One of the first things people ask me once they find out we have a baby is what it's like being a father. Sometimes they're a parent so they kind of know, or they aren't and really want to know. I never really know what to answer. I'm slowly realizing what it means to be a father, and the husband of someone who's a mother.
A big part of what I'm learning is that I'm seeing with clearer eyes the wisdom of something Abdu'l-Baha said. He said (I'm paraphrasing terribly here) that the mother has a right to expect the father to maintain the livelihood of the family, but the father doesn't. That, if possible, the mother should be with the children, as they are the first educator, and the father should earn the family's livelihood. Before becoming a father I wondered about this. In times like these where gender roles are, mostly rightly, being questioned at every turn, this seems like a surprisingly traditional thing to say. In that questioning, though, I thing we've gotten confused with what's 'traditional', 'progressive', and what's right. One of the beauties of this statement is that it's an ideal--it won't work in every case, due to economic factors or whatever, but if at all possible I'm beginning to see the beauty, and the difficulty, in this setup. I should also say my observations here are based on only our own experience.
I think I've mentioned before here how important the mother's role is, and how intense it is. I'll never have the kind of relationship Suzanne has with Amia. One realization I just had is that when you're a parent, of an 11-month old at least since that's all I know, your wishes, desires, interests, and even your body, are not really your own. Even more so for the mother, from the moment of conception and the body starts to change and they can no longer have coffee anymore, to the time that they're nursing and always have to be around, even if using a breast pump. I came to this realization after two straight days of Amia waking up at 4am. There's no one to call in sick to, or to ask a vacation from. It's like having a job that you never really get a break from. This was the realization subsequent to a related one where I realized that being a parent means being one 24/7. I also just heard recently that our relationships with God are patterned after our relationships with our mother, and our relationships with the Prophets of God on our father. At first that took me aback. But in seeing how Amia interacts with Suzanne I think that's pretty right on. Whenever Amia is scared she starts saying Mama, repeatedly, and looking around for her. Also whenever she's tired, hungry, and just needing a sense of security. These are all the same reasons I call on God and repeat His name (especially when I'm really hungry). I don't think Amia does it anymore than other babies. But I always joke with Suzanne that Mama is Amia's greatest name, the name she invokes to draw down assistance from a higher power. Thinking about what Suzanne provides, and what mothers are created to provide, both physically and emotionally, it is the closest thing to God that Amia understands. That's pretty intense. So where do fathers fit into this relationship?
Kind of like the Prophets, we're there to back up what the creator says and does (trying to not sound too blasphemous here). One of the biggest ways I'm trying to do that is by providing for the family. I've been blessed with work, and colleagues, that I love, and for which I'm every day grateful. I know it could be a lot worse. But what that's also meant for me is that I'm gone a lot. I'm at work, it seems, more than at home (for more on this see post where I called work home). I tried to make my peace with this fact early on. Because not only do I miss picnics on the beach and naps holding little Amia, but I have to see her cry every morning when I go to work and leave again at lunch. About the second month I opened up to a book of Baha'u'llah's writings to this passage (again paraphrasing terribly)--all that one has given up in the path of God you will find whole and in tact in the next world. Immediately all my cares went away. Because it took me out of this moment and shifted my perception of what life means. That's been able to sustain me and make everything alright. Now I wouldn't mind if the National Center went to 3 or 4 day work weeks of 5 hour days, but until then I think we'll be alright.