood with a religious act of humility and interconnection.
So we did. It was a lovely ceremony. Without a shovel I kicked enough dirt to create a perfect hole. We took the ice block and its purple and white veined organic mass from the plastic biohazard bag (issued to us by the nurses in the maternity ward) and planted the thawing flesh in the earth. All I said was: thank you for this space. Here we can honor God for giving us life. We can honor these woods for giving all of these plants and animals life. Out of life came life. And when our life is over, we will return to this earth. When Mendon’s life is over, he too will return to this earth. Out of this earth will emerge new life. In spite of the worst calamities, life will grow out of life. Even in the darkest crevices of the abyss and in the hottest tubes of bacterial hell, life will persist. Even if our planet were to perish tomorrow, galactic life around it will go on.
Life is what we must have faith in. If we are to accept our limitations and take on the responsibilities of parenthood, it is life that we must embrace. Not my life. Not the life of humans and animals alone. Not the life of our planet. But life anywhere. The fact that there is an anywhere is what we must have faith in.