From October 20 to November 10 our son Ethan James Romo was in the NICU at Glendale Adventist Hospital. It was one of the most trying times our family had ever experienced. Julian expressed to me very frequently how frustrated he was that he didn't get to see his baby brother. This is the moment that Julian got to meet Ethan for the first time.
I've been watching this on repeat since I took the video. I feel like I know Julian enough to see something on his face beyond mere excitement or curiosity. I get the sense that something changed the moment he got to see his little brother. I feel like he falls in love, I feel like he fundamentally changes, I feel like he begins to see the responsibility he must adopt now that he is someone's protector.
Love is a privilege, a responsibility and often times a burden. It takes sacrifice, honesty, and strength. It is a charge not everyone is equipped to handle.
There is a tremendous responsibility at the foot of parents, mentors and older siblings. Mothers have the incredible capacity to love unselfishly and care for their children. Fathers have a bit of a different role, they must provide for their children a mode of being for how to exist in the world.
Single mothers and non-traditional family structures must adopt this role as well. As for me, I will speak as a father of two young sons in a traditional nuclear family.
I must provide for my sons a set of behaviors and ethics which will help them thrive in this world. As men people should look at them and see admirable traits, traits that I myself must adopt in an archetypical manner. It means that I must keep my relationships with my sons pristine and unpolluted by my weaknesses and vices. Before my sons become autonomous individuals and compartmentalize me and my shortcomings (as is the birthright of any child) they must look at me and see nobility, someone worthy of emulation.
It is no small task. It's important. In fact, it may be the most important role one can play in the world.
The Damage That Fathers Are Capable Of
I have a good friend who told me a story about his step-father.
When he was about nine or ten years old his stepfather would take him out to the middle of the woods in his pickup truck and talk to him. At length, the stepfather would boast about how he was cheating on his mother with other women. He would smoke weed and side-eye him, tell him that he would hurt him badly if he ever told anyone. In order to appease his stepfather, my friend would agree to not tell a soul all the while seething inside with hatred.
The stepfather wouldn't beat him or abuse him physically, at least not on these excursions. He would systematically crush his spirit and self-worth.
I asked him if he could see any good or strengthening in his abuse. He said that the damage far outweighed any good. Although my friend was intelligent, capable and a person of admirable traits he would always question himself. It would always stop him from demanding what he deserved from life. He was warped and the damage had yet to be mended all these years later.
After he told me this I drove off on my own. I found an empty parking lot and cried. It was one of the most tragic things I had ever heard.
This is the wish many people have for their children. I have come to believe that this wish is somewhat misguided. Sure, being happy is nice but happiness is fickle. It comes and goes and when it's here you should enjoy it. Eventually, you will run into unhappy times and then what will you do? I won't always be there to comfort you when things go bad. I want something better for you, better than happy.
I want you to be capable, whole and admirable. I want you to be optimally challenged. I want you to voluntarily undertake great tasks and achieve success in them.
I want those challenges to mold you and shape you into a person of character.
I want you to find a pursuit which makes the suffering inherent in life worth it. I don't want you to suffer needlessly to serve another's aims. I don't want you to suffer under tyranny. I want your suffering to be informative and constructive to your own ends.
So that if happiness comes your way then you can truly enjoy it for the precious gift that it is and you will have the wear with all to make it through unhappy times.
I have lived for nearly 40 years and in my experience, the best parts of my life were the times I made it through a challenging situation. The comfort and safety were merely byproducts of the work done prior. So maybe the value is not in the comfort, but the work.
When people see newborn babies they often fawn over them and admire them. Newborn babies are basically tubes, food goes in one end and comes out the other. So why do we freak out over them? Well, what I believe we admire is perhaps the potential inherent in a new human life. All possibilities beset them and a healthy baby has an entire life story yet to be written.
So to my five-year son and my one-month-old baby, I wish that you write a beautiful story with your lives.
Your daddy loves you.