A little over 2 months ago, my son was born.
And, as I’ve taken a rather mushy and decidedly projectile-heavy absence from writing things for free on the internet, I’ve encountered an altogether unexpected feeling.
Mainly, that I didn’t miss it all that much.
Political point scoring, twitter take downs and breathless diatribes on the Duggars or LGBT recognition or Rachel Dolezal or Jeb Bush or how courageous Caitlyn Jenner either was or was not based solely upon where she falls on the extremely scientific rubric of sexual self understanding and number of combat tours all end up coming woefully short of the first time my son smiled at me.
Even if it was just gas.
Now, it isn’t that I believe the aforementioned storylines aren’t important or don’t necessitate our most thoughtful or coherent or well-reasoned responses as people of sincerity, intelligence and wit, it’s just that I don’t find the Internet to necessarily be a wellspring of “thoughtful, coherent or well-reasoned responses”. I do, however, find it to be a powerful incubator for self-interested bloviation disguised as solidarity or compassion or friendship or bravery or awareness or a life of authenticity and purpose.
For instance, upon the birth of my son I was soon* hounded by a rather large number of individuals requesting photographic evidence of his existence to be immediately placed upon the altar of Facebook in order to appease the Internet gods that rule our lives and our self-worth.
(*NOTE: I’m talking “do you want to cut the cord?” levels of immediacy.)
Apologies to those who likely have a somewhat different opinion on how often, when and at what point of the postpartum process one is to “share” pictures of his or her progeny on the internet for your mom’s salon friends and someone with whom you once worked a lifeguarding gig the summer after your freshman year of college to scroll past whilst at work, but can we really keep referring to this process of putting the whole of our lives (and children) on the internet as “sharing”?
Because, subtly inherent in the term “share” is the idea that there is, of course, a choice in the matter.
I might argue, few of us these days have much of a choice when it comes to the enslaving pull of letting roughly 400 people you haven’t spoken to in person since the first Bush was in office, of how annoying it is that all the self-checkout stations at your neighborhood Kroger are on the fritz.
Or, that you’re bored.
Or, that you’re blessed.
Or, that yes, yet another Bush is running.
Or, that you believe in God and cross-fit.
Or, that you don’t.
Quite quickly, instead of serving as an additive to a concrete, green-ring-around-your-dad’s-mowing-shoes-kinds-of-life, the internet has supplanted lived experience as the bedrock means by which a person registers whether he or she exists. Life, in the modern age, is almost solely an effort at orchestrating and editing moments of faux-authenticity for public consumption on the Internet, so much so, that every brunch, every vacation, every news story, every death, every birth, every breath, every swerving traverse through heavy traffic, every song and every late-afternoon sunset exists solely for the effect it registers online.
“I tweet; therefore, I am.”
Parenting, I’ve found, is little more than a loosely-connected series of memes, stereotyping listicles outlining the 10 words we must stop saying to our children if we want them to ever move out of our basements, mom-blogs and daily photographic updates on the likes and dislikes of beings who keep time by soiling themselves hourly. Or, as one person – upon encountering my son in the flesh and not on the internet – put it:
“So he DOES exist?”
At the bottom, this process (and every other hashtag campaign for that matter) has left me wondering if maybe the whole of our faith, our politics, our views on race, ethnicity and sexuality, and, not to mention, our children, have been unnecessarily leveraged in a desperate scramble for a way to measure whether or not we’re people of worth, substance and value. In my case, this means that writing about spirituality or sharing photos of my child or linking articles supporting my political persuasions or cantankerously forcing my own semi-luddite beliefs about the ill-effects of technology on humans flourishing upon your news feed is performed – sometimes overtly and other times insidiously – in the name of my own needs to be loved and known and thought well-of.
Needs that, of course, can only be met through an experience with real life and real suffering and real solidarity and real beauty and real meaning and real doubt and real fear and real confusion and real actual-won’t-stop-crying-until-you-feed-him-at-3:00am moments of humanity sprouting up in-between our endless scrolling of the “news” feed we use to pass the time.
The dogged truth of my early forays into fatherhood is that my son – and yours if you got one (daughters too!) – much like the rest of the organisms comprising the known universe, exist independent of all the failures and successes comprising how it is I attempt to endlessly answer the question of whether or not I matter to someone (or really, many someones I don’t really know or care about). His image and smile and personality and farts and the way he unknowingly grasps my index finger and refuses to let go, are his, unequivocally. To then market them as mine – prostituting them in the name of my own psychological equilibrium – is to perpetuate what believers and seekers and sinners and saints have, for years now, referred to as:
In that, historically, the destructive tendency imbedded in human society is born again and again and again, not in the unknowing coos and spit bubbles of our children, but in our commodification of their spirit to pay the bills of our own shortcomings. Their successes for our failures. Their good grades for our average ones. Their careers for our haphazard work history. Their base-hits for our strikeouts. Their clear skin for our own pockmarked foreheads.
And for a time, this economic arrangement of sorts remains unnoticed as long as payments continue to be made, but the moment our sons and daughters and friends and gods and politicians and celebrities stop filling the unacknowledged abscess within us, we cast them aside as defective in order to renew our search for a fresh answer to an old problem.
Counterintuitively, my son has reminded me that it’s only in the death of my expectations about the unanswered questions comprising who I am, where I come from and why, that I’m finally able to clear enough space off the dance floor for new and better dancers to help me find the groove, confidence and rhythm I lost a long time ago. When I let him live for his sake instead of my own, I find an unexpected amount of liberation, clarity and reverence start whirring around inside of me like a sputtering old Ford. A reverence allowing me, for the first time, to see the moments physically in front of me for what they actually are, the ends of my anxious search for life and meaning, rather than the means to something better beyond them.
Kids and dogs and friends and god and mountains and music all have this way, if we’ll let them, of subsuming and overwhelming the whole of our story in an effort to tell a bigger, better and wider one about us and everything else. Or, if you’re of a spiritual sort (and chances are, because this is a BAPTIST WEBSITE, YOU ARE!):
if you want to find your life, you first have to lose it, especially if your “life” is almost entirely a medium for corn salad recipes, cat videos and targeted Dunkin’ Donuts ads.