Editor’s Note: Jasper Thorsson gives his thoughts on being a newly-married man.
I married over a year ago now, but even two years is still young in married life. Time speeds up around you as suddenly your home life takes more of your time—and you want to be there more often too! While much has changed, marrying has contributed massively to my relationship with my parents. Becoming a parent myself gave me scope on some of the issues they faced, and softened my heart against the memory of their mistakes. All you parents out there, there may not be a panacea or a parenting hack for your relationships but closing the chapter of childhood has been instrumental in replacing the verdigris between us with gold. I’ve spelled it out below, for any appreciators of poetry:
Appreciation – A mile in the role of a parent has made me appreciate the difficulty and the attempts. Any attempt to write a “How To” guide for parenting is stealing money from the disconnected and insecure. There are too many variables which make a situation unique, and only love, time, and attention can result in any sort of positive outcome. There is responsibility, but for the good things also. It is easy, easy, easy to criticize, and I did for many years. Discovering the sort of utter nonsense that must be done, sacrificed, and sought out to enable your child to grow in peace and safety is on the level that makes me wonder about once a week why anyone would choose this. Kids are hard, and they do not understand. They can’t. I didn’t, and now I begin to see, and appreciate.
Undulation – Relationships are never static because they are living things. Even if one party is godlike, unchanging and unmoving, the other still is. There are natural ups and downs, and I never appreciated the patience and perseverance that my parents were able to provide. They weren’t perfect, they weren’t always at their best—I will always remember the Saturday morning I had arisen at six in the morning as a boy and was getting myself breakfast only to be threatened with fury by a parent if I didn’t get my rear end back into bed for at least another two hours! And now I understand. Children idolize our parents as protectors and providers and entertainers and fonts of wisdom, and also resent and hate them as judges, limit-setters, rule-makers, and overseers. There is a natural up and down to all relationships, a double-edged sword with any change. Accepting this awkwardness, this plan-upsetting chaos, is a difficulty only experience and careful thought can grasp.
Roles – While it is patently obvious, I am now unshakably certain of the power of roles in our lives. Just as I moved from child to young man and man to husband, fatherhood too has redefined my sonship. Now, being an honor-bearing son to my parents involves raising my own child well, contributing my energy to family events and remembering the ones who raised me both with my attention and in presenting myself to the world and circles I walk in. My wife has remarked on a much more dramatic change between her and her mother, who had a rocky relationship full of anxiety. With the visible health and wellness and growing strength of a child, the increasing cooperation and traction of our marital relationship, and the lack of insecurity towards these and other important hopes, the flavor of their interactions and the respect for the differences in their choices and style have all mellowed and sweetened. Parents worry about the transitions, the next step. Their investment is serious and sincere, and years of lost sleep and emotions and sweat and blood.
– The choice is always there, a tempting apple on the tree: You can at any moment take off the mantle and leave it on a friend’s coat hook, on a bathhouse door, or even leave it behind entirely. We don’t hold half the opprobrium for a rebellious child that we do for a deadbeat or absent parent, and a violent parents’ punishment is far more severe even than a criminal youth’s—and that is how it ought to be. For the same reason no man chooses to mock the crops, a farmer who gives up before the harvest is a great fool. A parent had a choice. We might sit in our armchairs and speak about the sunk cost fallacy, but truly: If you won’t commit to your own family, what will you commit to? As our parents are indelibly printed on our hearts and minds and emotions, so too are our actions and attitudes machined into our offspring. It is a sobering, wearying, and arguably the greatest thing a man can do in his life. The apostle Paul made it clear that until a man is tested by fatherhood and found faithful, he is not fit for tending a spiritual crop or leadership! The identity of a parent, the ease with which it can be discarded or ignored for so many excuses including many many lesser goods, makes the choice of faithful perseverance admirable even for those whose best sings through us in scars on heart and soul and body, and it does not stop. Not even when they are out on their own.
– Time is the measure of movement, according to Aristotle. Men walk not the stately dance of the celestial spheres. Our paths are like asteroids, blindly careening and tumbling along in difficult warbles. By the very nature of our living and breathing there will be conflict and unmet expectation, unmatched desires and impossible burdens, idolatry and worship and fear and misunderstanding. Through it all we are all moving forward as well, making economic choices and all the basics required by our animal bodies. There is a lot to juggle, especially when you are leading and responsible for others. We all dream of a family organization that operates like a well-oiled machine, but the discipline to build the parts and coax cooperation without bitterness is hard. As time goes on, I realize more and more that the bumps are a part of life and not my parentage, and that raising my fist against them is the same as a petty man shaking his fist at God, our heavenly Father.
Going into any holiday season, social media and online news is full of ‘how to survive’ your family and neighbors and the traditions that tug at our sleeves. As we celebrate the arrival of the Son in whom God Himself was well-pleased, remember that it was one of the Ten Commandments to be a child that honors his parents. It’s already a season for appreciation and family: Take the steps you need to so that those rickety, risky, eggshell bridges are strengthened, and see that your conscience is clean. Maybe this one is the last awkward family meeting you have, instead of maintaining uncomfortable facades.