Fatherhood is stewardship

A fresh perspective on a parent's role

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The author, left, with his spouse and adult children.

"So, this is the one who has been assigned to us!"

When my first child emerged from the womb like a wave cresting and crashing on the shore, these words blazed across my emotion-addled brain. In a rush of incomparable joy, wonder, and tears I knew: Our child was not "ours." He had been given to us for stewardship.

Riding this crest of hormonal elation, I suddenly knew: I would zealously care for "my" child body and soul not because my wife and I created him; rather, our purpose was to facilitate him becoming his own self.

Nothing could have prepared me for the startling reality of paternal love, vibrant, pervasive, prevailing. The lead-up had been easier to grasp. "You're ready to have kids when you want 'em. The details will work themselves out," our parents had advised.

Humans are anatomical beings, instinctual, capable of learning, needing to act. To have children is an act of love and a leap of faith. My wife and I wanted children; we planned to have a family. In 1983, after being married three years we felt ready for the leap. Or at least ready enough.

After one miscarriage, we took another leap of faith. Nature took her course. Soon I was eating for three.

As a Hebrew major in college, I loved learning Jewish liturgy and text. My attempt to comprehend God focused on YHVH , the sacred letters, which to me constituted a verbal noun--The One Who Causes Being. The Causative Force. Creator.

The basis of faith seemed obvious. My wife and I didn't make biology, we used the tools available to fulfill a purpose of Creation. We were blissfully pinned to God's wheel, the cycle of Pru u'rbu u'ml'u et ha'aretz. Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth (Genesis 1:28).

When our son was three, we were blessed with a daughter. We had helped replenish the earth.

We weren't traditionally observant but went to synagogue and sent our kids through the Jewish supplemental education system. We were imbued with love of Jewish peoplehood and Israel and steeped in our families' lore and values. What we received, we sought to pass on to our kids l'dor v'dor , from generation to generation.

When they were young, I espoused to my kids two dictums (Dad-isms?), which were informed by my understanding of ancient Jewish wisdom.

The first was, "Your job in life is to discover your destiny. No one can do it for you."

The second was, "In life you need two things: good sense and good luck. The more good sense you have, the less good luck you need."

We did our best to be good stewards of God's gifts. Our son and daughter are good people and always have been. They're discovering their destinies, all right--a process that gives us pleasure and sometimes gives us pain.

In our 60s, my wife and I grapple with a new instinctual imperative. Not the urgent desire of youth, but an ache, a yearning to nurture young ones again. My spirit, speaking the language of body chemistry, informs me: I'm dying to be a grandparent.

Neither of our kids has seen it as their destiny (or had the good sense, as far as I'm concerned!) to have children, no matter that my wife and I still have the time, energy, and instinct to help raise them.

I suppose they aren't ready, or ready enough. Maybe they think the earth is sufficiently replenished?

I trusted the Creator to guide me in Pru u'rbu. So, I should trust the Creator to guide them in their decisions. The outcome is not in my hands. I love them either way.

Aaron B. Cohen is an Evanston-based writer and is the former Vice President of Communications for the Jewish United Fund of Chicago.

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