Last week was the celebration of St Joseph, The Worker.
As I sat in church, half-listening to the priest, I wondered what St. Joseph had ever done to deserve this great honour that lasted over 2,000 years. The Worker? It wasn’t as if he built roads or led armies to war. He didn’t do all that much. He didn’t even preach. Not much was written about him in the Bible.
Then I thought back to the biblical tale of the boy Jesus who got lost in the temple. At that moment when He was found, Joseph was a better parent than Mary. It takes a lot to be a good father, I realised.
The most difficult thing is resting the “I” in order to be able to rise to the role of being a parent. A parent is a safe haven, fair judge, tireless servant, kind heart and pair of loving arms. To fulfil all those important roles would require a serious reallocation of priorities, intentions and energies. It is a BIG job. Some would say it is the biggest and most important job you will ever do.
My children’s father did not consciously choose to become a father. He was in his twenties when it was forced upon him. He was having the time of his life, why would someone what to change the rules when the going is good? And the going was indeed good for this happy chap from South East London. He was sharing a small house with another bachelor in my hometown, had three sailing dinghies and did what he wanted with his life. He was planning to move to Paris for the women. He certainly did not jump for joy at impending fatherhood. But he had such a magical and beautiful childhood that he automatically, unconsciously, created that sweet, happy space when the honour was bestowed upon him. It was as if he could not be anything else but the parent that his were.
I, on the other hand, liked the idea of motherhood, largely due to teenage idealism, but then realised very quickly that it required life-changing sacrifices. My life was no longer my own. I couldn’t afford to go to the University of my choice (Cambridge) because there was no affordable childcare. I had to go to Manchester. I wasn’t raised to be a worker, I was raised to be a princess by my adoring mum. It was a shock to my system. That resentment could have lasted for years, blighting my children’s childhood. There is nothing more damaging than a resentful mum, because resentment breeds discontentment, impatience and unkindness.
But fortunately, with investment from my Ma and my in-laws, the resentment did not take root.
Slowly, with humour, warmth, kindness, love and tough love (from my in-laws), I found my way to a different life than the one I envisaged. Some would say it is a better life. Parenting is not a sacrifice, but a compromise. I had to work harder, I had to work longer, just to keep up, just to stay afloat. I didn’t have any time for myself, and I no longer owned my own life. But I had this brood of small, little, tiny people who looked at me with adoration in their eyes and a man who laughed uproariously with them. We had a crazy-busy life, with me trying to juggle University exams and part-time work, but our life was sweet and meaningful. I loved our little house in the rough Barlow Moor council estate. Slowly, I learned that compromise is beautiful when those chubby baby-arms and starfish fingers wrap themselves around me like octopi.
I no longer missed the what could have beens and found great contentment in what I have. It wasn’t the life I planned for myself, to be cleaning the bathroom on my one day off and working in minimum-wage menial jobs to pay the bills, but the rewards were huge. It was then I became a Worker, with gladness in my heart.
Work is love made visible. And if you can’t work with love, but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of the people who work with joy.
Kahlil Gibran, Artist, poet and writer
First published in www.raisinghappystrongkids.com