I’m not a violent person. In fact, when I was studying method acting in college—the tap-into-your-feelings approach made famous by Brando and De Niro—I had difficulty inhabiting a particularly violent role because I’d never felt the desire to hurt anyone. My theatre teacher accused me of lying: “Everyone’s felt like killing somebody!”
But I honestly hadn’t.
A decade and a half passed and I found myself in the throes of first-time fatherhood. Until then I’d paid very little attention to children, except the sweetly sanitized ones or the artfully abrasive ones—I frequently had to suppress the urge to shout, “Control your kid, lady!” Babies? Nah. As far as I was concerned, they all looked like Winston Churchill. Give me a puppy any day.
Then came my baby. And I fell hopelessly in love. Mandy looked nothing like the Prime Minister. She was, in fact, the most perfect thing I’d ever seen. A bunch of time-release dad genes clicked on all at once, and I lit up like a runway at Chicago O’Hare. Two months after she was born, I guest spoke at a mountain retreat in Georgia. That night, while we were sitting around a campfire, someone asked, “What’s on your mind?” And like an unexpected sneeze, I blurted, “I miss my baby!” and began to sob.
A year or so later, I was teaching college theatre and we’d begun to delve into method acting. One of my students asked how I would approach a particularly violent role. I was about to give my standard “I’ve-never-had-those-feelings” response when the image of someone molesting my child flashed through my mind. The words knotted up in my throat and my hands began to shake. Because what had immediately accompanied the first image was a second image of me slowly roasting the molester over that campfire in Georgia.
I was never the same after that. Not only did I have a second, miraculously perfect baby (Bethy), but other people’s children began to improve considerably. Each had a face shaped like hope. And a name. And an exquisite spirit. There were, I suddenly realized, exactly as many souls in the universe as there were persons. And every one of them had a father. And even if some had never felt the love of their father, each was loved by the ultimate Father, the one the rest of us are modelled on.
So who are we to love them less?
Parenthood doesn’t make us violent. But it does make us fierce. And fiercefully forgiving. Or it should. (Mentoring has the same effect, by the way, so even if you’re not an official parent, you’re signed up for the course). If it hasn’t had that effect on you, have a look under the hood and see if some cheap knock-off parts have been installed in place of the ones from the Manufacturer. Then institute immediate repairs and get back to learning how to love.