When I was growing up, I was precocious. I organized a peace rally in elementary school, started a home business when I was 10 years old, and was founding and directing a seven-figure non-profit organization by age 16. I knew my parents were proud of me. But my dad also told me, many times, that he loved me for who I was, not for what I did. I knew that he didn't want me to be burdened by high expectations. He probably told me a hundred times that he would love me just as much if I were autistic.
Now I'm a father, and my kids actually are autistic. When my wife and I became pregnant with identical twins, we imagined them as some kind of dynamic duo that would be by our sides helping us change the world by the time they were out of diapers. But at age 12, they are still in diapers, and they struggle with many things that kids half their age might take for granted.
I have found out that although we have very different children, my dad and I have something huge in common as fathers. We both love our children unconditionally.
I am learning to delight in being with my kids. Not because they appear to be on the fast-track to enormous worldly accomplishment. And not even because they are kind, loving, and good-hearted people. No, sometimes I love my kids just because. Just because it is mine to do. Just because I choose to fill my heart with an ineffable, unstoppable, and totally undeniable love that persists and sustains no matter what my children do. The ocean refuses no river, no matter where that river has been or what it might have picked up on its journey. So, too, as if in some great law of nature, I am learning about a love that is utterly unconditional.
Of course, as a dad, I have hopes and fears for my kids. When they do something generous or wonderful, my heart swells with pride. When they struggle to write their names or scream uncontrollably for an hour, I can feel depressed and overwhelmed. But I am learning about a love that is bigger than all that.
As unconditional love has found its way into my heart, as I have contemplated what it means to really love someone just because they are, I have found myself wondering what it would mean to direct that concept inward. What would happen if I loved myself just because? Could I imagine loving myself just as much if I suddenly woke up one day autistic? Is love for oneself or another a strategic investment in what we hope they will accomplish, do for us, or bring to the world? Or is it enough to just, simply, love someone?
Ocean Robbins is an author, speaker, facilitator, movement builder, and father. He is also co-founder and CEO, with his dad and colleague, John Robbins, of the Food Revolution Network, http://www.foodrevolution.org.
This blog post is part of the Strong Families' first Papa's Day celebration. You can read more posts in the series on the Strong Families blog. Strong Families is a national initiative led by Forward Together. Our goal is to change the way people think, act and talk about families.
Labels: Papa's Day 2013