It’s really tacky and cheesy to start a piece of writing with a definition. I mean, it’s just overplayed. But there’s a reason so many people have done it, so pardon me for a second while I…
Webster’s dictionary defines “cataclysm” as “a momentous and violent event marked by overwhelming upheaval and demolition; broadly : an event that brings great changes.” And here I am, waiting for a cataclysm. Waiting for a baby to be born.
Nearly two years ago, most people know that my son was born under much duress. He looked dead when he came out. They stuck lines in him and taped something into his nose. I saw him before my wife did. I thought I was going to have to tell her that our son was going to die. He didn’t. He was really just fine. It took a week (a tiny amount of time for those kids in the NICU), but he was out of there. Our lives are infinitely better for his little, loud body careening through the days.
In the immediate aftermath of that birth, when our son was being cared for in a room above our heads, Erin and I looked at each other and said, “We’re never doing this again.”
And we’re not, technically. This time, we’re having another girl, not a baby boy. The due date? Three days after Valor’s birthday. Four kids. Three girls. Another appointment with the beginning of October for a cataclysm. OUR LAST CATACLYSM.
I am not a very good dad. My wife doesn’t say that, because she is a nice person. But I see the way other dads talk and act towards their children. I know the truth. I’m not a very good dad. I’m not looking for arguments to the contrary. I’m not fishing for compliments. Most dads around me miss their kids after about six hours. Can’t sleep without them being home. Me? I’m not fully relaxed until they’ve been gone for a couple nights. I relish their absence. I snaffle up the quiet and the rest.
Children “bring great changes.” They demolish things. Most people can see past this, but I am here a few weeks before the birth of my third daughter, my fourth child (FOUR KIDS… ME), and I wonder how I can catch my breath and press on. My wife sees them more than I do all day and she does so much better than me. I don’t know how she does it. She sat on the couch last night and made up a story with the two girls that seemed to go on for 45 minutes. She basically produced a movie with their help. I wasn’t a part of it, I wasn’t doing it, but I was annoyed just having it happen in the background of my reading. Do you understand? My wife is the one actively participating and I got tired of the thing without even being involved.
I am not a good dad.
Of course, my children are good children. They infuriate me and exhaust me and exasperate me sometimes (/often), but they are good children. They are fun and lively and creative and caring. My son has more empathy in his almost-two-year-old body than I have learned in my 31 years. They have so much fun doing… anything. My body may be relaxing when they are gone, but I notice, keenly, that the silence is a bit emptier when they are gone compared to the silence that fills the house after they’ve gone to sleep.
And I truly delight in knowing these little cataclysms. Their unique personalities and insanities make my life filled with so much more color and meaning. And yes they can be destructive. But part of their demolition is not just the demolition of order and silence for reading and budgets, but the demolition of me and my ugliness.
Their cataclysmic presence in my life constantly finds all these places in my heart where I am frail and ugly and bent the wrong way. It’s like they know where I’m weak and they strike me there again and again. But after eight and a half years of being a father, I can tell that their goodness, the unrestrained grace of their lives is flowing over my flaws like water over the river bed, and smoothing out my rough edges.
I’m sitting here weeks before another earthquake comes that will steal sleep and emotional energy and money and comfort from me and sometimes all I can imagine is all of the things that will happen to suck the life out of me. But every once in a while, when I can imagine holding another little girl, I can see into the future and I can see that fourth little body. I can see the edges of the smile that will lift me. I can hear the echoes of the giggle that will delight me. I can feel the brushes of the arms that will encircle my neck. I can see the cataclysm that will demolish a little bit more of the me that I cannot stand. All the jagged edges and embedded bedrock of impatience and coldness and selfishness will get broken up under the jackhammer of her joy and her demands.
I am not a good dad. But I have really good kids, given as good gifts from a good God. They will wear on me. They will drain me. I am not a natural at fatherhood at all. I’m just not a good dad.
But maybe I’m slowly becoming one. Maybe all these hours and days and weeks and months with good children, they are making me good. Their imperfections and delights are finding the weak spots in my armor and they are unmasking me, remaking me in the image of a good Father, who gives good gifts again and again. Children are a delight not because they are always delightful, but because they usher parents into better joy.
I’m sitting here, four weeks from another birth, and I’m not sure if I can make it, not sure if I’m cut out for this. But maybe that’s the hope. Maybe my capacity needs to be greatly changed, demolished, bulldozed, and pushed off to the side. Maybe my children will make a good dad out of me yet.
Maybe God is going to upend my life one more time and these little cataclysms will make me the man I could not be on my own.
I’m sitting here waiting for the cataclysm, holding my breath, not sure if I’ll make it. Hoping I won’t. Hoping I’ll be torn down into something else. Hoping I’ll be demolished by joy again. Hoping that God will change me to be a better man. Hoping to hold softly and be held strongly. I’m waiting for the tidal wave to descend all over again and sweep me away.
Bring on the tidal wave.
Bring on the cataclysm.