If there’s one comical mistake I’ve made over and over again as a father, it’s saying those words to my children out loud.
I still carry the guilt of the time I handed a “sweet” chicken leg to my daughter only to find out it was spicy. Don’t get me started about the time I told our oldest children that the roller coaster with the 80-foot drop was going to be “fun” and that “they were going to love it.”
At the conclusion of both of those moments, there was a child or two standing in front of me with tears rolling down their cheeks.
“You said it was going to be fun!”
Parenthood is a test and I constantly feel like I’m failing it, as if I’m an imposter.
That said, the wonderful thing about being a parent is that children surprise you with their hope. Getting a hug or a smile from a child pushes the doubts away. They’re far more forgiving of our faults than we give them credit for if we are more honest about our failings.
Each day of parenthood comes with the haunting potential that a layer of trust could be peeled away. The fear is, the longer children get to know us, the more they realize we’re improvising this whole thing.
Yes, there are websites, YouTube channels and TikTok accounts to help us navigate this journey. At the same time, there’s something extraordinarily humbling about being handed another human as they take their first breaths.
I remember looking at our oldest child as she was placed on a weight scale and bawling. Her beauty was overwhelming, as was the reality of the task at hand. How would I, a person beset by doubts, help steer the future of this blank slate of a human being?
St. Augustine once said, “Father, I am seeking: I am hesitant and uncertain, but will you, O God, watch over each step of mine and guide me.”
Christian fathers walk in the shadow of St. Joseph. If you think about it, Joseph had a life plan. God had a different one. His relationship with the Creator is one built on the ultimate trust exercise. Jesus, the only begotten son of God, was raised by a simple carpenter who obeyed the Lord’s wishes. Joseph did as the Lord asked.
If we think our task is challenging, imagine caring for the well-being of the Son of God.
Never have I related more to Joseph and Mary than when they lost him in Jerusalem. When they reunited, as chronicled in Luke 2:41-51, Mary asks, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”
Jesus responds: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Jesus, of course, was in the Temple talking with the teachers and asking questions about God the father. His Father.
Even though we don’t hear his response, we can all feel Joseph’s blood pressure rising. As an adult, my anxiety manifests itself more around my children’s safety than anything else. If I’ve lost track of them, even for 30 seconds, my heart starts beating.
While they are not Jesus, my children are special gifts from God and made in his image and likeness. If their rapidly growing intellects don’t keep me humble, the thought of them being created by the Almighty certainly does.
So, when they disappear from my view in a store or restaurant, they’re testing my trust in them and their trust in me.
St. Francis de Sales once said, “Do not fear what may happen tomorrow. The same loving Father who cares for you today will care for you tomorrow and every day. Either he will shield you from suffering, or he will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginings.”
I, in turn, have to place my trust in God with simple prayers until I’ll hear their little voices, steps or laughter. Candidly, it’s a hard notion to keep in mind in the moment of anxiety.
For all my focus on nerves, the reality is that it’s a blessing to be entrusted with children each day. Their purity of heart helps reshape how I view the world and trust others and, most important, God.
God chose me, as a father, for this moment and these children to make a difference in this world. The least I can do is be a little like Joseph and trust him.
(Matt Palmer is director of media relations for Towson University in Maryland. He formerly was a social media strategist for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.)