A shadow has fallen across Morningside Heights, and it’s not just that the days are ever shorter and dimmer. We’re in that deep breath before the plunge into finals. And for those of us who have term papers due during reading week, the water already seems pretty close. I foolishly tried to total up the number of pages of writing I need to produce in the next seven days. Bad idea.
The arrival of my fifth finals period at Columbia makes me feel like a grizzled veteran in some ways. I mostly know what to expect, and I can even provide some helpful advice to first-years and sophomores in classes I’ve survived. But there’s also the steadily mounting pressure of “real life” after college—my premed friends are taking practice MCATs, every senior I know has a plan for after graduation, and if I were a competent junior I’d already know what I was doing for the summer.
In this climate, I asked a friend, a senior majoring in economics, what he was planning to do after graduation. The answer stopped me in my tracks: “I want to love my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love my neighbor as myself.”
I, like most of us, would have expected an answer like, “I want to get an internship on Capitol Hill,” or “Try out a law firm,” or “Do research for the U.N.,” or “Teach for America!” But he gave me an answer that spoke to “why,” not “what.” It was an answer steeped in the Core: straight out of Deuteronomy 6:5, the foundational statement of ancient Israel’s identity, and Jesus’ reiteration of that command in Luke 10:27.
But how surprising is it, really, that someone should dare give voice to something very ordinary and deeply human—the desire to live a life steeped in and shaped by love?
For most of us, our longings to love and be loved probably involve marriage and raising a family. An Independent Women’s Forum survey found that 83 percent of women in college say marriage is a very important goal for them. Sixty-two percent of Americans between age 21 and 34 desire to marry.
I passionately believe that we all should feel free to give voice to that desire when asked about our long-term goals in life. Our ambitions to contribute meaningfully to our families are at least as valid as our career aspirations. Looking back on life from the brink of death, few people say they wish they had spent more time at the office. Many, however, wish they’d spent more time with their kids.
The difficult tradeoffs between motherhood and career are an established debate, and there is much at stake culturally, politically, and economically. Barnard College President Debora Spar has recently contributed extensively to that conversation.
Let’s broach the subject of fatherhood, too, for husbands and wives who are both committed to seeing parenting as part of a meaningful life can embark on the daunting adventure of work and family together.
The Core brings us into contact with traditions that deeply valued and validated fatherhood. Virgil sets up Aeneas as worthy to be the father of Rome because he is consistently pious—faithfully committed—to his own father, Anchises, and his young son, Ascanius. In Art Humanities, we study Bernini’s sculpture of the unforgettable scene from the end of Book II of the Aeneid. Aeneas carries his father on his back, leading his son by the hand as Troy burns behind them. It is an archetype of rootedness in the past, a humble deference to the previous generation, and a courageous push by the present to prepare a future for posterity.
But men of Columbia don’t live in Aeneas’ world, and the idea of marrying and becoming a father—especially soon after graduation—seems daunting. Some reasons are economic, although fortunately there are a few serious voices, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah among them, thinking about how tax reform in America could make raising a family easier. A lot of us also want to live in big cities like New York, which tend to be unwelcoming to small children.
We also live in a culture that encourages us to see ourselves as individuals above all else, a culture that does not emphasize the myriad tacit ways we depend on the families that raised us. If we believe that our achievements in life—including the very fact that we are here at Columbia—are primarily the result of our merit and not the result of our parents’ sacrifices, it is hard to prioritize fatherhood. But we know that growing up with the committed love of a dad is a wonderful gift. It can shape and prepare a child to engage confidently with the world.
Perhaps the biggest reason to shy away from fatherhood is a very old one: Children are real people, and loving and caring for other human beings disrupt our lives in all sorts of ways. But we learn and grow the most from sacrificing to love the least convenient people.
I don’t have clear answers for what I’ll be doing after graduation or even where I’ll be for the summer. But I do certainly hope to someday—in a few years—be given the adventure of waking up over and over each night to tend to a squalling infant.
Luke Foster is a Columbia College junior majoring in English. He is the president of the Veritas Forum and a member of Columbia Faith and Action. Foster the Core runs alternate Fridays.
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