To the Father With Only One Child

To the Father With Only One Child,

I know what happened. You went on Facebook last week and saw all the Catholic moms posting Simcha Fisher’s excellent essay “To the Mother With Only One Child.” You clicked on it. You thought it was beautiful.

You appreciated the sympathetic words of the mother of nine children writing to a new mother. My child number nine is on the way, and I know I appreciated it.

But then you read more, and it scared you to death. I know the part that got you.

First Simcha said, “My husband had become a father, and I adored him for it,” and your heart did a fist pump with its left ventricle.

But then she said, “My husband got to leave the house every day, and sleep every night. He got to go to the bathroom alone. I hated him for it,” and the same left ventricle went limp.

I know what is on your heart. You are the fresh, young, uncertain new patriarch in the “married NFP Catholic” circle at your parish. That’s the circle where the families have three to four times as many children as their peers, and half as many wage-earners.

Realize, of course, that not everyone is blessed with an enormous family. Pope Benedict XVI’s parents weren’t. Fulton Sheen’s parents weren’t. The great saints of our age, Blessed Mother Teresa and Blessed John Paul II, came from small families. Jesus too.

But right now you expect you will have a large family, and you see your future all around you.

The large-family dads all drive ginormous church-bus vans that could crush your Kia without noticing. They spend $100 every time they fill up. And what with Blue Knights, Little Flowers, soccer, dance, daily Mass and play-dates, those dads have to fill up a lot.

The large-family dads in your new circle seem to have a quiet command of their children that you can’t even imagine. At church, your kids twist, shriek, and then scramble toward the altar like they are possessed by a demon that hates the Mass and compels them to disrupt it. But the children of those large-family dads seem to always be looking up at him in awe and then standing a little straighter, and acting even more reverent than they already were.

The large-family dads in your new circle also all have impressive jobs. They are contractors organizing complicated projects, VPs of sales in industries you are only dimly aware of, managers of men and shapers of the world who get paid handsomely for their efforts. You’re still the new guy where you work, and it’s a place where you feel self-conscious and awkward, where you think you have nothing in common with people your age, and where you keep trying fruitlessly to find a foothold in the upper echelons of the company where you will have to be in order to feed your growing family.

In the past, you had your new young wife to comfort you and buck you up when you felt overwhelmed. But now that she’s a mom, she’s the one who is overwhelmed.

You love that she allows you to sleep when the baby wakes up, because you have to go to work. But every once in a while she wonders aloud if you shouldn’t be getting up, too … and then you have to spend a week exhausted at work before she lets you sleep again.

You appreciate how hard she works; you really do. But every once in a while you think, “My gosh, if this woman is this freaked out by only one child, how is she ever going to play at the multi-kid level?”

And then you realize: I will never have my wife to myself again. She will always be a mother. Especially, but not only, if she keeps having children. There will always be someone who whines more than you demanding her attention, someone more helpless than you demanding her time.

And here’s something you might not have thought of: If you ever do have nine children, you can’t look forward to a child-free house ever because the grandchildren will likely show up before all your own kids move away.

Nonetheless, I’m here to tell you: It gets better.

I know it’s hard to imagine how it will happen, but if you work hard and hang in there, it’s practically automatic that you will advance in your career.

And those dads of large families are not Jedi-masters of discipline. They are men who have been pushed to their limits and have snapped, and whose children do not want to see them snap again.

If you are so blessed as to become the father of many children, you will find yourself somehow amassing the monthly resources necessary to fill all your refrigerators and freezers with milk, orange juice, bread, eggs, corn and chicken. You will find that your wife will learn to relax and accept the imperfections of life, including the imperfections of you.

And one day you, too, will  be the NFP patriarch at Mass surrounded by his adoring child subjects as his queen, with an ironic smirk, hands him the screaming child who will be his only companion at the back of the church until it is time to load the giant van and burn more gas to get home.

So, dear father with only one child, don’t be anxious. She loves you. Be attentive. Be understanding. Work hard and God himself will help you find some way to bankroll this operation.

————————–

Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., where he teaches in the Journalism and Mass Communications department and edits the college’s Catholic identity speech digest, The Gregorian.

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67 thoughts on “To the Father With Only One Child

  1. sharon says:

    Tom, I just found your article. I know it’s old, but I LOVE it!!! I read it to my husband. The “Catholic Family Vans”… hahaha, we stare at them in awe in wonder. Especially the 9-kids-being-good-at-Mass thing… *sigh*, our 3 are a Holy Terror! This was so funny. Now I am looking forward to going back and reading all the comments. God Bless!

  2. Mary Emily says:

    Thank you! Finally someone is writing for the guys and what they face. You are wise, helpful, and best of all, FUNNY! Sending this to my hubs as he slaves to fill our fridge for our little fam of 5 kids. God bless you!

  3. tex says:

    Tom,

    I cannot accuse you of lacking sincerity, but I can’t say the same about tact. Your description of a successful career which you correlate to having more children falls much closer to Protestant “Prosperity Theology” than it does Catholicism. If success was linked to large families, as you imply, the Philippines would be the world’s superpower. That is not to say that God does not offer graces in accordance to one’s own capacity to accept them, they are nonetheless gifts, not credits one can earn. I, and many others here, share your joy in your family, which we not doubt know you love, as many of us do. But when we boast, let us boast in the Lord for the work that he has done through us, not because we have earned it, but precisely because we have not.

    1. Tom Hoopes says:

      Couldn’t agree with you more … and I don’t think what I wrote disagrees with you either. “Amassing the monthly resources necessary to fill all your refrigerators and freezers with milk, orange juice, bread, eggs, corn and chicken” is more a Matthew 6:26 level expectation than a “prosperity Gospel” expectation.

  4. JoAnne says:

    Wow you guys we are all really saying the same thing. We believe that children are God’s gifts and we need to engage in NFP when it is needed. It’s not spelled out to my knowledge why God believes a family chooses NFP so doesn’t that then really become a matter for the parents to decide. If they are truly aware of Gods plan and believes they can physically, emotionally, and yes financially handle more children then God bless them. But that couple for whatever unselfish reason they decide to take a break or gasp not have any more babbies thats a personal choice which God gives us just like he give us free will. We all need to support one another, not tear each other down for our choices. I personally could never bear children. We adopted our girl at birth who has now some learning challenges. I can’t for one second image been able to give her my 100% to shape and guide her on a righteous and productive path if I had other children. It’s financially, emotionally, and physically, draining everyday. I don’t believe thats selfish for what good would i be doing sending an ill preared child into the world so that i could just startt raising another one. BUT I would welcome the ability to spend time with large families or have a few of there childre to my house to add to our days! Unfortunately that never seems to happen instead I hear “well you only have the one, you wouldn’t be able to stand our noisy house.” or “thanks for the invite but it’s different than having one, I don’t think you really want my 2,3,or 4 kids over at once. We just really need to applaud all of our catholic families large or small because you know in our hearts we are all trying to do the right thing by our faith and the best thing for our children.

  5. laura says:

    Yeah, this is cool, except the NFP part. You had to know that would alienate a lot of people, right? Next time, leave that out.

  6. Nick says:

    Hi, Tom, interesting piece. Would you mind explaining what “wage-earners” means? Thanks!

    1. Tom Hoopes says:

      Sounds like a trick question!

      1. Nick says:

        No trick! I’m just trying to understand what you mean.

        1. Tom Hoopes says:

          … one whose earnings support or help support a household?

          1. Nick says:

            Wouldn’t such a definition also include any of the “married NFP Catholics” and “peers” that earn money to support their families?

            Let me start over. You set up a tripartite classification when you say “That’s the circle where the families have three to four times as many children as their peers, and half as many wage-earners.”

            The three classes are 1) peers (presumably people who use birth control and have x children); 2) married NFP Catholics (who have 3-4x children); and 3) “wage-earners” (presumably people who use neither birth control nor NFP and have 6-8x children).

            I’m just trying to understand what you mean by “wage-earners,” or, if I have understood what you mean by them (i.e., people who use neither birth control nor NFP), why you have selected that name for them. Why call such people “wage-earners”?

            I hope that’s clear.

          2. Tom Hoopes says:

            ? I’m not sure I get it … but I’m pretty sure what you say in number 3 is not what I mean by wage earners.

            Sorry!

          3. Nick says:

            My mistake. I was reading “half as many AS wage-earners.” Sorry to trouble you.

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