As a father of two children, Anna (3) and Leonardo (1.5), I face an entirely new set of experiences that are vastly different from the experiences I once knew. Indeed, one of the most profound changes for me when I became a father was redefining and reprioritizing nearly everything in my life.
Prior to that, I lived with much more freedom and flexibility, and my lifestyle and decision-making processes were largely self-centered. After having children, however, this lifestyle completely shifted, placing the children at the center of my entire decision-making process. Now, every decision I make, no matter how big or small, requires careful consideration of all the potential consequences and how the children could be affected.
Initially, I viewed this change as a loss of freedom and independence, a sacrifice that was not easy to make, especially when I was unable to participate in events or social gatherings. A part of me still suffered and yearned to have the “best of both worlds.”
Over time, this suffering passed. First, I started to realize that the friends and relationships I had before becoming a father were not disappearing because of my parental demands. On the contrary, these relationships adapted and grew to embrace my fatherhood in beautiful and unexpected ways.
What was most surprising was not only the support, understanding and flexibility, but also the genuine enthusiasm from others to extend our relationship to include my children and to build an individual relationship with the children. Witnessing this adaptation and growth in others, helped me to realize the important role a community plays in raising kids, as well as the importance and possibility to share the joys of being a parent with those around me.
Second, I started to see how important and special my wife was throughout this period. Not only did I realize how she too was facing the same challenges, but I could also see how she was sacrificing her “freedom” to allow me more independence.
For example, as a gift for Father’s Day one year, she offered to stay with the kids for the day so I could ride bikes to the beach with a couple of friends whom I hadn’t seen in a while. I was thrilled with the gift, but distinctly remember getting halfway to the beach and thinking about how much I’d prefer to have the entire family with me.
This is when I started to realize that the events, activities and social gatherings that once motivated my desire for independence were becoming much less important to me, and instead I started to find more joy when sharing experiences with my family. Children offer a special opportunity to experience the world with new eyes and delight in the simple joys of life.
Another adventure I discovered by being a parent comes from how I educate and relate to our children differently from my wife. We often joke about how our original families are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum! These differences in culture, upbringing and faith, however, can lead to disagreements and misunderstandings that can seem like a direct attack on what we know and value most.
While each situation is different, my wife and I strive to find common ground and to use our similarities as a foundation for finding unity in diversity. In particular, we aim to share these differences with our children not only to provide a sound moral, ethical and faith-based upbringing, but also to enable them to make their own decisions.
Finally, while my experience being a father has been full of laughter and joy, I have also learned that fatherhood is an experience filled with failures and mistakes, requiring a constant effort to ask for forgiveness and to start again. It is an endless process of learning through experimentation.
I am certain there is no “right” way to be a father, nor will any two experiences ever be exactly the same. But from my limited experience, I believe an eagerness to love, a good amount of patience and a sense of humor, is enough to transform the difficulties, challenges and failures into a humbling experience filled with joy and delight.