Fatherhood and Stoic Acceptance
Image Copyright: Dean White
Despite having studied philosophy for several years, I discovered Stoicism just a few months ago. My first meeting with Stoicism was through the participation in the “Stoic week 2013” arranged by the people behind the blog “Stoicism Today”. I was immediately inspired by the thoughts of the ancient Stoics, and I found I was in agreement with a lot of their ideas on how to live a happy life. I discovered that I had already adopted a lot of the Stoic mindset, and reading about Stoic philosophy added to, and strengthened, my already existing views on how to live a good life.
A couple of months before Stoic Week, I had become a father for the first time, and it turned my life upside down. I have always been very active and have several interests that I like to spend time on. I have, for several years, felt that I do not have enough time to do everything I want. Even in periods where I did not have a full-time job, I still felt the day was not long enough to let me do everything I wanted. Having a child forced me to make some major changes about how I was living my life. Suddenly I had to spend almost all my spare time taking care of my son, and this was really hard for me to handle.
I can remember that most of my frustration emerged when I tried to make him go to sleep. My son was not (and still is not) a very good sleeper. It could take more than an hour of hard work to get him to sleep. During that time I had to carry him around, or else he would just cry. I remember thinking things like: “Why can you not just go to sleep? I do not have time for this! I want to be able to do so-and-so”. The same thoughts also arose when doing other necessary activities with him. It was not that I did not want to spend any time with my son, but I also wanted to spend time on a bunch of other things, and those two did not go together.
Image Copyright: Fernando Revillia
Learning about Stoicism made me realize that I could apply the Stoic teachings to better handle this new situation. The three principles which inspired me the most are the following (these are paraphrases and interpretations of what the Stoics said):
1. The most important thing in life is to live it virtuously
2. You should not spend time worrying about things you cannot control
3. You should try to excel at any role you may have
It was very clear that there were several things in this situation that was out of my control. I did have a son I had to take care of. I could not control how much he slept, or when he went to sleep or woke up. I did have less time for doing only things for myself. None of these things are in my control, and it makes sense that I am only making myself unhappy by thinking about how “unfair” they are, or how I wish things were different.
I also quickly noticed a virtue which I find the need to practice, and which I get ample time to practice nowadays: patience. Every time my son spends an extra long time going to sleep and I start thinking about all the other things I want to do, I remind myself that this is a perfect time to practice patience. I am actually pretty patient in a lot of situations, and I consider this a very good quality to have, therefore I am grateful that I get to practice it even more. I think this demonstrates what Epictetus meant when saying: “Seek not for events to happen as you wish but rather wish for events to happen as they do and your life will go smoothly.” Rather than wishing to be somewhere else, I am grateful to be in the situation I am, because I can practice being virtuous.
I was also inspired by the Stoic idea of excelling in any role you may have. I started thinking about how a perfect father would be, and it became clear to me that a perfect father should be there for his son when he needs him, and he should not complain about having to spend too much time with him. Thinking about this made me realize the meaningfulness of raising a child, and made it easier to wake up in the middle of the night and walk around for an hour.
My son has grown older, and is now sleeping a little better. On the other hand there are other things that now take more time. I cannot say I never think about what other things I could spend my time on, but I certainly enjoy my role as a father a lot more than a few months ago. I still have to remind myself that patience is a virtue I like to practice, and that there are no good reasons for complaining about things you cannot control. However, nowadays I can often enjoy just sitting still, waiting for my son to go to sleep.
More about the Author: Jan-Fredrik Braseth is a Norwegian philosopher with a masters degree in philosophy and an education as a philosophical counsellor.
He lives in Oslo and works as a counsellor for people that are unemployed because of poor health.
Web page/blog (in Norwegian): http://www.janfredrik.no