By any possible definition, last night was a bad night!
My youngest daughter, Anabel, is only 3 months old and has yet to even come close, to considering, the possibility of sleeping through the night. I freely acknowledge that my wife, who is breast-feeding, takes the brunt of this. However, even by Anabel’s low standards, last night was a bad night. I honestly don’t believe she managed to sleep for more than an hour. We certainly didn’t!
Anyway, as I was stood in the dark, at about 3am, desperately trying to convince our child that she was not wide awake and wanting to play, I started to think about parenthood.
Being a Dad is a funny thing. It completely transforms your life. I don’t mean in the way most things do. A change of job, for example, changes your life. Moving house, getting married, gaining a qualification, these all change your life. Becoming a parent isn’t like that. Becoming a parent doesn’t so much change your life as it does change the person who’s living that life (while simultaneously changing your life!). It changes you, who you are, what you do, how you think, everything.
So, let’s imagine you have a day off work. Before you’re a parent the question is, “What will I enjoy doing on this day off?” Once you’re a parent the question becomes, “What will my child enjoy doing on my day off?” Because if they enjoy it, then however awful the place may be, I’ll enjoy it.
So as I stood there, swaying gently from side-to-side, I came to the conclusion that becoming a Dad is a little bit like dying! (Yes, for Trinity people, I was thinking of John Bimson when I thought it!) Many of the things that I love to do, I very rarely get to do anymore. Walking, for example. Have you tried going for a 5-6 mile hike with a four-year old? It’s not worth it, trust me!
What also struck me was that they don’t even remember! Last week we were away in the caravan. In glorious sunshine we went to a theme park and Sarah, my eldest, had the time of her life going down some water slides, speeding down a huge toboggan run, playing in the biggest soft play you’ve ever seen and plenty more. We came home on a ferry, which fascinated her and when we got back to the site I took her swimming: diving under the water and paddling in an inflatable boat. This was followed by a BBQ. All in all it was a great day. After the BBQ we bathed her, put her into her PJ’s and she came and held the tea towel as I washed the dishes. As we put her to bed, just after returning to the caravan, we asked her what her favourite bit of the day was. Her answer? Washing the dishes!! Further questions and interrogation led us nowhere, everything else had already faded into distance memory. If I asked her now, I’d be lucky if she remembered a theme park. Not that I mind, my memory is fine and I remember her smiles and barely contained joy on those water slides and I wouldn’t have missed that for the world.
As the long hours of night became even longer, my thoughts turned to my own parents. I must admit that my two years in Bristol have helped me to see my parents in a new light. It may just be my own stupidity, but somehow I always expect other people’s experiences in life to be roughly similar to my own. As such, it always comes as a bit of a shock to me when this assumption turns out to be wrong. In the course of my training I’ve had the opportunity to meet a variety of different people, from all sorts of ways of life. I remember vividly one man in the prison describing how one of his numerous step fathers had injected him with heroin when he was 9 years old … nine!! Of course, it’s not normally that extreme, but I’ve had a whole range of conversations about difficult relationships with parents. It may just be constant criticism, or simply a lack of interest. Others tell me about not seeing or speaking to parents for long, long periods of time. This always shocks me and has led me, time and again, to realise what a precious, precious gift my own parents have been to me.
Throughout my life, from as early as I can possibly remember, I have never, ever doubted that I am loved. I simply took this to be normal. Sometimes, of course, my parents would be cross with me (sometimes they really had reason to be!), sometimes they would punish me, but I always knew they loved me. I have never had a time in my life when I didn’t know what it was like to receive completely unconditional love. If I manage to do anything right in being a father (and sometimes I’m not sure I can manage anything right!), it will be entirely because of the excellent example of my wonderful, wonderful parents. I have come to see, that the only reason I have achieved anything in my life is because of this foundation, because of this bedrock. Of course, some of my friends would be quick to jump on me here and tell me that by foundation should be the unconditional love of God, and, without doubt, they’re right. However, I know plenty of Christians who have found it incredibly hard to accept and live in the knowledge of the unconditional love of God. I have not. Never. And that is because I have always known what unconditional love is. I really do believe that the whole reason that our creator God choose to reveal himself as Father is because occasionally you get parents like mine.
And as these thoughts tumbled through my head, I came to the conclusion that ultimately that’s what happens to the memories. I don’t remember many specific events from my very early life, does anyone? But I think, maybe, they seep into our unconscious and build up as a knowledge of the unconditional love of parents. As the parent sacrifices all they have, all their energy, finances and time, into this little life. As the parent sways back and forth in the middle of the night, or jumps in a boat to go down a water slide, it is registered in the child’s mind that their Daddy, or Mummy, love them. And while the events fade from memory, the knowledge of love stays forever.
So while I was standing, in the dark, desperate for sleep I began to realise that what I was doing was showing my daughter that I loved her and that this may well be the most important thing I can do as a parent. More important than earning them lots of money (which is a good job really;-)), more important than picking the right school, more important that making sure they have the best clothes, or that she can do well with her reading, writing and maths: more important than anything else. The most important thing is to make sure I keep swaying from side to side in the middle of the night just because I love her.
I guess it wasn’t that bad a night after all!
(I thought other things too! It really was a very long night. I thought about how parenthood sheds light of Jesus’ claim that those who lose their life gain true life, about how it helps us to understand that it is better to serve than to be served, about the Father heart of God. But I think this is definitely enough of my random thoughts for one day. Besides, I need to give my daughter a bath, read her a story and tuck her in bed. In other words, I need to show her I love her)