April 24, 2020

Daddy in a Pandemic

These are strange times to be alive. Not only are we living in an age of a global pandemic, but a number of us are navigating it as parents—and some as new ones at that. It certainly presents us with the challenge of finding creative approaches for doing life in this different sort of season. I cannot walk in and out of my home now without thinking of my 4-month old and how that simple act might affect her. 

Alex Barrientos loves to cuddle with his daughter, Shanthi.My wife and I dreamed of visiting family members during this special time so they could get to know our little baby. We looked forward to our uncles and aunts lining up for their turn to hug and take pictures with their little niece. But that can’t happen right now. It’s a different season. But as a new father, this season has provided me with fresh skills I’ve never quite tapped into before, which have actually helped me to cope with the isolation of our current days. 

Fatherhood Has Made Me a Singer

Well, almost. Our daughter is just 4 months old, but she’s been a good sport. If I can create a smile on those chubby cheeks of hers, I think I’m doing pretty well. I think I would have been a good singing father with or without a global pandemic, but perhaps she would have tolerated my voice for just a short period of time. Now, however, she sweetly endures long periods of hearing me perform my greatest hits. Who would have thought that the best mode of communication between this bundle of joy and me would be through singing? I have a cloud of witnesses who can testify to my lack of singing chops. “Alex, stick to teaching and preaching,” is usually the plea I hear, and I can’t disagree. But I’ve pleasantly found that the longer I sing—the higher the pitch, the more out-of-tune without any sort of melody—the more my daughter smiles. She’s an incredible audience, and I wish it could be like this for a long time to come. 

This is a special moment for me. But at the same time, I feel for parents who are not able to sing to their children for long periods of time as I am able to do because of their their frontline work, risk-taking actions, and deep commitment to their jobs. They’re keeping all of us safe. I don’t take for granted that my baby smiles back at me when I attempt to sing with harmony while the world engages in an unprecedented war against a virus that’s expanding its reach each day. In these moments I’m reminded that my off-key singing is not just tolerated by my sweet infant but also is a signal that life is sometimes best composed when the melody is off-key. Whatever the case, her smile surely grants a peaceful and assuring connection in the midst of a dark time. 

Fatherhood Has Made Me a Storyteller

I don’t think I’m what many millennials call a “storyteller”; nevertheless, this is my title now. My baby is young enough that she isn’t yet receptive to the evocative construct of the plots nor the increasing and maturing figures that lead to a sudden climax—but I can assure you that she listens attentively. She’s taken aback by my “performance.” I feel it’s my responsibility to increase the dramatic effects of a story I’m telling her. As I regale her with my tales, I realize my intonation and body motions matter in order to evoke the imaginative expressions biblical or other characters might exude within the story. 

And yet, I’m frequently thinking of the parents who are unable to tell the story they’re currently facing—be it unemployment, discouragement, foreclosure, or even a loss of faith. My baby listens to my stories, and even if she doesn’t understand them yet, they’re stories I rehearse and tell myself as well. I understand them as a father, and they’re teaching me to live in a particular way, in a particular time. I might be a new father, but we’re all new fathers in this season. 

Storytelling has helped me share narratives about real people, real parents, and real heroes. They include doctors, nurses, truck drivers, grocery workers, church people, and most of all, parents. And it’s within these stories that I assure my baby that she’s my daughter and I’m her father, and that we have a God who will never leave us.  

Help for Coping

The singing and storytelling have helped me to cope as a father. They’ve given me hope in ways unimaginable. These things have also enhanced how I minister to others in the midst of this pandemic by providing a word of hope where there appears to be none. Paul taught the church of Corinth that they had many guardians but not many fathers (see 1 Cor. 4.15). 

My father wasn’t present when I was a child, and so I realize what a privilege I have to see our baby grow up with me singing to her (even without proper vocal technique), and of the joy of telling her the story that the God Mommy and Daddy serve will never leave her either. 

During this age of COVID-19, fatherhood for me means singing off-key and telling stories repeatedly, because a smile is worth savoring and attentive listening is a source of comfort for both baby and parent. Fatherhood signals hope to both the parent and child, and it’s the performance of a real act, in real time, while still teaching of the harmony ahead and the story to be completed. 

Fathers, keep courage! Keep singing! Keep telling! 

Alex Barrientos pastors the Meadowbridge and Gloucester Adventist churches in Richmond, Virginia. He and his wife, Anisha, welcomed Shanthi Maria in December 2019.