By R Carter
While Easter 2020 takes special meaning this year during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I want to tap reality’s shoulder for a moment to remind it of another resurrection from the dead, that of being a parent. This is in part out of respect for those who don’t celebrate Easter. Leave your rational intuition behind, for we on a journey of the heart in this post, one which defies logic and only speaks to that of being a parent.
The Lighter Side of Parenting
Let’s be honest, being a parent results in multiple resurrections if you follow it through to its natural conclusion, which by the way is your death because you never stop being a parent. As I used to tell my wife, the only difference in parenting while they’re under 20 and parenting after 20, is the cost, it keeps going up.
Too often in the public eye, parenting seems to be an afterthought, one more conducive to social internet memes and jokes than for getting the credit it truly deserves. In reality, we don’t talk about it that much because it’s the joke that everyone gets, which is why its funny fodder for so many. Still, I want to take a more sober look at parenting and give parents the credit they deserve. I think there are some hidden truths in being a parent that are skipped in our conversations about it.
The Heart of a Parent
As parents, our children ask much of us, and more often than not, when it’s good for them and within our power, we provide it. But there are times when the need is great or the request is not frivolous and as parents, we endeavor to provide it dismissing the personal cost. And that’s the central issue here when the need is real and tangible. It’s our selfless love, rarely if ever counting the cost, sacrifice self in providing for that need. Even if we feel the cost deep in our souls, we dismiss it or shake it off and forge ahead.
When the need is great, whether conscious or not, we take action, naturally, without reservation, because we intuitively see past the moment beyond our own lives to the endless possibilities the future holds for our children. Instinctively we know the future is not set, we know we can make a difference that has meaning and substance. If we fear anything, we fear inaction for intuitively we understand that doing nothing is the surest way to accepting less than we deserve or possibly loss or defeat.
Even when the task before us requires years of self-sacrifice, we persevere, we endure, we carry on as though our own lives depend on it because something inside us tells us it does. Rooted within us is an innate understanding of human potential, a vast reservoir of endless possibilities that defies description or enumeration and nevertheless still is. Whether aware of it or not, we seek immortality and sense we can achieve this through our children.
It may require going against all which is rational and in those moments we choose with our hearts. Deeply rooted in us is our need for something greater than knowledge and understanding, we seek to be connected to the moment and beyond. We need to see past what our facts and figures tell us for they only offer limited insight. When we are most challenged, when defeat seems all but certain, our knowledge and understanding are nothing more than tools, informing our emotions of our true needs. Without a second thought and deeply connected to that love for our children, we choose hope over the acceptance of what seems inevitable.
In a universe of entropy, where disorder and destruction are woven into the fabric of space and time, where disease and pestilence could be lurking around every corner when what’s happening defies our logic and challenges our beliefs, we choose an act of hope. And at that moment we often reverse the natural order of the universe, turning loss into an act of creation and substance. Whether aware of it or not, it’s in these moments we’re most like God, motivated by love to sacrifice self for the betterment of someone else, and in the process achieve a measure of immortality.
It’s in this simple and selfless act of being a parent that our concept of God or God-like behavior is most completely expressed. It remains the why for observing how some people who’ve failed to embraced a divine being in their upbringing, do so once they become a parent. And throughout our recorded history, the actions of being a parent are reflected in the words of our greatest religious doctrines with analogies like that of a loving father for his children.
The actions of being a parent are reflected in other parts of our society as well. When selecting leaders under a democratic process, the quintessential definition and qualifying criteria we look for in our leaders are those similar to a parent. A leader who is willing to sacrifice themselves for the betterment of those they lead. When this is not the case, a coalition of those who value these traits will rise to replace the leader, sometimes at great personal cost, which only demonstrates our commitment to these values.
More broadly speaking, parenting is the basis and foundation for every type of altruistic behavior and the only uniform criteria for every noble endeavor known. Without it, we would have no advancement of civilization, no society, no order and no future as a species. These facts are evident by virtue of similar principles and behavior in other lifeforms, from insects and animals, up and through humans.
The truth that most people recognize, being a parent is the one thing we all have an equal chance at doing successfully, regardless of our education, status in society or the amount of wealth we acquire. And being an exceptional parent requires nothing more than an unselfish love and a willingness to sacrifice self. And while there are many expressions of these virtues, some more successful than others, these two qualities, love, and self-sacrifice, are the only criteria in grading your success as a parent.
When I was a young man I aspired to do two things, get a good education so I could be a good provider in meeting my second aspiration, raising a family. Somewhere along that road I lost sight of this. Or looking back, I never consciously understood the importance of these two virtues, but one thing was certain. If I remained committed to being the best parent I could be, the act of parenting would reveal to me what I was unable to see and comprehend. Now in my later years of life, the amount of gratitude and appreciation I have for parenting brings with it the rewards of recognizing that although I was often acting on instinct, battered by doubts and uncertainty, that instinct guided me through despite my failures. More importantly, it’s the recognition that the instincts I relied on were a results of observing and imitating my parents. So without even knowing it, I’ve taught my children a lesson that requires a lifetime of love and sacrifice to learn. Having survived it, I can now say to myself, well done thy good and faithful servant, you have met the criteria for immortality. You’ve raised two children who embrace these same virtues. Even though they are as you once were, their instincts will carry them through.
Before you grieve over the mistakes you’ve made as a parent, your inability to help them due to your own limitations or for choices you regret, consider those who have chosen a life that excludes parenting or having started down that path only to be robbed by fate of the chance to complete the journey. It’s for this reason the grading criteria for success must remain so simple. Either you loved and sacrificed for their sake or you didn’t.
And if we value extraordinary courage, character, and perseverance, then let us acknowledge and esteem the efforts of those who have faced great physical hardship as a parent or the physical hardships of their children, while remaining faithful to the virtues of love and self-sacrifice. These are the unsung heroes of our species the noblest of all of us.