Et Liberi, Et Libri
Do my kids keep me from being productive?
They could, perhaps, and I used to lean more toward that irritation. I prefer quiet for reading and writing, for study and sermon preparation, you know, for the “important” work. But, along with being married and talking with my wife, my kids give me a greater reason to think about things and figure out how to say them. In other words, I may not crank out more words, but God uses my kids to crank me.
Nietzsche used the Latin pun aut liberi, aut liber, “either children or books.” He made the word play about what survives, to legacy through library or through progeny. I don’t know for sure whether he meant to pit them against each other, as if we could only choose one. But whatever he meant, why not both?
Some people—think your stereotypical ditch-digger—need to find some time to read (or listen to) good books. Some other people—think your stereotypical seminary student—have a moral obligation to have kids and spend more time with them. I write for my kids (whether they read it or not, now or ever), and I am learning from them. This relates to my thoughts about all that I’m learning from helping to start a school. I have a life from which to speak, rather than wrongly acting as if speaking is my life.
Most productivity books, writing books included, talk about setting up cognitive space, as in actual spatial spots (in a study, a barn, a coffee shop), that prepare the mind to think deeply and creatively. Get away from distractions. Tell others you aren’t available during that time. And sure, if you have the luxury to choose your cup of tea, drink up. But isn’t art often identified by the constraints? Aren’t some of the best artists the ones who can succeed within the constraints? Then why can’t the “constraints” that come along with responsibilities such as fatherhood enable better flavor?
Jonathan Edwards wrote some profound things, like down near the bottom of mankind’s depth. He was a deep dude. Biographers record that some days he spent thirteen hours a day alone in his study. On occasion he would leave the dinner table, which was still full of his family and guests, in order to go get back in his “zone.” While I strive to honor God with all my affections and industry, I no longer assume that such effort and energy is separate from my dad life, it’s more rich because of it. So let’s adopt the Latin phrase into et liberi, et liber, “both children and books.”
For some additional thoughts, read A Bad Equation by Austin Kleon.