Today I am welcoming a very special guest writer to What’s up Fagans? – My husband Joshua. He’s the guy behind the scenes, the man I love, and the father of my children. And today he’s explaining, in his own words, our family’s decision for him to pursue fatherhood and education at the same time, despite the finances, hardships, and sometimes guilt.
I love knowledge of all kinds, and in just about any subject. I really believe that “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection” (D&C 130:18). That’s why I love the idea of being a lifelong learner. As such, I desire to earn advanced degrees, simply in large part so I can continue to learn and to expand my mind. I enjoy learning, even if it took me a long time to really learn how to learn, and even a long while to earn my Bachelor’s degree. But, making the decision to pursue degrees while pursuing fatherhood is not always an easy choice to make. However, as much as I love learning, I love being a father much, much more.
Embracing Fatherhood While Earning Degrees
The decision for us to have kids has never really been affected that much by our educational and vocational choices. We made the choice for our family to have kids, and not wait until the time seems right because finances, or because degrees, or because whatever. We delight in our children, and are thankful for them every day, and are happy when more come along and join the fray. It isn’t always easy and it takes quite the effort to not only get them here, but to then raise them and teach them to live life the right way.
My decision to go back to school to get my master’s degree was pretty easy. My wife Katelyn, our twin daughters, and I were at a point where our family was still young, and it would be a relatively easy transition into being in school full time again. I hadn’t been making a lot of money as a high school math teacher, so the down grade in pay to work as an adjunct graduate lecturer wasn’t all that terrible for our finances. It would just mean taking out student loans.
On the other hand, making the jump from a Master’s degree to a PhD program has been a little more challenging as I knew it would be much more demanding than my Master’s program. Actually, each year is more and more difficult, as our children and our family continue to grow. The needs of our family are shifting from mere subsisting to a desire for a greater amount of comfort. As I look at my family, my desire to be with them on a regular basis and to provide for them the things that they not only need, but also want, grows with every passing day.
So, I guess you could say that there is an amount of guilt involved in going back to school after you’ve already started your family. However, I don’t regret the choices we’ve made. Our family is pretty darn happy and extremely blessed.
The Birth of Our Twins
When I look back at the circumstances surrounding our twin daughters, Lisa and Alison, joining our tiny family, I marvel at how bad the timing must have appeared to those who would judge us for our choices. I can only shrug at this as, I truly felt that they were a blessing at the time. I know in my heart that had we not have chosen to try to have kids at that time we did, we would not have been blessed to have our beautiful twin girls.
I smile at the memory of Katelyn in her many expanding marching band outfits that she wore through her first and early second trimester while she marched in the BYU band. I smile at the sound of that very first heartbeat; at going to that 18 week ultrasound appointment and the technician nonchalantly mentioning that we were having twins, and then her feeling embarrassed because we didn’t know and she had been so casual in her announcement! I smile at the memory of each and every push and prod of hands, feet, and elbows into mamas belly, at the fun of selecting names, and spending too much money on things parents and kids don’t actually need (maybe not so many smiles for that). Finally, I smile that after it all, we were able to take home two gorgeous baby girls, even though all this was while I was finishing out my last semester of student teaching and earning my bachelor’s degree.
To be honest, I don’t remember half the junk they had me doing at the time; the papers, the teaching, and the classes were all the in-between times for what mattered most – my wife and future children. The memories are rich and eternal, and I know that I will be able to keep them even after this life, and I would never trade that for anything.
The Birth of our Son
Our son Michael came into our family three year later, during the first year of my Master’s degree: I was thrilled despite the stress, challenges, and uncertainty that accompanied bringing a new child into our family.
We, as a couple, had prayed about having another child and felt that the time was right, even if it didn’t really seem like it at times. But, we showed faith, and we were rewarded with an amazing son.
As I look back over my master’s and my time spent working on that degree, some of the things that I remember most are related to the joy and anticipation of adding a new family member: finding out it was a boy; going to the doctors’ visits; feeling blessed that his due date was the first weekend of spring break; feeling disappointed he didn’t come that first Saturday or the following Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and so on until break was over and I was back in classes; and still feeling ecstatic when he finally joined us almost two weeks after he was “supposed” to arrive. The list then continues on with memories surrounding having this new blessing in our family, despite the circumstances not being “perfect” as I still had a year left of my master’s degree.
The Impending Arrival of Our Fourth
We are now preparing to welcome another new babe into the family, who’s due to arrive just one year into my (likely) four year doctorate program. However, as the run up to the ultrasound comes to a close, I find myself feeling blessed and thankful for the opportunity to have another child at this time. Yes, the magic of the surprise of all things “new” is gone to a large degree, but the true magic of having a new little life, that is so strongly connected to mine, is no less real and exciting.
Things still aren’t perfect: I am working away at school – how in the world did I find time to write this? – and this new life is presenting some future logistical challenges, and even some new guilt as I wonder about the things that I can’t give her yet, but in the end this new baby girl will bless us, and we will bless her and that is all that ultimately matters to me and our family.
At times, attending graduate school full time while trying to be a great husband and father has been a real struggle for me. The true struggle here is more of a personal struggle, as I long to give my children things they didn’t know they wanted, and to really give my wife the life that I feel like she deserves. That said, I choose not to dwell too long on the guilt, as Katelyn and I made this decision together, with God, to be here in graduate school and to continue to be here for another three or four years. We are faithful, and blessed to be happy with our choice.
And it’s fun that now in my doctorate program, I have had opportunities to bring our almost five year old twins with me to school, which they greatly enjoy, as do I. My daughters are such bright, talented, intelligent, beautiful, and just marvelous individuals to be around, much like their mom. And my son Michael is the cutest little guy ever, and funny like his dad. I wouldn’t trade them, their ages, who they are, or their spacing for an easier time during graduate school, or for more money in the bank, or for less student loan debt.
Because the biggest gain in my life will not be measured by letters that follow my name, by titles and positions I hold, or the type of work I pursue. The biggest gains in my life comes from that of being a family man, and being the best father and husband I can. Everything else I do in life is subsidiary to family. So, while others may judge our family for our choices, I know that I am pursuing the one thing in life that is truly the most important and truly eternal – family. And sacrificing now so that I can better provide for them later, by gaining perhaps that second most important thing in life – knowledge – helps me remove any guilt I have. Because I believe that God is at the helm in our lives, and as we trust in him, he blesses us to have our needs taken care of and provides a path for us to achieve our righteous desires.