Here is the full extent of my knowledge of science as it relates to genetics and genes courtesy of, you guessed it, the Internet: A gene is “a linear sequence of nucleotides along a segment of DNA that provides the coded instructions for synthesis of RNA, which, when translated into protein, leads to the expression of hereditary character.” That being said, I’m reasonably certain that, while they likely will call it something more scientific-sounding, geneticists will one day discover an “I can fix this” gene attached to the DNA segment responsible for “men being men.” Seriously, of all the non-anatomical characteristics that differentiate men from women the “I can fix this” mentality has to be very close to the top of the list.
Don’t get me wrong, the trait can prove quite useful if properly trained and applied. In fact, many men actually rely on it as a cornerstone of their life’s work (e.g., doctors fix broken bones and body parts that are torn, mechanics fix all things mechanical (e.g., cars, aircraft engines, heavy equipment, small and large appliances, etc.), lawyers “fix” other peoples’ problems, plumbers fix plumbing problems, auto body shop owners fix dented metal – to name just a few examples (and w/o any intention of suggesting that there aren’t plenty of equally-proficient women expertly doing the same kinds of work). Others, who are far less competent, but no less motivated, restrict the use of their “I can fix this” gene to smaller household projects and chores, which, more often than not, end up with them calling a specialist in mid-project to come in and try and “fix” what now is a “more broken” situation than when they started.
The problem arises when even the most accomplished carriers of the gene bring it home with them and attempt to use it to “fix” those around them, especially their children. Trust me on this one: I once fancied myself as one of the best “fixers” on the planet (not of things mechanical mind you, but of “problems” big and small, legal and non-legal) – and I had to learn this lesson the hard way. You see, it’s one thing for a doctor to set a broken arm or a mechanic to fix an engine problem or a body shop owner to fix an accident-damaged car. They know what the object they’re working on is suppose to look like when it’s “new” and they’re specially trained to restore it to that condition. When it comes to our children, however, we may know how we’d ultimately like them to look and act – usually as much like our egocentric selves as possible – but we have no way of knowing who they will actually become as individuals and we come to the process of parenting with little, if any, formal training.
Fortunately, I have some good news (and, believe me, I was dragged kicking and screaming to this realization): If we are to take to heart the assurance that we are created in the image and likeness of God, it seems highly unlikely that there is really much for us to “fix.” Indeed, the more likely reality is that, in our efforts to “fix” things or, worse yet, “fix” each other, we are almost certain to do more harm than good. Instead, my sense is that our role, as individuals and as dads, is to embrace and fully rejoice in the uniqueness that is every aspect of our children, to respect and nurture them with unconditional love and support, and, in the process, to learn to accept the reality that there are many things about others, including our children, that we simply cannot and never were intended to control, let alone “fix,” even things that, at times, may subject them and us to profound challenges and suffering.
That realization became evident to me during an evening walk several months ago, when I saw something that will be forever transfixed in my mind – something that I’m sure I’d seen a thousand times before, but which never struck me quite the way it did that night. It was a young mother standing in a loud and congested parking lot, tenderly holding her nearly newborn infant close against her chest. That was it! “It” was the purest, most simplistic, most powerful and most beautiful expression of unconditional love I think I may have ever seen. “It” didn’t require any words; in fact, mom was incapable of communicating with daughter at all, save for the delicate way she was cradling her and her willingness to allow her chest to serve as a pillow for a moment’s rest. And yet, there is no doubt in my mind that as their hearts beat together, mom and infant child were fully engaged in unconditionally loving and accepting love from each other.
I smiled as I walked by – and “mom” couldn’t help but smile back. As I passed by a second time, I thought about stopping to share with her how overwhelmed I was by the sight of her and her child, but our social mores really don’t allow for intrusions like that by a stranger, nor did I want to intrude on the moment. If I could have mustered the courage, however, I would have urged her to dedicate her life to preserving and trying to duplicate that moment, not only with her child, but with everyone she held dear. As I continued on my way, I remembered once holding my own children like that. I remembered how very special that felt. I remembered wondering how it was possible to love someone you barely even knew so completely. I remembered feeling overwhelmed by a sense of responsibility to provide for them, to protect them from harm and to guide them. I remembered already beginning to envision what their life and our life together would “look like.”
And yet, in the end, unbeknownst to me at the time, what I was most responsible for was keeping the picture of “what it looked like when it was new” fresh in my mind and looking for ways to “simply” preserve and find new ways to communicate to my son and daughter that same sense of unconditional love that I shared with them in our own “parking lot moments” innumerable times, when they couldn’t say a word or understand a word I said. The truth is: At one time or another, all of us have experienced the love that I saw in that parking lot that night. Our challenge, particularly as dads, is to find our way back to it, to restore it, if necessary, and then get out of our own way and allow it to take up permanent residence in our soul.