There is a certain fear that strikes a parent when they hold their baby for the first time. The idea that this person might suffer, might feel pain that you can’t stop? The thought of this person with the coordination and the brain of a small child running around the crazy world out there? It’s gaspingly scary!
Some parents respond to this by becoming paralyzed. Others by becoming tyrants—thinking that control can protect their babies from harm, when of course we all know it more often sends them hurtling right toward it…voluntarily. Others emotionally check out, leaving it all to their partner or somebody else. Some run away. The best parents embrace it.
Do you know what the most repeated phrase in the Bible is? It’s “Be not afraid.” Over and over again these words appear. They’re a warning from on high to “Be strong and of good courage,” as we hear in the book of Joshua, “do not be afraid nor be dismayed.”
A similar chord is struck in much of ancient Greek mythology. Some version of “Be brave,” “Have courage,” and “Don’t be scared” appears more than a dozen times in the Odyssey. It doesn’t matter which religion or philosophy or great mind you turn to, you will find courage in the same place the Stoics held it: at the top of the list of virtues.
It is impossible to be a good parent without courage. Remember Barack Obama’s observation: “What makes you a man is not the ability to have a child, but the courage to raise one. As fathers, we need to be involved in our children’s lives not just when it’s convenient or easy, and not just when they’re doing well—but when it’s difficult and thankless, and they’re struggling. That is when they need us most.”
None of this parenting stuff is easy. A lot of it is scary. But it is essential. And it matters whether you have the courage to step up and do it every day, for the rest of their lives.
If you’re not brave, why would your kids ever be?