When my son Liam was born nearly four years ago, I barely teared up in emotion. When my son Bo was born 18 days ago, I lost it crying. In the pandemonium of nurses caring for him and giving him to his mom, I became completely undone.
Why was there such a stark difference? I can only speculate, but my very educated guess is that when Liam was born I didn’t know. Now, I KNOW. If you are a parent, you certainly know what I’m talking about.
Parenting is a wild, exhilarating ride of emotion. We can talk about how love isn’t an emotion, and that is true. But the love God has for us as His children that we reflect to our kids brings feelings I had never experienced before. They are deep. Poignant. Overwhelming. And they are frequent.
I’ll add as a disclaimer that of course, there is a lot to parenting that has been without emotion. There are a lot of days in the trenches and moments when I feel very impassive. I help my wife as much as I can with the middle-of-the-night feedings of our newborn and it’s pretty common when I hold my son at 3 AM that I’m not feeling anything. Except for a huge temptation to go back to sleep. I don’t want to unnecessarily romanticize the experience of raising children.
But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t the most emotionally-rewarding thing I have ever done.
And it’s not even the case that these emotions come out of picture-perfect circumstances. The impetus for this article came a few weeks ago in a very difficult interaction with my son Liam. I was texting one of the men in my church about something important. Liam did not like me ignoring him. So he came and pushed me.
And honestly, while my wife and I (at the advice of parents we trusted) started disciplining him early in life and attempted to be consistent, I had let several things go recently. Out of laziness, I had let Liam get away with some more minor things that led to this brazen and unacceptable demonstration of disrespect.
So I knew I had to do the hard thing and discipline him firmly. I hated it and he hated it but it was the right thing. Later that night as he was sleeping in his bed, I went to check on him. And I started crying. Big tears. So much I had to leave the room for fear of waking him.
And I wasn’t sad because of the events of that day. I wasn’t sorry for what I did. I was just overcome with the knowledge that he is God’s gift to me and my wife. He’s our responsibility. And through the good days and bad, I am his dad. Just that thought wrecked me.
But as you’d guess most of the time I feel emotional because I am happy. Because my sons make me proud, even if they didn’t do anything. My newborn son, Bo, is now old enough that his eyes are open and looking around a lot. And sometimes when I’m holding him his eyes will meet mine. And we will stare at each other for what feels like both endless time and a millisecond. And like a method actor, I could cry right on the spot every single time.
One day Bo woke up from a nap crying and both Kayla and I were busy trying to get his food ready. Liam went to his bassinet and started singing “Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus” to him. The song I used to sing to Liam when he was a newborn. Kayla and I both stopped what we were doing to go watch. And if our younger son weren’t desperate to eat, we could have sat there forever and bawled our eyes out.
Liam calls the kitchen the “chicken”. He calls volcanoes “holcanoes”. He still says “Her” instead of “She” as a subject pronoun. One time at his grandparents’ house he drove his motorized scooter into a tree and since he couldn’t reverse it, he kept trying to go forward until it started going vertical and he toppled over backward (We have video of this and we shamelessly watch it from time to time). One time while reading about Jesus dying on the cross, Liam told me he wanted to die on the cross so Jesus wouldn’t have to.
A few days ago Liam was eating ice cream while sitting in the recliner and as he finished he looked up at us with melted ice cream all over his face and asked if he could “eat the juice”. One time he wrapped up one of his toys between two pieces of notepad paper and gave it to me as a present. He loves to get me and his mother to help him act out the first scene in Toy Story 3, and also the last scene in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
He loves to help us cook. He and I used to lie in his bed before he’d go to sleep and sing “I Will Go Sailing No More,” the Buzz Lightyear flying song where he breaks his arm. To this day, he hides during hide-and-seek by covering his face with his hands.
And on and on and on. Liam hasn’t even been out of the womb for 1500 days yet. And I guarantee I have over 1500 of these memories that can make me cry at the drop of a hat. They are constant. And they’re precious and invaluable.
I tell my older son often, “You make me happy every day, and you make me proud every day.” There is zero exaggeration there. I tell my younger son, “It is an honor to be your daddy.” It’s as true a sentiment as I can give him.
So while I absolutely believe the Bible teaches love is action and attitude more than emotion, I think we do well to remember that it brings emotion. The most powerful, overwhelming, beautiful emotions a person can experience.