A Child is Not the Most Important Thing
Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman (1956) by Charles and Ray Eames
Many parents like to say their child is the most important thing to them. I don’t agree. I like my kid and he's important to me, but ultimately, he's on his own. Aren't we all?
For any father, the duty to raise a child well is one of the most important duties, no doubt, but this does not mean the child is the most important thing in terms of attention, focus, and concern. Counterintuitively, it seems to me that successfully discharging the duty of fatherhood requires the child not to be the most important thing.
The child is best served when the whole household is at its best. The household is a complex system involving the emotions, objects, habits, and finances of multiple individuals. If you feel like the child is the most important thing, then upon second thought you realize that steering the whole ship is the most important thing.
This is one reason why most popular parenting discourse falls flat for most fathers.
For most mothers, it makes sense to say the child is the most important thing. This is often how mothers best serve the entire household, to live as if the child really is the most important thing.
In the final analysis, it is always ultimately the father who steers the ship. Even when the exoteric shared view is that the mother and father steer the ship together equally—and even when this is the true operating philosophy—it is nonetheless the father's duty to steer the invisible, esoteric meta-ship. The meta-ship is the ship that must be steered, though never named, whenever co-steering is about to hit some rocks, despite exhausting all possible co-steering options.
Where a lot of men today falter, in dating no less than marriage, is that they take the new equality norm too literally. When the ship is about to hit rocks despite exhausting all the powers of co-steering, the modern man thinks he should hit the rocks in humble equality, and then "work through it together." No, dipshit: Your job is to grab the steering wheel, dodge the rocks, and then give all credit to the co-steering process.
Thus, the woman does not know the soul-wrenching responsibility of the good man who steers the invisible meta-ship of the household. She cannot know it. The good man bears this burden silently not out of altruism—it would be nice to share its weight with another person—but because the whole household is healthier and happier, man included, if the woman is spared from the unspeakable terror.
The stereotype of the repressed father who can't share his feelings is misunderstood. If he shared his feelings his family would be much worse off, and he too would be worse off; the unfortunate symptoms of his repression are in fact the index of his magnanimity, for he is volunteering to bear them precisely so the others don’t have to worry about them. The feminism-therapy complex that would have such a man "share his feelings" would have that man destroy his family, merely to generate more entropy and therefore more customers for the feminism-therapy complex.
The child is its own person. It has much to learn, and is utterly incompetent, to the point of non-responsibility, for the first several years of its life, but this doesn't change the fact that his life is his and my life is mine. The results of his life will not be very much affected by any amount of attention I could direct his way beyond my consistent presence, discipline, and love.
When a man feels obligated to say the child is the most important thing, I find this sad. And I wonder, what will I ever really be able to discuss with this man? The degree to which a father remains interesting and vigorous is, perhaps, the degree to which they can admit the child is not the most important thing. In 25 years, my son will not like me if I live the next 25 years as if my son is the most important thing.
Now that the official world of public letters includes many professional women, men who participate in this official world extend to their public writing the same politesse they might extend to their wife, or to female friends at a dinner party. This is an abdication. We can be respectful to women we care about and also remain vigorous and honest in the public sphere.
To this end, a man must be willing to say: A child is not the most important thing, at least not for a father, and the world has not been improved by plastering it with naive child-worship.