Sometime within the next three months I shall become a father. So begins the last big adventure, a maelstrom of unequal parts agency and cupidity. On the one hand lies the opportunity to help mold a decent human being, showering him1 with love, and equipping him with the values, traits, tenacity and moral fiber required to live a good, meaningful life. On the other lies the awareness that I am incapable of sheltering him from all of life’s cruelties, tribulations, hopelessness and pain; a realization that parenthood entails a degree of submission to the crude determinism of biology and the randomness of fate.
In any event, I was recently enjoying one of my few remaining moments of quietude when—whilst underlining a passage from Herbert Butterfield’s Christianity and History—a thought popped into my head: one day, when I have departed this vessel of flesh for the great unknown, the collection of books I pass on to my child2 will be one of the few tangible manifestations of my memory.
I suppose this could be construed as a somewhat melancholy meditation, but I found it to be vivifying. Decades from now, I thought, in a world the contours of which no one can foresee, my child may pick up this book. And when he reads a sentence that prompted an underline or an illegible scribble of marginalia, an image may crystallize in his mind of the times I sat in my chair, staring intently at a book with pen in hand, oblivious to the entertainment on television or the sundry trivialities that steal one’s time.
But even more, I thought, if the child absorbs the content of the passage, and experiences a shared moment of revelation, there will be a connection across time. Dead in body, but resurrected in spirit, I may be remembered not solely as a father or a disciplinarian or a man with answers, but now as a fellow traveler in the quest for wisdom.
Perhaps he will come to know his father in new ways, with a newfound appreciation for his humanity—reassessing his strengths and weaknesses, understanding his failures, and finding solace in his moral triumphs and his sins.
Perhaps he will come to know his father as a man who departed this world with few certainties save the love he gave, but a man who believed that if one possessed sufficient curiosity and looked hard enough, some certainties could be found.
All questions for the life to come.
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1 We have chosen to wait until the birth to discover the baby’s gender, but to make things easier for the reader I will assume s/he will be a she. *Edited May 2015 – it was a boy.
2 There may yet be a sibling.