The Strange Path To Parenthood

Modern Love has a beautiful essay out on one man’s decision to become a father. Nick Flynn didn’t take a straight path to parenthood. Like many of us, his way wandered.

Flynn grew up with a single mom, who committed suicide when he was 22. His father existed mainly in the form of letters from prison and unpaid child support.He didn’t have a lot of happy, healthy models for how to do this “Dad” thing.

But he did it anyway. His girlfriend asked him to have a child with her, and after two years of meditation, he found his way to fatherhood.

He was afraid everything would change when that baby came. Everything did, he writes, but nothing that didn’t need changing.

It’s beautiful to read someone’s heartfelt love for his daughter, and also his very real doubts about his own ability to raise her. Even in the deluge of tell-all parenting memoirs and blogs, this kind of simple honesty is too rare.

It reminds me of something my first midwife said, early in my pregnancy: “Look for what is right.”

Not every family is made from the straightforward stuff of love, marriage and baby carriages. We all know this and yet it can be easy to forget that what is different has it’s own strengths. The teen mom, the frightened father-to-be, the single mom who has never met her child’s sperm donor.

Families that form out of accidents or hard decisions can be just as beautiful as those gradually taking place across the society pages of the newspaper via a series of announcements: graduation, engagement, marriage, birth.

Often, becoming a parent is a gift that transforms a person from the inside. I’ve seen parenthood heal mental illness, organize a troubled life around the mission of caring for self and child, and bring peace to friends who seemed lost in their lives.

Obviously, not everyone receives this gift. But it’s worth remembering, when we’re watching a friend enter into what looks like a troubling situation – being a teen parent, or a single one, or grappling parenting alongside health issues – that there’s a grace that can come with loving and caring for your child.

It’s worth being reminded, on days when the laundry piles higher than my head and my ears are ringing from my three-year-old’s mighty tantrums, that I have a measure of that grace myself. I can be a better person by reaching for the love I bear my kids.

How about you? Did you take the straight road to parenting, or the winding path through doubt and fear?

Photo: kabils

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