By Chris Matallana
Before our son was born, my wife and I had already picked out his name: Julian. We began to refer to him as such before he left the womb. Once he arrived, it felt like this name was his destiny — he couldn’t go by any other one. We love to name. It helps us to create meaning in our lives. Naming is one tangible way we can place order over chaos. And we don’t only name our children or our; we also name ourselves.
These are our titles.
We are sons, daughters, siblings, friends, significant others, lovers, students, teachers, religious, nonreligious, sports fans, musicians, architects, janitors, cooks, executives, grandparents, aunts, uncles. We identify with these titles because they give us power. They mark our identity in the world.
Here are some of my titles: writer, reader, thinker, teacher, amateur philosopher, coffee lover, podcast enthusiast, secularist, son, sibling, friend, lover, husband, father. It is this last role that has changed my life the most. The seriousness of parenting divides our culture into viewing parenting as either a prison or a passion. For some, the idea of parenting is too restrictive. For others, parenting is the apex of their existence.
Before our son was born, I kept hearing that my life was going to be completely upended. I worried that I would lose time to work on my writing between parenting and work. But this didn’t happen. My son didn’t become my life — he became part of my life. I was glad to learn that even though I was now a father, I wasn’t only a father. What I discovered was this: before we are parents, we are people. All of our other titles are superseded by our personhood. We tend to forget this, but to forget that we are people before anything else is to rob our lives of the fullness that is possible.
If we want to raise compassionate and curious kids, then we have to be compassionate and curious ourselves. This doesn’t happen on its own. If we want our children to be freethinkers, then we must model it for them. What I want to share with you are three ways of living life that can help us cultivate our personhood:
1. Intentional. We must be purposeful. This means taking time out of our day to meditate on who are we, who do we want to become, what do we want to do with our lives. An intentional life essentially means being awake to our lives. Do we recognize the good things? Can we survive the painful ones? We create the meaning of our lives. To do this requires diligence.
2. Integrative. How do we relate to ourselves, to others, to the universe? To live an integrative life means we acknowledge our connection to everything and everyone around us, including the connections within ourselves — our diet is related to our mental acuity, for example. What is our role in our local community, in our state community, in our national one? An integrative life means being mindful of these relationships.
3. Inquisitive. “Why?” For some reason, this question leaves our vocabulary once adulthood arrives. We pretend that we’ve got everything figured out, that it all makes sense, but to live this way is to pretend that life lacks mystery. An inquisitive live encourages us to keep seeking more knowledge and truth about our lives. The more we read, listen, learn, the greater our imagination comes for our lives. We must model curiosity for our kids if we want them to be curious themselves.
To love our kids, we have to love ourselves first. We can’t give them what we don’t have. For the sake of your kids, make time for yourself. Practice being intentional, integrative, and inquisitive. Explore the wonder that is your life. As secularists, we don’t have an afterlife that we’re working towards — all we have is now. So let’s embrace now. Don’t let your titles, even “parent,” define you. You have to define yourself.
Chris Matallana is the founder of The Thick Darkness, a site devoted to helping non-theists practice personal growth, cultivate wisdom and find deeper meaning in their lives. You can find him on Twitter: @chrismatallana.