by Kent Nerburn
Little is perfect in our lives. We dream of perfect love, we try to become perfect people, we challenge ourselves to see the universe as a perfect creation. But all our efforts and struggles are doomed to disappointment. We are not perfect. We are fraught with self-interest and unquenchable longings. Nothing is ever enough.
But there is one place where perfection is given to us in all its wholeness: Fatherhood.
When you look upon a child you have made, there are no limitations and longings. You are looking with a perfect love.
This is only natural. A child is born with a perfect love and dependence on its parents. It offers itself fully, unconsciously, in the complete unity of its being. There are no conditions and there are no motives. In its lack of self-consciousness it offers itself as a perfect gift.
In the perfection of its love it calls forth the perfection of yours.
For one shining moment, made flesh in time, you experience that oneness that comes from wanting nothing more, nothing less, than the life you have been given.
I thought I never wanted to be a father. A child seemed to be a series of limitations and responsibilities that offered no reward. But when I experienced the perfection of fatherhood, the rest of the world remade itself before my eyes.
I was not limited; I was freed from the fear of limitations. I was not saddled with responsibilities; responsibilities ceased to be a burden.
Nature aligned itself. My fatherhood made me understand my parents and honor them more for the love they gave. My son-hood was revealed to me in its own perfection and I understood the reason the Chinese so value filiation, the responsibility of the son to honor the parents.
I saw my own imperfection cast in high relief, because I knew how much I wanted to do things right. I felt the unity of generations cascading into generations from the beginning of time. I felt something in the world that was more important than I was.
And that was just the beginning. I knew every other man with different eyes. I hated war with a new passion, but knew what I would fight to save. I loved women for the gift they carried within, not only for the beauty they showed without.
I knew a new kind of love that was devoid of self-interest and desire.
In my bondage to a child I had found true freedom.
The power of this experience can never be explained. It is one of those joyful codings that rumbles in the species far below understanding. When experienced, it makes you one with all men in a way that fills you with warmth and harmony.
This is not to say that becoming a father automatically makes you a good father. Fatherhood, like marriage, is a constant struggle against your limitations and self-interests. But the urge to be a perfect father is there, because your child is a perfect gift. In your heart you know perfection, and it sets a standard that lifts you upward in your daily life.
So move cautiously toward fatherhood. It is much easier to become a father than to be one. When you become a father your whole life suddenly becomes measured against your vision of what good fatherhood should be.
And if your life is not in order — if you have not married well, if you are haunted by personal demons that eat away at your life, if you do not have the discipline that fatherhood requires — you will live in a private shame that will drag you downward and keep you from being the father that lives in your heart. Nothing — not alcohol, not other women, not running away — will shield you from the harsh truth of your failure.
So look upon fatherhood as a gift. It is one of life’s common miracles, available to everyone and given freely to us all. A child, whether healthy or ill, misshapen or beautiful, opens the world into a new sunlight. It is an experience greater than a dream.
If it is true that God loves us like a father, we can all rest peacefully. We are loved with a perfect love.
A two-time winner of the Minnesota Book Award, Kent Nerburn is the author of thirteen books on spirituality and Native American themes, including Simple Truths, Neither Wolf nor Dog, and Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce (featured on the History Channel). He lives in Minnesota and his website is www.KentNerburn.com.
Excerpted from Letters to My Son. Copyright © 1994, 1999, 2014 by Kent Nerburn. Reprinted with permission from New World Library www.NewWorldLibrary.com.