When I think of fatherhood – and especially when I reflect on becoming a dad for the first time – it’s very much linked with my experience of living in Kurdistan. When our oldest was born (he’s 4 now), my wife and I had been teaching there for a year. Just long enough to finally know most of our students’ names and not much else. It was a calm, stable time of life in which to embark upon the journey of parenthood… for about two minutes. We quickly realized that learning how to be parents while learning how to live overseas would be a special kind of adventure.
For one thing, cultural differences and customs come into play in unexpected ways. I’ll never forget the time I changed my son’s diaper on the floor at a wedding reception. (You have no idea how much is wrong with that sentence.) What was intended as a quick, discreet act of necessity, turned into a three-ring circus as everybody in the vicinity crowded around to watch the American guy play mom. I thought the aged grandmothers were going to pull a muscle they were tsk-ing so much. From then on I decided to confine my diaper changing activities to home.
What was intended as a quick, discreet act of necessity, turned into a three-ring circus as everybody in the vicinity crowded around to watch the American guy play mom.
Then of course there’s the travel involved. Our son was barely 2 months old when we made our first trans-Atlantic flight with him. We were nervous, having heard all the horror stories from others, and having seen the glares directed at parents of screaming children. Well, our son kindly lulled us into a false sense of reprieve by sleeping for that entire first trip, rather like an angel. It was only later that the horror stories came true. Crossing time zones, traversing countries by taxi–we had ample opportunities to practice our soothing techniques and our patience.
On a more serious note though, I think back with profound thankfulness at having become a dad while living overseas. In a way, I myself was somewhat like an infant at that time. Not knowing the language and not having a car severely limited what I was capable of doing, which meant I had extra time with my family. Time to change diapers and read board books and roll balls back and forth. Time to jabber baby talk and wrestle and chase bugs. I still do those things, but they don’t take up the same proportion of my life as they did then. I’m back in the States; things are busier. Not better or worse, just different. I thank God for each and every day with my kids, but so very thankful that our time together was started in a little out-of-the-way place called Kurdistan. I hope to take them back someday and tell them all about our lives there. Lives they’re too young to remember, but that I certainly always will.
Happy Father’s Day!
John Nelson is now the Assistant Director of SGI. He lived in Northern Iraq for four years. He now lives in Nashville with his amazing and talented wife, Mary, and has two young children.