Three weeks to the day my wife and I welcomed our daughter to the world and ascended to parenthood.
When I first laid eyes on her, instantly recognizing my own features in her minutes-old face, I had one feeling course through my veins: a deep, uplifting, and eternal sense of responsibility. A lifelong commitment made automatically without the utterance of a word.
And it was then I understood what so many other parents, in their own way, had tried to communicate to me about parenthood: it’s a higher calling and you’ll understand what that means once you’re in it. In my unspoken promise to her I realized purpose.
I didn’t worry much about the unknowns while she was in the womb since there’s little, if anything, I could do about those. Instead I turned my attention to things I could control: preparing our home, our routines, our finances, and so on. But one nagging thought that straddled the can / can’t control divide tugged at my conscience: “what sort of world will your daughter inherit and how will you prepare her for it?”
Higher Callings: Answering Unanswerable Questions
The most powerful questions in our lives share two traits:
- They are unanswerable and
- They are genuinely aspirational.
These questions are powerful because they create purpose and fulfillment within the individual who attempts the impossible: the realization of an answer.
- How can I make something of myself?
- How can I help my community?
- How can I build a better programming language?
- How can I serve God?
I have several of these questions that I try to pursue every day, but at the dawn of my parenthood my priorities changed. “What sort of world will your daughter inherit and how will you prepare her for it?”
My other questions:
- How can I be the best programmer I can be?
- How can I build great businesses that help people like me?
- How can I help build a sustainable open source software movement?
- How can I help mankind become an interplanetary species?
While of deep personal importance to me and something I still work towards every day they are now supporting cast members. “How do I become a great dad?” is the star. Not long ago I considered a shift like this to be theoretically impossible, given how much I’ve sacrificed for and given myself to these other causes. What little I must know.
What I know now is what every surviving thousands-year-old theology or institution practices: through making commitments to the pursuit of higher callings do you realize your purpose. Becoming a parent is my Rubicon. If there’s a greater purpose than trying to make a world I’d want my children to inherit, I can’t imagine it.
What the Future Holds in Store
It has been tough to be optimistic in recent times. A believer in hard work paying off, in getting back up when you’ve been knocked down, that things are never as catastrophic as they seem, and almost always an optimist - even I’ve been hard pressed to find the silver linings at times, lately.
Being a new father has brought great clarity on this front: despair is not an option; hope is not a strategy; and the only type of leadership that my children need is by our own example.
I don’t need to be a world leader, famous, or wealthy. I just need, one day, for one of my own children or grandchildren to say in a eulogy: “My father was a personal hero of mine - a man I admired and looked up to throughout my life” - and for that to be true.
“How do I build a better world for my children?” is the ultimate unanswerable question; for my children’s sake I am resolved to answer it thus: “everyday.”