Debbie and I chose to have a large family. Our intent was to have our children grow up in a community of brothers and sisters and have the benefit of these relationships now and into their adult years. When reflecting on what I want for my expanded family, my initial thoughts are neither poetic nor particularly eloquent. I am simply consumed with the desire to fulfill my responsibilities as a parent. I do not want to fail my children. Not one of them, not for an instant.
Kahlil Gibran said, "You are the bows from which your children are as living arrows sent forth." But as parents we cannot help wondering, "Is my bow strong enough? Will I send my arrow soaring to the sky or hurtling to the ground?" We wonder whether we were sent on a straight course ourselves. Did our parents really provide us with all that we needed, or did they fall down on their parental duties?
In my view, our culture suffers not from an epidemic of sickness and poverty, but from an epidemic of too few happy marriages and too many insecure children. And the insecurities of one generation are passed on to the next. Those of us whose parents did not bestow sufficient love on us develop an almost incurable feeling of insignificance that leads to a manic devotion to professional success at any price. We want to be publicly recognized because we are hell-bent on showing the world that we're special and deserve to be taken seriously. But while we are doing this, we inadvertently neglect our children, causing them the same insecurities. The negative spiral continues, affecting our progeny and their descendants.
Then the alarm went off. I was on a book tour for "Kosher Sex" and had been away from home longer than ever before. I justified my absence by telling myself that my family would benefit from the additional income and enhanced reputation I would gain. One night I called home from a hotel on the tour and asked to speak to my son. He was sitting at the computer and declined to talk to me. My son was replacing me with Nintendo. The success of my book tour meant nothing compared to the hurt and failure I felt at that moment.
Around the same time, our eldest child began exhibiting real problems at school, and she told a therapist that the only time she wasn't miserable was when her father played with her. My daughter was becoming like me. She felt neglected--not valuable--and she awaited her father's return to make her feel she mattered. But he was too busy crying out to anyone who would listen that he was valuable.
Having witnessed the oblivion that awaited me if I continued down that path, I vowed to try and change. I took it upon myself to come home every night and help my children with their homework. The first few nights were great. I felt loved and needed--a hero with his priorities in order. But after a few nights, I itched to get to my computer and not waste valuable writing time adding 3 plus 5 with my 6-year-old. I felt unproductive and feared that my professional life would disappear into eternal insignificance.
What became clear to me is that attaining a measure of dignity in life does not involve just worldly achievement. Nor does it mean only being a fantastic family man. Rather, it involves a careful balance of both. Surely even the wife who sees her husband spend the best part of the day at home playing with the kids will not be satisfied. She also wishes to have a man with some professional achievements to his credit.
To be sure, the need to distinguish oneself outside the home is expressly mandated by the biblical injunction to "fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over it." But along with that obligation is the imperative to "cultivate the Garden and nurture it." Subduing the earth while guarding the home turf is what success is all about. While one side of us searches for distinctiveness through dominance, the other side of us carefully balances this predilection by sharing and creating enduring relationships. Perfection is attained when the two human tendencies are harmonized as one, when we find a balance between being a successful professional and a good parent.
I pray that my own children will be successful in their chosen professions. But even more than that, I pray that even if they never achieve success in the sense of tangible rewards, they will still feel significant. This security will not stem from their income level or renown but from the unconditional love they found in their childhood home. And I hope they feel that their daddy was a hero, not to the world, but first and foremost to his children.