an excerpt from
Do Pirates Wear Pajamas?
and Other Mysteries in the Adventure of Fathering
By Gordon Dalbey
You know, we really need to begin thinking about starting a family.
Amid the otherwise comforting aroma of scrambled eggs and salsa, Mary leaned ever so matter-of-factly into our breakfast table, shortly before our first anniversary—and waited.
Suddenly the newspaper I was scanning seemed to grab my attention. “Well, I guess…I mean, yeah, I think that’s probably a good idea,” I mumbled, fidgeting with the pages.
“So how do you feel about being a father?” Mary asked.
A woman cuts to the bottom line fast on this sort of thing.
“’Being a father’? Oh, excited…,” I allowed, hesitating. “Feel” questions are not my favorite; nervously, I turned to the next page and stared vacantly at The Big Tire Sale.
Sighing at last, I laid down my paper and turned to Mary. “…but scared.”
It was true. Neither of us had ever had children. Sure, I’d thought about it off and on over the years. But could I make enough money to keep a family of three afloat without Mary working? How would I handle the stress of diapers, nighttime crying, and sacrificing not only our social life—but the ready affection of my otherwise well-rested and responsive wife?
We had a good life. Mary, a psychologist, was running a Christian counseling center. We loved each other, enjoyed our jobs and the freedom to come and go. We exercised regularly, ate healthy, and slept well–all night long, in fact.
“Your life will never be the same,” everyone with children warned. But as we talked honestly that morning, we realized that was precisely the point. I didn’t want my life to be the same. Sure, my adventures—from hunting crocodiles in Nigeria as a Peace Corps Volunteer to publishing a bestselling men’s book—had been exciting.
But Mary’s question was on time. The prospect of any repeat cycle by itself now felt flat. “If you never have children,” as my dad once told me, “you’ll miss out on one of life’s greatest adventures.”
As two independent professionals, Mary and I tried to imagine what it would be like to be parents. How would we fit a child into our busy schedules?
At last, we decided to check the Bible for passages about children. What we read startled, humbled, and convicted us. Children, we saw, are not a burden who obstruct “the good life,” but a blessing from God who facilitate the best life:
“May the Lord give you children,” the Psalmist proclaimed, “you and you descendants! May you be blessed by the Lord, who made heaven and earth!” (Ps. 115:4,5). Again, “Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a real blessing” (Ps. 127:3).
Fast-forward a few years, and I can tell you honestly that a child really is upsetting–especially when you cling for security to your own controlled agendas. To summarize: Never trust a dad without spit-up on his pajamas.
Sure, fathering exposes your weak spots and calls for plenty of humility and sacrifice. It’s not for wimps. But its rich lessons–and yes, unmatched joy–redeem the struggle convincingly for any man willing to persevere in the adventure with an open heart.
Once, when my son was around six, we went hiking together in the woods and came up against a large pile of boulders. We took a long and measured look, nodded finally, and up we went. Scraping knees and cling onto whatever cracks and knobs we could, at last we stood triumphantly together at the top.
“That was sure an adventure,” I exhaled in relief. Pausing to whack bolder dusts off my pants, I added, “—but it was pretty scary.”
“Daddy,” the boy countered, brushing aside my disclaimer like so much bolder dust, “it’s not an adventure unless it’s a little scary!”
Heads up, men: being a dad is more than a little scary. But if you’re looking for adventure, there’s nothing like it.
Sure, you’ll make your mistakes like all of us, and that’s how you learn. During my first few years as a dad, however, I found myself more surprised by the joy than by the struggles.
Imagine your little son sitting in your lap at breakfast as you squint in frustration at your newspaper spotted with oatmeal. Suddenly a small voice announces, “I like my daddy!” Where in your heart does a man file so gracious and powerful an experience?
From cereal boxes and movies to commercials and sermons, various men told me that nothing in this world is more satisfying than winning a ball game, having sex with a beautiful woman, making good money, succeeding professionally, reading the Bible, and serving the poor. I can tell you that each of those activities can be very good.
But never in all my adult travels did any older man tell me about the unfathomable joy in being a father–neither while I was studying at the very finest universities, attending churches of virtually every denomination, listening to politicians of every stripe, or reading the most esteemed authors.
In fact, never in my life did an older man tell me the truth: No life experience draws you closer to the heart of God, more determined to fight for a better world, and thereby, more genuinely like a man than being a father.
Unto today, my great joy in being a dad causes me even now to grieve sometimes for what my forefathers missed.
Living with someone stoked by wiggly worms on a wet sidewalk, who shouts, “Daddy, let’s wrestle and roar like lions,” who races laughing into your arms when you come home, who cries, “Daddy, pray to Jesus!” when he bumps his head—for a man, that’s called a second chance. Not just for you, but for the men of your heritage.
Don’t miss it.