December 18, 2017

On First Seeing my Child’s Face

Joel Arnold

clip_image002

Last week I saw the face of my third child as she came into the world. As with our two sons, we decided to wait on finding out the gender until birth. And when my wife held up our child and announced that we had a daughter, my world turned upside down.

Maybe it shouldn’t have been so earth-shattering for me. It was, after all, hugely significant four years ago when I became a Dad for the first time. When our second son rocketed into the world two years later the joy and shock was also very much overwhelming.

But somehow becoming the Dad of a little girl made me process the miracle all over again. I’ll never feel like I’ve figured out the privilege of being a parent, but being a Dad to boys had started feeling, well, kind of comfortable. I don’t feel ready yet to raise a daughter. Even saying the words “she” and “her” about a child of mine sounds weird, like I must just be borrowing her from someone else.

And then my mind runs to everything else this means. Protecting her innocence and beauty in a world that beckons to reduce her to a shape; modeling for her daily what proper male leadership looks like and what to expect in her own future relationships; guiding her someday as she transfers her dependance away from me and places her trust in someone else. It will take me a long time to mentally unpack what it means to be her Dad—and that doesn’t even include living it.

The fact that she’s a girl isn’t just an incidental detail, up there with how many ounces and inches. Because I believe that gender roles do exist and they matter. Within that framework, Caroline won’t chose what she is; that choice has been divinely appointed for her. And while some things like who she’ll marry or if she will marry still haven’t been determined, her basic identity as a woman is forever settled. That has a meaningful impact on decisions far in her future. In other words, even though she’s not even two weeks old, the horizon of possibilities is already constrained by her identity. She can never be a brother, husband, dad or uncle. And that’s okay.

Caroline’s identity doesn’t just constrain or shape her future reality. Already, she’s surrounded by other humans. Her identity in turn shapes all of ours. My wife and I have our first daughter; our sons have a sister; someday God may give Caroline a husband and children. All of us will relate to her as a female—certainly in varying roles and ways, but always as a female nonetheless.

And no one, not even little Caroline, can change that. She could potentially reject the identity given her by her Creator, spiting His decisions for her in an act of defiant autonomy. But ironically, the rejection, defiance and their implications would come back on her rather than on her maker. Because Caroline is and always will be a woman. Attempting to reject that would bring hurt on all of us and no one more than on herself.

Maybe behind the now nearly finished culture war, we should see a hospital room. “Gay or transgender” are profoundly flat, as though a human can be summed up by a 4 letter acronym. These are people, after all. Each one was born either male or female. Someone held them for the first time and breathless with shock announced “it’s a ——.” And wrapped up in their identity, that little human was offered by God the gift of a whole package of roles and relationships. Granted, that reality also denied the possibility of  others, but God made human life with plenty of joy to go around. And somewhere in the intervening years, for any number of reasons, they rejected those roles. They wandered out alone into an empty landscape of self-chosen realities and tried to define themselves for themselves. And in the process they got really lost.

clip_image004

I hope to guide Caroline as she increasingly explores an utterly confused world. I hope that she’ll see, understand, and love the gift she’s been given. I hope she’ll rejoice in who she is—her assigned identity, divinely determined long before any of us had being. I hope she’ll follow that joy beyond to the Source and Giver. And I hope she’ll view herself, a beautiful little girl, in proper relationship to all of those around her and most importantly to the One who graciously made her the way she is.

I’ll never comprehend being the father of a little girl. But ten days into life, she’s already helped my world get a little clearer and a lot sweeter. The road stretches out far ahead of us. But if the two of us walk together in the way of our Maker, our future years will only become clearer and sweeter still—one very happy daddy and his precious little girl.


Dr. Joel Arnold serves at the Bob Jones Memorial College, Manila, Philippines. He blogs at Rooted Thinking, where this article first appeared. It is republished here by permission.


Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

Submit other comments here.