Other Husband & Wife Articles

Not Just Expecting to Be a Father
By Andrew Haines

Usually, when someone finds out that my wife, Kathleen, is pregnant with our first child, I’ll hear: “Oh, that’s wonderful! Are you excited that you’re going to be a father?”

“I am a father!” I reply.

Usually, this serves as a reality check for all involved, and focuses attention on the miracle of new life. “I am a father to a real, living, baby human!”

Being an “expectant father” doesn’t mean “expecting to be a father.” And I think that’s something we fail to realize in our what-you-see-is-what-you-get culture. What it does mean, however, is standing open to a whole new world of fatherly realities — everything from cribs and car seats to budget cuts and hand-me-downs. Indeed, I might already be a father, but I’ve got a lot to learn about being a good one!

Thankfully, God provides an instruction manual with every baby: mine is named Kathleen, and she lets me know precisely what needs to be done, and all the things I’m overlooking.

A bit tongue in cheek? Perhaps. But there’s really something to the genius of the marital design. On the one hand, you have me — a guy who’s been able to indulge fully in the academic life for the better part of seven years. And on the other hand, there’s my wife, who’s experiencing the full force of nature transforming her body into a dwelling for a newly created human person.

She’s a mother, and I’m a father. But for either of us to be good at what we are requires us to recognize our roles in relation to one other.

Expectant fatherhood is, of course, all about this relation. Not a conceptual relation, but a here-and-now, flesh-and-blood relation — a Catholic or incarnational relation.

As much as I’m baffled by the importance of “onesies” in the child rearing process — and the monumental difference of choosing between “doggy” and “monkey” styles — what’s even more eye-opening is the way God uses a child to perfect spousal love. I can say quite honestly that even though I’ve never met my child, he or she has already transformed the way I love my wife. (More on this in next week’s column.)

Still, “expectant fatherhood” isn’t all about dwelling on supernal mysteries. It’s more about living them. Traditionally, this seems to take the form of foot rubbing, dish washing, and over-priced cake buying. (The consumption of cake belongs to “expectant motherhood.”)

Despite all the new ideas and activities fatherhood brings with it, though, it’s still possible (and surprisingly easy) to forget the purpose behind it all. God offers great graces to new mothers and fathers; but human nature lays claim to the discomfort of sacrifice, and the heightened anxiety that accompanies any pregnancy. Without prayer, the beauty of a growing family becomes clouded by worry, tension, and doubt.

In the last five months, my wife and I have become increasingly aware of the ethos of doubt that surrounds parenting in modern society. Even amongst Catholic friends, oftentimes the focus weighs more on the struggles of raising and paying for children than the miraculous gift of co-created life. It’s a real challenge for expectant parents to remain confident in the Lord’s providence when so often they hear voices of insecurity from “within the ranks.”

Of course, the stakes are high, and the devil knows that. To detract from the beauty of the family is more than to frustrate the love of husband and wife; rather, it’s to break apart the domestic church — the image of the Trinity already present in those real, interpersonal relations between expectant mothers and fathers.

When I tell someone, “I’m already a father,” it’s not only to get a reaction. It’s to remind myself that I am already responsible for the care, body and soul, of a living, immortal human person.

I am very excited to be a father. And I’ve got reason to expect it to be something great.

Andrew Haines is a graduate student in philosophy, and president of the Center for Morality in Public Life (https://ethikapolitika.org/author/andrew-haines/). He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, Kathleen, and their unborn baby, whose due date is in December.