July 21, 2021

Dads as Bricklayers

I’ll be honest and raw. This past year has seen all of my strategies for self-care and family management erode. I don’t get enough sleep. I’m reactionary instead of proactive with my kids. I’m struggling and exhausted. 

Countless parenting articles affirm my experience is shared by other parents. I know I’m not alone in this. In Fathering Together’s Facebook communities, almost every day members post similar cries for help. To me, it is clear that we can’t see the forest for the trees because we are in the thick of our struggle and don’t see a way out of it.

This struggle is compounded for parents because we struggling for ourselves while trying to role model healthy behavior for our children. We’re trying not to show cracks in our armor because our children will see them and emulate them. 

Bricklayer
St. John's Cathedral

It can be pretty depressing if we stay there. But we don’t have to.

Recently, a friend reminded me of a parable about bricklayers. The parable comes from Christopher Wren rebuilding St. Paul’s cathedral. He came to the site one day and saw three bricklayers. He asked them what they were doing and all three gave very different responses. The first said, “I’m laying bricks.” The second said, “I’m building a wall.” The third said, “I’m building a cathedral.”

All three were bricklayers. All three had the same job. They all had different perspectives on the work.

As fathers, we are those bricklayers. Our children are the cathedral. It is up to use to decide how we see them. 

“I’m laying bricks”

There is nothing wrong with being so focused on your role and your part in building something great that you see only the task at hand. To have this level of concentration is critical for building a solid structure. However, the point of the parable is to not lose sight of the larger project, to look beyond the trees to the beautiful forest around you.

As it applies to fatherhood, the question it raises for me is: are you going through the motions without being present or are you intentional with your bricks? Do you know the design?

If we are the former, we’re just going through the motions. Someone once said, showing up is 90% of success, but that person wasn’t a great father or a great person, so maybe we stop just showing up and going through the motions and put some intention behind it.

Bricks

“I’m building a wall.”

wall

The second bricklayer was on to something, but again, if we only see a portion of the finished product, do we understand the greatness ahead? Do we see our kids fullest potential? 

To be fair, I imagine most of us fall into this mindset most often. We’ve got a pretty good idea of where our children are headed, but we leave room for them to tell us. We’re building their framework, but giving them agency to co-create with us. 

The challenge here comes with communication. If we only build walls, who’s to say the walls will connect or leave a door open or remain structurally sound! We’ve got to keep our eyes and ears open to the master architect, our children, to give us the blueprints. Granted, this can be confusing in those early years when they mostly cry, sleep, and poop. Just remember this is their job and ours is to take note of everything.

“I’m building a cathedral.”

When we take note of everything, we can begin to see the cathedral they will become. We’ll see the passion they put into coloring, singing, dancing, and reading. We’ll see those passions transform into hobbies and interests that drive them toward sports, musicals, engineering, or all three, or maybe none of those. 

Just like blueprints and architectural design, there will be false starts and redos. Our children won’t know everything, but hopefully they will be like a good architect or project manager, who listens and takes feedback (except during the threenager and teenager stages).

In my struggles, I’ve been so focused on just laying bricks, just getting through day by day, that I’ve neglected the vision of my children as cathedrals. I’ve been so focused on keeping us busy that I’ve forgotten to be productive toward their finished products. 

Thankfully, human beings are more malleable than bricks. My children are more resilient and contain more strength than I give them credit for. 

As spring returns, as vaccinations proliferate, I’m rebuilding myself and my mindset and inviting my children to join me and build a cathedral together.

cathedral

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Christopher Lewis


Christopher is the co-founder of Fathering Together and the Chief Information Officer. He is the father of 2 daughters that are now in their tweens and teens. He started Dad of Divas, a blog to share his own personal experiences in being a father in 2007 and in 2018 started the Dads With Daughters Facebook Group to allow dads to connect, learn and grow together. He works in Digital Media on a daily basis, but also has over 20 years of experience in higher education administration.

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