HERE IS LIFE B.C. and A.C. – “Before Children” and “After Children.” To be a musician, full-time or not, brings with it an alternative lifestyle and schedule. My professional life “B.C.” was certainly devoted almost exclusively to being the best musician that I could be. It was important that I seized the opportunities to grow and learn at every moment. I was involved in all kinds of music, not just sacred music. The world was full of possibilities and I had several avenues to pursue.
It’s also important to note that by nature I am NOT a morning person. 11pm and beyond were my peak hours for practice, composing, songwriting, and recording. Although living on the East Coast, it is safe to say my hours were consistent with the Hawaiian time zone.
I vowed to myself not to get married before the age of 30 (which I accomplished rather easily), but upon meeting the love of my life, I couldn’t get married fast enough.
Meanwhile, at my full-time job at St. Cecilia Parish (where I have been employed since the age of 20), not having children afforded me the opportunity to develop the music programs in what was a dying parish. Then nearly ten years ago the scope of my job changed drastically. We had a new pastor, merged with another parish, and a few years later, were the welcoming parish for yet another closed parish. Putting in about 60 or more hours per week (more or less doing the work of two to three parishes by myself), these mergers demanded a great deal of pastoral sensitivity, and exponentially more administrative work. For some years, I was constantly on the fence of whether to stay or to leave this job, but I felt I had to stay and see this process through. (I am glad I did, as I have been greatly blessed through it all.)
However, during this critical juncture in the life of our parish, I never could have handled this workload if I had children. Ironically, working in ministry for the Church is often not conducive to family life. Working nights and weekends away from family, often for low pay makes having children in the picture difficult. (This also gives perspective to the unmarried state of religious life.)
Then the light of my life, my daughter, was born; two years later, the other light of my life, my son, was born.
Life “A.C.” is very different. My job no longer comes first. (A must read on this topic is by Andrew Motyka: The Church Music Director: Job or Vocation?) I am no longer available to put in flexible unlimited amount of hours. When running rehearsals in the evening, I am often having difficulty concentrating, given that my son makes sure we are always awake by 5 am. While also directing three different choirs every Sunday and responsible for a dozen or so liturgies per week, I am often scattered, occasionally irritable when I need to be cheerful with volunteers, and all too often produce embarrassing typos on worship aids and concert programs. (My favorite typo was: Psalm 33:4: “Uptight is the word of the Lord.” Oops.) Since having children, there are days when I feel overwhelmed, that I have failed my choir(s), have been less than charitable when I need to be, and I have failed the standards of my profession. In a profession that requires work on holidays, weekends, and evenings, the tension between family and job is one I struggle with every day. To be fully present to my children and being a dad means placing even more limits on my professional life. But sometimes, that choice too is out of my hands. But this is the life I have chosen and I would not have it any other way.
So how could having children possibly make me better at a job? Parenthood certainly has gotten me closer in touch with failure and feeling out of control. Since having children my life is no longer my own. Perhaps this is the key to faith.
At my son’s baptism, I held my two-year-old daughter in my arms during the Rite. I was exhausted as all new parents are. I knew the words were coming, but when I heard them, it hit me like a ton of bricks—now emblazoned in my memory and in my heart: “I claim you for Christ.” I felt the profundity of the choice parents make for their children, that God will be the center of our family.
In my children, I found God. I found God in my family, and not just at church, and not just in my professional life as a church musician. Perhaps this is what I personally needed, (and not to judge that this is what everyone needs.) Children have helped me focus on what and who is important.
Hopefully, I am more patient than I used to be. I laugh now when a child cries or screams during the pianissimo section of Bruckner’s “Pange Lingua”. Or when a parent is changing a diaper on the stairs to the choir loft, I tell them not to worry — I understand! But those are very little things. Often the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, “Quid Hoc ad Aeternitatem?” come to mind. “What does this mean for eternity?” While life as a parent is far more scattered, my internal prayer life and my focus on what truly matters has a little bit more clarity than it used to. Hopefully my relationship with the people I serve has improved. I don’t know, but I certainly hope so, and I pray it has.
I found God in my family, and no matter what the daily struggles, I am left with a profound sense of gratitude to be the luckiest man alive.