Ask Richard: New Dad Misses the Belief that God Will Protect his Daughter October 7, 2010

Ask Richard: New Dad Misses the Belief that God Will Protect his Daughter

Note: Letter writers’ names are changed to protect their privacy.

Good day Richard, my name is Ken and I have never been a strong believer in a Deity. As a kid my mom did teach us to believe in God, but over my 36 years on earth, I have seen and been a part of some really sad and unbelievable things, which have forced me to open my mind and now I feel like believing is like believing in a fairytale. My only big issue is that I have a new baby girl and I am so worried about something happening to her that I want to believe I could pray to save her from suffering. My family is okay with my feelings, and I know that there are no answers for why things happen. But the situation I am in now is like the whole “there are no Atheists in the trenches” saying. I am so scared for my baby girl that I want to believe in something that may help me to understand if something did happen or to simply be able to ask for her protection. I know my message is a bit brain scattered, but I hope you can help me to be okay with my thoughts and my fears for my daughter.

Thanks

Dear Ken,

As you have discovered, having a child means having your heart running around outside of your body for the rest of your life.

I’m scared for my daughter too, although it has diminished over the last 25 years. It was sheer helpless terror at first; now it’s just a slight sigh-producing worry. We are confronted with the utter vulnerability of these tiny, beautiful creatures who lie asleep full length on our forearms, and that brings on a heightened awareness of the likely, the possible, and the improbable dangers they may face. Suddenly we’re on full adrenalin alert, as if waking to the growl of a predator just outside our cave’s entrance. We fear our weapons and strength are inadequate; our confidence feels thin. The urge to call upon a parent figure of our own is powerful. Our earthly parents are ordinary people, or they are aging and frail, or they are gone. So it’s very tempting to call upon an imaginary super-parent for protection or for solace.

I don’t think that you’ll be able to talk yourself into believing again just to have that false comfort, and I get the impression that you realize that too. You’d always know that you were kidding yourself. Once we see things in the light of day, our eyes adjust, and we can’t return to believing in vague shadows, as soothing as their stories might be.

You are experiencing the difference between what our rational minds tell us and what our emotions insist of us, and the distance that can open up between those two things. Intellectually, you know that the comfort, reassurance and confidence that might come from believing in a deity would be an illusion only, like the confidence that might come from a few beers before facing a danger. Perhaps we feel a little better, but it has left us either no more capable of actually handling things, or even less capable. No, we need real courage, not what comes from a bottle or a fairytale. Real courage is not fearlessness. It is doing what must be done despite our fear.

And you have real courage, Ken. You have already demonstrated it.

Love is for the brave. Attaching ourselves to another person is an act of courage. We know that there will be loss and pain eventually. With our love partners, breaking up, divorce, or death are the inevitable price we know we will pay for the joy we gain from their company, yet we choose to accept it. With our children, the risk is greater and the emotional stakes are higher, yet we choose to accept it. We take life as a whole package, joy and grief, and now all of that is compressed into this tiny, wiggling, fragile package that we cradle in our arms.

We cannot keep straddling that widening gap between what our heads and our hearts dictate, like standing astride a boat and a dock. We have to step onto either one or the other. Those who choose the side of rational thinking still have their feelings, so they must console, confer, confide, counsel, and comfort with other rational people. These fathers and mothers talk to their fellow fathers and mothers, frankly sharing their thoughts, fears and hopes, trading their untried suggestions and well-practiced solutions, and letting each other know that they have similar feelings. Through this, they find that their weapons and strength seem at least a little less inadequate, and they’re willing to face down whatever is growling in the dark outside the cave. They do the job of parents, and they do it with the mutual support and encouragement of their fellows.

Ken, your daughter is a very lucky girl. She has a brave, sensitive, loving, thoughtful dad, who cares very much about being the best dad he can be. You can use your anxiety as a drive instead of it being a handicap. Find other dads and moms with whom you can talk about your feelings, parents who think their way through challenges instead of hoping, like children, that some higher parent will handle it for them. You’ll find that you’re not alone in how you feel, and you’ll hear some very useful suggestions and encouragement. When you’re hurting or afraid, they will be real and solid comrades there to comfort you as well. As time goes on, and your daughter in her turn grows strong and confident under your tutelage, your fear will slowly wear down to a slight, sigh-producing worry. It will leave its mark of honor on you; the lines that fathers permanently wear on their brows are badges of courage.

Richard

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.

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  • Ken,

    Different people believe different things but the church I was once acquainted with did not teach that God protected anyone (although the members in the congregation prayed for protection anyway). The church taught that God was merely with you in your time of trouble. God experiences the suffering along with you. From this theological stance, God would not protect your daughter against harm. He would just be there with her when harm came her way possibly providing some emotional comfort that her suffering was all part of a bigger (but unknown) divine plan.

    I prefer, though, to develop a secular optimistic outlook on my own suffering and try to help others develop a secular optimistic outlook as well. This can be done without the crutch of Jesus walking right there beside you.

    It is also an on-going battle with all of us not to be obsessed with the “perfect” so you can’t enjoy the good.

    I wish you luck. I have two boys of my own and do worry about them (but not obsessively so).

  • Beauzeaux

    “He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief.” Of Marriage and Single Life. Francis Bacon (1561-1626).

  • Peregrine

    If you want to suspend disbelief in exchange for piece of mind, buy yourself a garden gnome, and place it at the front door. It’ll get you about the same results, and it’s decorative. And no one needs to know what it symbolizes except you.

    And buy her a teddy bear. And you, and she, can take comfort in the fact that her teddy bear is looking out for her, and protecting her from the monsters under the bed. Or, more realistically, the teddy bear can comfort her as a reminder that her parents are not far away.

    But if you can’t bring yourself to believe in some all-powerful protector, take solace in the fact that your daughter does have someone protecting her; someone real, and tangible, and not made of clay or fabric, providing shelter, warmth, and guidance. Namely, you. You may not be infallible, but you’re there.

    And as she grows, she will find even more protection, in the knowledge, and wisdom, and responsibility that you will teach her. And no god, stuffed toy, or lawn ornament can replace that.

  • AM

    Peregrine says:

    But if you can’t bring yourself to believe in some all-powerful protector, take solace in the fact that your daughter does have someone protecting her; someone real, and tangible, and not made of clay or fabric, providing shelter, warmth, and guidance. Namely, you. You may not be infallible, but you’re there.

    Couldn’t agree more. God’s protection was meaningless to me when I cried myself to sleep at night because I had no parent to be there for me. A child isn’t going to give a c*** when someone sings to them “jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world” when they don’t have a real life warm human being to tuck them in at night, give them hugs and kisses on demand, make them feel safe and be there for them.

    Sorry to make that sound depressing, so here’s something more positive…everytime your baby girl looks into your eyes, her expression will say it all. 🙂

  • L.Long

    I was scared for my daughter and my son.
    And knowing that g0d will be as useful as… well I can think of anything as useless as g0d! So they were both taught how to be aware of their surroundings, not all people are good, and how to kick the schite out of most anyone. They were taught not to accept anything anyone said on authority, prove it. And if the teachers got pissed because they were questioned then they had to deal with me too as I told my kids to let me know. Their mother got a part time job at the schools to spy on the teachers and their procedures. There are many ways to help your kids and keep them safe-REALITY is the best.

  • Mike

    I am sure that all of us have seen the story of the man who was shot by Mexican pirates while his wife was able to escape. I saw an interview of his wife on the morning news today. While mourning the tragic loss of her husband, she thanked God over and over again for allowing her to escape. Coincidentally, God always takes care of the only ones who survive an attack of this sort. No one ever bothers to condemn a god who does not show up to keep others safe.

    The reality is that god provides to protection. He rewards lottery winners with his grace. He rewards those who survive tragedy. His protection is always granted to the lucky few who would have survived anyway.

  • Slider33

    Richard,

    That was a very inspiring and encouraging response, one in which I benefited from as a new parent.

    To be a parent is to know the true meaning of worry. It’s also nice to know that the fear diminishes over time.

  • Javier

    FYI: Pat Tillman, the former NFL player and Army Ranger who died in Afghanistan by friendly fire, was an atheist in a foxhole:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_t_V_7U8qdc&t=259

  • Sarah

    Peregrine’s response is brilliant!

  • Jason

    Richard, epic sentence…thanks

    No, we need real courage, not what comes from a bottle or a fairytale. Real courage is not fearlessness. It is doing what must be done despite our fear.

  • Stephen P

    Does a belief in a deity in fact help to alleviate these fears? It may seem like it ought to. But the impression I get from my circle of acquaintances is that it’s the most religious ones who are the most over-protective of their children, and most frightened that something will happen to them. It’s not a hard rule, but definitely a tendency.

    As a father of two children myself, I’d give two pieces of advice. Firstly: find out what are the actual biggest risks children face are, as opposed to what the popular perception is. An awful lot of parents worry about their children being kidnapped by strangers, but in much of the world the actual risk of that is tiny compared to, say, a serious accident with a pan of boiling water.

    The other thing is not to shield your child from every risk, but to teach her to handle the risk as soon as she is able to. Some parents keep their toddlers away from the stairs for a long time – but it only needs a door to be left open once for that to go wrong. Far better to have them learn to use the stairs safely as soon as they are capable of doing so. Similarly with traffic. We allowed my son to walk a kilometre to school when he was seven – as soon as he’d convinced us, over the course of several walks, that he understood how to cross the road safely. One of his classmates was still being brought to school (a shorter distance) by car three years later. No prizes for guessing who was more mature and better able to look after himself.

    Much of the art of bringing up children is judging when to let go.

  • Adam Wider

    Ken: There is nothing you can do to alleviate your fears. Because you selfishly had a child, ANYthing can happen to it at ANY time. All the worst things (murder, rape, torture, a LONG AND PAINFUL DEATH) you’ve ever thought possible can happen to her because of your extreme selfishness and narcissism. I could understand if you were mental, but you are not and somehow you thought it was a good idea to bring a person into existence knowing that life is full of pain and that there is no afterlife. You should have used your wisdom and done the right thing, but you didn’t.

    If she suffers it will be all your fault. I’m making you feel bad? That’s too bad. You should have thought before you bred. You will have fear forever, but nothing will compare to the pain your daughter will feel when she starts to suffer. Fuck your “fear.” It don’t affect her one bit.

    You deserve to suffer for what you have done. You are like an animal who must uncontrollably breed, and I have no pity for you; I only pity your daughter who will be in pain. Those that breed are just like fundies: They either believe that “everything will be okay” or they want people to suffer like they do.

    You don’t love your child. You don’t care about your child. If you did, you would have saved her from pain. You love yourself and that is why you put yourself over her. All your reasons to breed were stupid and self-centered. You devolved into a mindless animal. Sorry.

    If you don’t want to destroy another life, stop breeding.

    I know. Everyone is going to say I’m crazy and mean, but you all know I am right. You just don’t want to admit it to yourself. I understand so very well.

  • Ron in Houston

    No, we need real courage, not what comes from a bottle or a fairytale. Real courage is not fearlessness. It is doing what must be done despite our fear.

    I concur with Jason – Richard that was one awesome piece of advice.

  • Luther

    One definition of Love is Generosity and Responsibility.

    Sometimes you have to make decisions for/about your children that they cannot/should not make. You have to freely take responsibility for making them and the consequences, even if they might not turn out well. Somebody has to.

    Sometimes generosity means being strong and disappointing your children for their long term benefit. Other times it means cleaning up after them without mentioning it.

    But its likely you can make good choices most of the time, and in the long run its worth it.

    Life is short for you and for them. Play full out, relax full out, take your best shot.

  • Richard, at the risk of sounding sycophantic, I adore what you wrote here. I don’t have/want kids, and yet your description of love moved me (because it doesn’t have to about parental love). It’s just so true that love is an act of bravery and I hope to stop being such a coward myself. 🙂

  • Sarah

    You will have fear forever, but nothing will compare to the pain your daughter will feel when she starts to suffer.

    Whoa, Adam. How about WHAT EVERYONE ELSE GOES THROUGH? If life is pain, then EVERYONE who lives feels it. But you know what, jackass? Life isn’t pain. Life is hard, but it’s worth living. Yes, there are hard times, but there are good times, too, and not just when everything is easy and cheap. Some of the greatest satisfaction comes from knowing you’ve made it through. Life can be a test of strength, and it’s satisfying when you pass it. If you accomplish something you never thought you could accomplish, you get to revel in that glory. If you make it through grief, you get to live past it.

    Making a child is not some bestial, cruel act. Yeah, it’s instinctive, but so is our love for our children. Don’t you fucking dare tell someone you don’t know that he doesn’t love the child he’s crazy with worry over. Don’t you dare tell him he’s selfish. Love perpetuates itself as life does, and maybe you’re in too bad a place to understand that right now, but this man is going to do everything he can to keep his daughter happy, to make her strong, and give her every opportunity to be happy. Maybe you feel like there is no love in this world. That doesn’t change the reality of how other people feel. And it doesn’t change the reality that you could feel like that, too. Life is hard, and so is love, but making it through and doing good is the best thing that anyone could hope for. And why would you want more than that?

  • Gammidgy

    Ken. There are lots of hazards in this world that can end life in an instant. Perhaps you can take solace from this: Your daughter is the direct descendant of creatures, through numberless generations reaching back nearly 4 billion years, who all survived to pass on their genes. All of them. What a family!

  • muggle

    take solace in the fact that your daughter does have someone protecting her; someone real, and tangible, and not made of clay or fabric, providing shelter, warmth, and guidance. Namely, you. You may not be infallible, but you’re there.

    Exactly. And you’re there in the really real world doing what you can to ensure her safely instead of down on your knees shirking that responsibility. Actively take care of and protect her.

    I also liked the comment that you can teach a child to face danger. I’ve raised a child to adulthood and am helping raise my grandson because I live with him and my daughter. One thing I believe strongly with parenting is just that. You have to teach/give them room enough to be as independent as possible for their age, intelligence and physical abilities. You teach them to climb the stairs and then let them do it.

    When they’re old enough to demand walking to school by themselves, let them. First few times maybe following a few blocks back to see if they really are looking both ways before crossing the street and not talking to strangers but that’s more to reassure yourself than that they need you hovering.

    It can be a dangerous trap we parents fall into because our every instinct (developed through the centuries of wonderus evolution Gammidgy mentions above) is to shield them from all harm but if we smother we actually do them the harm of not learning to self-protect when their instincts (see previous parenthetic remark) are telling them to go out and explore and discover and get to know their world.

  • Adam Wider

    Sarah, I know how people feel. Sadly, you don’t know (or do you?) that everyone doesn’t see life the way you do and that is why some people put a bullet through their fucking skull. Are you BLIND? Do you not see reality? Like I said, those who breed like to ignore reality…….

    If you think life is a gift or believe some other Hallmark bullshit, that is your business. But don’t fix your lips to try to justify making another person experience the hellishness of life because you “want to spread your genes.” There is no excuse to let your bestial genes override your human genes. YES, BESTIAL. Or are you ignorant of biology? Reality is reality, honey drop.

    Yes, people who breed are selfish and don’t care about or love their children. If you did, you wouldn’t make people to suffer. Ever heard of adoption? Nuh-uh. Because it’s not about the kiddies; it’s about your selfishness and narcissism. “I need to have a little me! If my kid is later raped, tortured, and murdered, it doesn’t matter! I need what I need!” Adoption is the only moral choice if you want to raise a kiddie. Everyone knows it but want to pretend like they don’t. It’s because they only care about getting what they want.

    I’m not in a bad place; I’m actually happy. My happiness is not the point. Unlike you and Kevie, I’m not ignorant of reality. Unlike you and Kevie I have morals and I am not selfish and cruel enough to force another person to go through life. You may have a good life but your child may not. All the wishing and good thinking in the world is not going to make everyone’s life great. We all know this but breeders don’t give a fuck.

    Your child is going to end up an old person in a hospital blind, deaf, in pain and struggling to breathe PRAYING for death. Do you think it will be thinking of all the stupid “happy shit” you’re thinking of? NO! It will be CURSING you for doing that to him. Anything that happens to him will be your fault. But you will pretend like you have nothing to do with it. “All we can do is try our best and the bad times make the good times better dadadadada.” Yes, tell yourself that to protect your mind. You and I know you don’t believe that shit. It’s a defense mechanism that helps humans to survive. It doesn’t mean we should play God, though.

    Kevie is a sane man who caused his own worries so I have zero sympathy for him. He is protecting his mind because he feels guilty for what he has done. All breeders do, of course. They can’t control themselves and they feel guilty for causing irreversible harm to another person. I understand it, but it’s psycho bullshit. I only have sympathy for his daughter who did not ask her daddy to make her.

    I care so much about life, love, and all that bullshit that I’m not going to let my bestial genes overtake the MORAL HUMAN CENTER of my brain. I wish the children of both you and Kevie happiness and the least amount of pain possible but I hope someday you open your fucking eyes and stop spouting bullshit. If you are an atheist you already know that ignoring reality is stupid as shit. So why is it jus’ fine to ignore reality when a baby is involved?

    Life is pain and life is cruel. Life is not worth living. It is just something that happens that everyone is FORCED to deal with whether they want to or not. If you want to ignore these basic facts of life, then you are just as delusional as the fundies. I’d rather be a jackass (nice ad hominem because you’re angry that I’m right and you feel sad) than a mindless, amoral ANIMAL like you, Kevie, and the rest of the breeders out there.

    I will cease talking to Sarah a.k.a. Ms. Captain Obvious, Ms. Walking Hallmark Card, and Ms. Delusional, the person I did not address my post to.