Religion & Liberty Online

Exulting in the monotony of fatherhood

Fatherhood is a wild ride, yet in my own personal reflections on and around Father’s Day, I’m routinely reminded that amid and alongside all the adventure, the challenges of fatherhood mostly play out in the small and intimate moments of daily life. Those daily struggles and weekly rhythms are profound and important, but they can also feel excessively monotonous and mundane.

Much like the challenges we face in in our daily work and economic action, finding flourishing in the family requires a shift in both attitude and imagination — a heart-level embrace of the mundane, a readiness for service and sacrifice, and an eagerness to seek fruitfulness in faithfulness.

In Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton observes how children have a natural knack for “exulting in monotony,” and that such repetition represents an “excess, not absence, of life.” As adults and as parents, we ought to remember how this trait of energetic wonder and repetition comes from the Father himself:

All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation to known fact.

…A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

Fatherhood has its grand, sweeping, and gloriously satisfying moments, but it’s mostly built on the everyday struggle to love, encourage, and bless your kids in the mundane tasks of life: to reckon with those things which the world calls “boring” and declare them beautiful, to take that “monotony” and make it particular, and to learn (again) to see the world as your kids do — in full brilliance, innocence, and wonder — even as you shield them from darkness and introduce them to new light.

“Heaven may ENCORE the bird who laid an egg,” Chesterton continues. “If the human being conceives and brings forth a human child instead of bringing forth a fish, or a bat, or a griffin, the reason may not be that we are fixed in an animal fate without life or purpose. It may be that our little tragedy has touched the gods, that they admire it from their starry galleries, and that at the end of every human drama man is called again and again before the curtain.”

Just as it is for our Creator — who just so happens to be a Father — the creation and stewardship of love and life ought to never get old, springing forth like a song with all the joy and beauty that those corresponding moments deserve. As fathers, we have the opportunity to “encore” the monotonous, messy tasks of child-rearing and discipleship, and in doing so cultivate an “eternal appetite for infancy” in our own hearts and minds.

“Thousands of incidents, thousands of trivia, thousands of trifles all exert their influence,” writes Herman Bavinck in The Christian Family. “It is life itself that nurtures, that cultivates the rich, inexhaustible, multifaceted, magnificent life. The family is the school of life, because it is the fountain and hearth of life.”

We are invited to participate in that restoration of the mundane, and in doing so, we collaborate with the Holy Spirit in laying the foundations of civilization for the replenishing of the earth. What may seem utterly earthly and mundane — changing diapers, breaking bread, teaching “yes” and “no,” reading that boring kids book for the thousandth time, daily heart-to-heart discipling  — is the starting point for something deeply divine and eternal, both in ourselves, our kids, and for the life of the world.

Joseph Sunde

Joseph Sunde's work has appeared in venues such as the Foundation for Economic Education, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work, as well as on PowerBlog. He resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with his wife and four children.