As I came walking down the hall to return to you just now, returning triumphant with the coffee I set out to retrieve, I saw another expectant father sitting outside the operating room … sitting outside the room in his scrubs, waiting to start his new life, waiting as I was waiting just a short day ago. Just a day ago, yesterday, the day you and I met. I remember standing where he was standing, being nervous as he was nervous, trying to look brave as he was trying to look brave. My heart went out to him, and I prayed every good thing for him. I sincerely and deeply wished him peace. And you might not understand why, but this is very good news. It was in the wake of this moment, my dear daughter, that I felt a great flash of hope.
You see my love; I had one great fear when I heard you would be born. I had one great fear about what will happen to me now that I have accepted this new mantle of fatherhood.
My fear wasn’t that I wouldn’t love you—I knew I’d love you. I hear some fathers worry about that, but I didn’t. I knew I’d love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone or anything. I have already loved you, since that first moment when your mommy told me you were begotten.
My fear wasn’t that I wouldn’t be a good daddy. I figured I’d be at least a pretty good daddy. The most important thing you need in order to be a good daddy is to truly want to be one, and the biggest factor in truly wanting to be one is loving your child. And as I said, I have love for you in abundance. If I have that—and I do—then I’m sure I will put in the work and the study and the sacrifice I’ll need in order to be a good father for you.
No, my fear wasn’t really about you at all. Can you keep a secret, my daughter? For this is the sort of thing we should perhaps not share. You see; my fear was that I would no longer love them. Them. They. Everyone else. Everyone not in this room with you and I right now. My fear, my little princess, was that my deep and devouring love for you would drown out any love I might have ever felt for a stranger, or even a friend. I was afraid that the universal love our Master preaches, and which I have tried to practice, would be abandoned in favor of total focus on you. I was scared that I would abandon charity and agape in favor of isolating, albeit passionate, tribalism. I was terrified that the big, bright, burning torch of my love for you would consume all, and the small candles of love I might have felt for anyone else would snuff out altogether.
I saw my future self, and I feared him. I saw myself wide-eyed and deranged, frothing and screaming “Let the world starve as long as my little girl is fed! Let the world freeze as long as my little girl is warm! I will kill, steal, bite, and claw an innocent if it will give her even the slightest comfort or advantage!”
I have seen it happen. Maybe not to the degree I imagined it in my nightmares, but I have seen it happen nonetheless. People have children and they close themselves off from the ministry they did before, from those they loved before. All of sudden the ills of the world don’t seem so bad: feeding the hungry of the world doesn’t seem so pressing, as long as your child’s belly is full; fixing the broken schools of the world doesn’t seem that important, as long as your child is enrolled in a good one. Such people laugh to themselves. “Ha! Remember the quests of our younger days? Ha ha! Remember our naiveté and foolishness?” It’s a selfishness that is able to wrap itself in selflessness because it’s other-directed—you want this for your child, not yourself, so how could it be wrong?
But “your neighbor” does not end with “your kin.”
I have also seen people rise above. In quiet heroism they do not neglect their children, but neither do they turn their backs on the world. Their family includes all of Jesus’ mothers and brothers and sisters, not just the ones who share their blood.
I know that I have not been, nor will ever be, a perfect Christian. But I can now safely say that I will not abandon the Way because of you. In looking at that man in the hallway, I thought to myself, “He is waiting for his Jackie.” And it dawned on me that everyone, everywhere, is somebody else’s Jackie. At some point, maybe only on the day they were born, someone loved them the way I love you now. And, even if not a single human ever has, God loves them that way. If the wonderful rumors of God’s love are true He might love them even more than that (though such a thing is, admittedly, hard to imagine).
And the knowledge of that love unsettles something within me. How can I turn my back on someone else’s Jackie when they are in need? How can I look away from a cold or tired Jackie? How can I refuse a Jackie who needs help or comfort? My love for you does not weaken my desire to serve; rather, it bolsters it … it is teaching me a new lesson about what love is and toward what it calls us. If I am too much a sinner to see Christ in all of my brothers, perhaps I can at least start by seeing you in all of my sisters.