There have been many times in the middle of writing when I stop to get a child milk, or sort out a disagreement that has escalated, or enter a midnight room to comfort a crying child. Or I push a whole project back a few months because I need to commit more time to the words made flesh and not the words made ink. I once heard Walker Percy’s daughter speak of how her father would spend hours in his study, behind a closed door, and would come out hours later smelling like sweat, and books, and thinking. I thought, “How lovely! All those hours with no interruptions.” I have not been afforded the same luxury, at least not at this point, with three little ones, on top of my full-time work as a Head of School. It is easy in my writing to get perturbed by what seem like incessant interruptions. But a few things have stood out to me and turned those moments into gratitude rather than grumbling.
God is paradoxical. The few minutes I lose each time I have to stop my writing and be a father, those few ideas that are lost, gone forever, those few pages that could have been brilliant, that one book that will never be finished or published, is overwhelmingly swallowed up by the countless blessings God bestows upon my writing because I’m a father and not in spite of my fatherhood. As much as I think I would be a better writer if I did not have to attend to the work of being a father, I would be a far worse writer and thinker and human without the gift of fatherhood. I do not become a better author by shoving off my God-given duties; I become a better author by leaning into them and incorporating them fully into my work as an author. And surely this gift is reciprocated the other way. I truly believe I am a better father because I take the time to write, to read, to study, to step away from fatherhood and pursue those gifts and interests God has given to me. "You want to be a better father?" God asks. "Then stop trying so hard at fatherhood and go read and write." "You want to be a better author?" God asks again. "Then stop caring so much about your writing. Step away and go be a good father." "But, you just..." I say. "The first shall be last," he responds.
Inconveniences are adventures. I have often found that if I go into interruptions with the right frame of mind, with the right heart, those interruptions end up becoming some of my best material for writing. Chesterton said that “an adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” I have taken that to heart with everything. I try to see inconveniences not as interruptions but as unexpected adventures throughout my day, in my monthly calendar, in the other work I do. I see it as God’s playful paragraph, his sovereign stanza, thrown into the life-story I think I’m writing. And he says, “Here. Read, and do something with this, and then see what I do with it.” I can only be a better author if I realize I write, always, within the Author’s greater story. My grumbling at inconveniences is only my way of saying that my story is more important than his, and we all know how that turns out.
Build good repute and good deeds. I have known men who write a lot, and I may even love their writing. But I have found that their lives are often shriveled and flattened. Because their lives are weightless, their words lose their gravitas. Eventually the man’s credibility diminishes, and I find myself elsewhere, seeking wisdom not just from words but from actions. It is no surprise then that many a children who have grown up in homes of great intellectuals or great professors or great authors end up resenting their fathers. There is no doubt that when a man has the author’s vocation, solitude is necessary. But he must not forget his human vocation, which extends beyond his writing. A large part of that human vocation is done in the flesh, with incarnate neighborliness. And so while it is incumbent upon him to love his neighbor through his writing, he cannot love his neighbor only through his writing. He must find that lovely, old, and tension-filled balance between the active life and the contemplative life. More than that, he must hear what our intellectual fathers have said:
“…mark you, the man who wishes to persuade people will not be negligent as to the matter of character; no, on the contrary, he will apply himself above all to establish a most honourable name among his fellow-citizens; for who does not know that words carry greater conviction when spoken by men of good repute then when spoken by men who live under a cloud, and that the argument which is made by a man’s life is of more weight than that which is furnished by his words?...an honourable reputation not only lends greater persuasiveness to the words of the man who possess it, but adds greater lustre to his deeds, and is, therefore, more zealously to be sought after by men of intelligence than anything else in the world.” - Isocrates in Antidosis
I am not the only one who feels this tug. Anyone who has multiple responsibilities—father and office manager, church elder and grandpa, mother and daughter, husband and co-worker—feels the tug of our responsibilities. There is not only balance to be found in our various roles—that is one important thing—but more than that, there is cooperation and co-fruitfulness to be found in our various roles. When God calls a man to a variety of vocations (callings, from the Latin vocare), God’s words will not be contradictory. God’s call upon a man’s life will not lead to confusion but sanctification, if only the man would embrace the polyphonic nature, or rather the symphony, of God’s voice.