“Quiet” is not a word that many people associate with infants, and that’s true to a certain extent. There are toy tigers that light up and sing, the click and clack of snap-together furniture and, of course, our son’s enthusiasm for telling us how he feels at 3 a.m.
But while life with our son can be noisy, it’s not like my life was a quiet cave of solitude and reflection before parenthood. For years, I’ve structured my day so that the moments between audiovisual stimulation are scarce, starting with earbuds in during my commute and moving onto the screens that dominate my work and evening time.
This doesn’t include the countless hours I’ve spent with my iPhone in front of my face, as if that’s a good use of my time. No, seriously, I needed to know that the real name of Laser from American Gladiators is Jim Starr. That was an absolutely justified reason to ignore the world around me for five minutes.
Our son is forcing me, bit by bit, to curb some of these habits.
Much like his father, our son will stare at the TV if we have it on, craning his adorably small neck around to see it. So my wife and I turn it off now, because the doctors recommend that children his age don’t have screen time and we generally think it’s a bad idea for him to turn into a person that stares at screens all day — like somebody he knows.
We turn the radio on sometimes for news and music — if our son is going to be both Bob Woodward and Prince, we need him to be prepared — but otherwise our house is less and less resembling a Best Buy showroom than it has in the past.
Turning off is a pragmatic solution to this particular problem, but I’ve found that removing some of the noise has also allowed me to be more present to what my son is doing. When it’s just him, I can notice more the way he’s getting better at lifting himself up or be intrigued by how he studies his activity block while he spins the gears. He and I can interact, trading smiles and sounds as he squirms on the floor.
I think that spending time with him allows me to slow down and spend time with God, too. Our parish priest constantly calls for us to spend 15 minutes a day with God in prayer, whatever form that may take. He calls for us to seek silence, to turn off the radio when we’re in the car or take a moment’s break at work so that we may consider how the love of God can transform our lives.
I find myself hearing God’s call for me in basic moments with my son, sitting on the floor with him or listening to my wife sing to him at bedtime. At these times, I’m able to keep my phone and its accomplices at bay and ignore their invitations to search for new nuggets of information or compare myself to the people on my Facebook feed who always seem more together than I am.
When the noise goes away, I think of friends who I haven’t talked with in a while or how I could have handled something better at work. When I slow down, I’m more patient and mindful, more likely to understand someone else’s point of view.
To me, it feels like prayer, even if I don’t have a length of beads in my hand.
Still, it’s a daily struggle to unplug and find quiet. There are times when I catch myself thumbing through my phone when I’m sitting with my son, and I feel like an idiot because oh my gosh the miracle of human life is right in front of me and I’m wasting my time crushing candies.
When I realize what I’m doing, I often try to think “this is the most important thing in the world for me right now, and all I need to do right now is this.” If I’m successful, I toss my phone onto the couch and get down next to my son as he plays and explores his world.
Sitting with him, I am present and open to the fact that God is asking me to be right there with my son, and while there may be other priorities, the gifts of fatherhood deserve my undivided attention. It’s in that attention, free from distraction, that I can get a clue about where my heart is telling me to go.
(Previously published June 15, 2015)