Christ is Risen!
Some might say that I am not a typical man. Ever since I was kid, I have liked to talk, socialize, and listen to other people’s problems. This is probably why I never felt comfortable meeting people at bars or night clubs; to me, everyone at these places seemed guarded. My preferred place to mingle was at spiritual retreats, professional conferences, or summer camps. In my mind, these were places where people really opened up. I guess the image of a mysterious guy who is emotionally unavailable never fit me. This is precisely why my family and friends told me to “play it cool” before my first date with Kiki (my wife).
It was a blind date and I was coached by family and friends to “keep it light” and not get too personal. “Stick to your favorite books and movies…stuff like that,” I remember one friend telling me. My parents were a little more direct: “Don’t rush into anything!” they advised. So, I drove to the coffee shop ready to act cooler than a cucumber. But my plan failed miserably when I met Kiki. She was kind, sweet, and I could tell right away that she loved the Lord. We talked about our careers, hobbies, and growing up in the Orthodox Church. I ended up telling her how I went to seminary for two years after college. I was amazed to learn that she once considered applying to seminary as well! That led to a beautiful discussion about ordination, family, and our roles in the Church. After about an hour, I let the question slip out: “So, how many kids do you want to have?” So much for playing it cool!
After years of reflection, I have learned something about myself: I wear my heart on my sleeve. This means that I am quick to share my thoughts and feelings with those around me. But this is not how society says men should act. We are taught to be physically and emotionally strong. When it comes to dating, it is imparted on us that “nice guys finish last.” As a result, men often play hard to get and work to prolong bachelorhood as much as possible. As I look back on my 20’s, I realize that I was quite the opposite: I was never afraid to get married, settle down, and start a family. This is not to say I never made mistakes or got my heart broken, but, when I met Kiki, I knew “I found the one whom my soul loves” (Song of Solomon, 3:4). She was definitely the person I had been praying to meet for a long, long time. So, after only four months of dating, we got engaged – and a year and a half after that, our son, Andreas, was born.
I recognize that the timeline of our relationship may be atypical, but so is our approach to parenting. We do not have clearly defined roles. I am not the primary bread winner, nor is my wife the homemaker. We share responsibility for all aspects of our son’s life. For example, my wife is finishing her Master’s Degree and has night classes twice a week. On those days, I pick up Andreas from daycare, feed him dinner, give him a bath, and put him to bed. I love this time with my son, and happily refer to Mondays and Thursdays as “boys’ nights.”
Another example of how we share responsibility for Andreas’ life is the way we track his developmental milestones. As public-school teachers, we are accustomed to tracking data. Saved on our computers at work are complex spreadsheets that contain years’ worth of test scores for all of our students. What kind of tests? Well, there are IQ tests, math placement tests, reading level tests, English proficiency tests, and state-sponsored, standardized tests, just to name a few. We use this information to track the progress of our students because we are responsible for their academic growth.
In the same way, my wife and I have scrapbooks where we record all of Andreas’ firsts – his first steps, his first words, or the first time he slept through the night. Our latest entry was about his first full-blown temper tantrum because he did not want to get out of the bathtub! This is a fun hobby, and developmentally, it is important information to share with our pediatrician. But as I watch my son grow socially, emotionally, and physically, I am always thinking in the back of my mind about his spiritual development. When will he be ready to sit through the Divine Liturgy? When will he be ready to participate in the Divine Liturgy? When will he start fasting? When will I have to explain why people die? I believe these “spiritual milestones” are far more consequential than the first time he pulled the cat’s tail.
Andreas’ first spiritual milestone was when he venerated holy icons. From the time he was just a few months old, my wife and I would hold him in our arms, stand in front of the iconostasis in his nursery, and recite our evening prayers. Initially, he would just watch as my wife and I made the sign of the cross and took turns kissing the icons on the wall. But after lots of modeling, he started to want to do it too! His first “kiss for Christouli” was more of a head-butt, but he soon learned how to gently press his lips on the painted wood. Seeing him do this today still brings a tearful smile to my face.
After reflecting on this with my wife, we attributed Andreas’ learning to the “gradual release of responsibility.” This pedagogical practice is affectionately known as “I Do, We Do, You Do” by instructional experts. It involves modeling a desired skill, offering guided practice, and doing an independent task. The ideal result is a confident learner who takes responsibility for his or her own learning. My wife and I plan to use this method as we approach future spiritual milestones, like making the sign of the cross or preparing for Holy Communion. Right now, though, we are modeling how we do NOT throw service books on the floor during the Great Entrance, or yank mommy’s hair when we approach the Holy Chalice.
I’m sure that parenting will get more and more challenging as time goes on, and that we may not know how to approach every spiritual milestone that our children face. I am confident, however, that my wife and I will work together, in faith and love, to support our family.