A few years ago, I made a decision that has shaped the course of the rest of my life. It was a career change, to be sure, but that was only what the eye saw. Deeper down, it was much more. It was a life change, a life choice—one that I still get asked about today. This is what happened.
At the end of 2006, I drove a packed-to-the-gills U-Haul truck from Cincinnati to Oklahoma City. I had twin goals in mind: finish my Ph.D. from Hebrew Union College and land a teaching job at one of the handful of Christian universities in that buckle of the Bible Belt. It seemed not only possible but doable. After all, I reasoned, I already have three Masters degrees, five years of teaching experience as a professor in a graduate school, and a few publications on my resume. Surely a position will open up. The only drawback in my plan was that I’d be living and working a little over four hours from where my two young children lived. But we’d make it work. Somehow.
I transformed half of my little apartment into a quasi-study, where I could labor over page upon page crammed with scholarly wisdom. To make ends meet, I got a part-time job at FedEx, loading trucks every evening. I worked my mind during the day, my body during the night. All the while, I was progressively putting my career plan into action. I researched the colleges and faculties of the area, brought my C.V. up to date, and wrote letters to the heads of various universities to introduce myself. And once every couple of weeks, or three, I would drive four hours to spend a few fleeting hours with six-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter, then turn the car around and drive back to the city, to the apartment, to my books. And my dreams.
But a strange thing was happening to my dreams. The brilliance with which they had once shone was fading. Indeed, the dreams were slowly being swallowed by darkness. And the darkness, it was swallowing me, too. Every time I looked in the rear view mirror to see my two children waving goodbye, inside me a dark presence was waving a blade, slowing slicing away at my heart. As I stared at the pages of my books, I saw no letters, no words, only the faces of son and daughter. I felt exiled from life, an expatriate adrift in a world inhabited only by nightmares masquerading as dreams. One day I stood and walked about that place I had tried to make home and realized it was a prison cell of my own devising. I fell to the floor. I wept. And I made a decision.
It took a few months to make it happen. There was a short course to complete. There were moving plans to make. There were a couple of interviews to arrange. But by the summer of 2007, with a Commercial Driver’s License in my wallet, I was driving a truck. I had found a job where the only jobs were to be found in that area—in the oil and gas field. And, most importantly, my new home was about three miles from where my children lived in the small town of Pampa, Texas. I was able to take them to school and pick them up on my days off. We played in the park down the street. We swam at the local indoor pool, all year long. We sat in the same pew at church together. We made up for lost time, grew closer, deepened the bonds of father and child.
Before I made the move to live near my children, as I realized the poignant truth that my dreams of becoming a professor again were over, I confess that in moments of selfish weakness, I muttered to myself, “There goes my life….” There goes my years of study. There goes my aspirations.
But on those mornings when I hugged my children, told them I loved them, and watched them walk from my car into the school; on those summer days when they’d run ahead of me down to the park for an hour or two of play; all those times when they’d scurry through the house, bang out the back door, and jump on the trampoline, calling for me to hurry and join them, I’d smile and say to myself, “There goes my life.” There goes my daughter, overjoyed to be with her Daddy. There goes my son, looking up to a father as only a son can. Indeed, there goes my life, in those two young gifts of God.
My dream, my aspiration, my self-identity changed course. I became more fully, more faithfully, the man God had made me to be: a father. I began to live out my vocation. I realized that, at the end of my life, if I had failed as a father but succeeded in a career, it would all have been for naught.
A life fully and faithfully lived is a life of love, in which we give of ourselves to others. And in that self-giving love—whether as a parent or spouse or child—we discover true joy.