By Jon Jordan
I need to begin with a caveat: below I describe an experience that my own wife and countless others encounter on a very regular basis. I am well-aware — as aware as ever! — that those who parent alone, either as a permanent or seasonal reality, should be held in high regard.
Last week, my wife left for a two-week pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Along with a small group of women from our parish, she will be completing a portion of the Camino, while also serving fellow peregrinos at a hostel for a week or so.
Her process toward accepting the invitation to go on this trip in the first place was its own pilgrimage. She wrestled with what it would mean to leave our family for two weeks, she worried about the impact it would have on me, and she didn’t know any of the women very well going into the trip. But she said “yes,” and I remain singularly proud of her for that answer.
As she prepared for the trip, a few things became clear. One was that she was going on my dream trip. Time away from the business of life to hike a medieval pilgrimage? Yes, please. We both read Mark Michael’s reflection on his family’s pilgrimage on the Camino, and have dreams of making that trip a reality for our own family when the time is right. (For the record: with three kids nine and under, the youngest being two … the time is most definitely not yet right.)
The second realization was that my work on the home front was going to be taxing, though not as bad as it could be. My school is on fall break during a portion of the trip, and my wife helped organize a number of creative ways to allow me to continue to make progress on school and parish projects even while she was away.
Finally, it became abundantly clear that our children were going to miss their mom dearly. We took them to a local ice cream shop about a month before the trip to share the news. It was a disaster. There was a very public weeping and gnashing of teeth session. To the 30 strangers surrounding us I am sure it looked as if we just told them that their mother was immediately moving to Mars.
As my wife left and the first few days at home have settled in, it remains true that she is on my dream trip. The work on the home front has actually been less taxing (so far) than I thought it would be. And our kids have been wonderful. They miss Mommy, and remind me often that they miss her, but they are having a great time and remain helpful and joyful along the way.
Of all the realizations I had in the build-up to the trip, one has held firm. It started as a quick thought that I couldn’t shake, and then it germinated for a while before I started to put it down on paper: there are elements of my wife’s pilgrimage that I can emulate at home.
This is not to say that I can have the same experience as her. Physical place matters a great deal, and there is not a place like the Camino de Santiago. But by adopting some of the postures my wife and others on her trip are adopting, I may be able to do more than survive these two weeks.
In other words, I can approach these two weeks as my own Camino de Solo Dad.
As I write this essay, there are still more days left on her trip than have been completed. There are moments of frustration, and exhaustion, and plopping down on the couch to watch soccer highlights instead of reading a great book to the big kids.
But by and large, the points below outline some ways that I have seen room to adopt a pilgrim mindset during this short season as a solo dad at home.
The naming of intentions can be a powerful thing on any spiritual journey, whether a pilgrimage, a silent retreat, or simply an intentional walk in the woods. As my wife was considering what she intended to think, pray, and do on her own trip, I started to do the same for my time at home. Some of these intentions were highly practical: organize the garage in the house we recently moved into, make progress on the deck I started in May and have not touched since. But others are more spiritual. Spend more time reflecting on all of the lectionary passages for an upcoming sermon, instead of just jumping onto the first idea that comes to mind. Pray with our kids regularly for Mommy’s pilgrimage. Use a portion of my evenings to read any number of books I have been meaning to read.
A pilgrimage forces you to depend on a community. My wife has experienced this already, in both practical and spiritual ways. Her tripmates have all shared packing ideas and items, she is borrowing some hiking gear from friends back home, and just last night she called us from her trip leader’s phone since hers isn’t working internationally. But her fellow pilgrims are also supporting one another spiritually as they pray for their friends and family members back home, as at least one of them has already received difficult news while on the trip.
On the home front, I have already been quite practically served by our friend, parish, and school communities. I have had more meals offered than we can eat, friends have welcomed our children into their already full homes so that I can go to work, and I have a growing list of people who are ready to drop what they are doing to help. This is not just the fruit of long-term relationships that have developed by staying put in one place for a long time; it is the work of the body of Christ caring for practical needs. And it has been deeply encouraging.
A pilgrimage forces you to maintain right priorities. For this period of two weeks, my wife does not have the ability to say yes to social commitments or to scroll on her phone. She is stuck in a particular place with a particular people. And this is a real gift.
On the home front, I find myself similarly stuck. I can’t do much in the evenings, and even at work I feel the need to wrap things up quickly so I can go pick up my kids from a friend’s house. This has forced me to consider what work must be done before leaving for the day, and what work can wait, be delegated, or simply not be completed. For two weeks, my job is simple: be an attentive, caring, and faithful father to my children, and do the other work that matters most. This forced prioritization has been a real gift.
When my wife returns, I suppose I will have a moment to reflect on the degree to which I was able to embrace intentions, community, and priority while being tied to a particular place and the particular—and at times peculiar—people I am tasked with raising. If nothing else, this has been an occasion to further reflect on what I find to be a real gift of the Prayer Book tradition: the ordering of our common, everyday lives after the monastic ideal.
The vast majority of us can’t order our lives around nine prayer offices each day, but we can carve out moments to say Morning and Evening Prayer. We cannot all spend weeks as pilgrims across the ocean, but we can probably find ways to adopt formative practices that redeem even the most ordinary moments we encounter.