The wren is an interesting fellow and he is sufficient in number to ensure that if you keep your eyes peeled in your garden or local park you will see him as he goes about his business. And what a business it is.
Unlike a number of birds – such as swans, owls and puffins – the wren doesn’t go in for monogamy. In fact he is a wild lothario who will keep two, three or even four mistresses on the go at any one time.
March is the month in which you will see him strutting his stuff. So long as he is still breathing and flapping, he will take to the task of providing for his children with alacrity in April. But think how his polygamy makes him work. Four nests to build and four little broods to feed. As if one wife weren’t enough!
Wrens are little brown birds, their hallmark is their diminutive size and barrel-like shape but they are native and ubiquitous. For such a common bird they have an unusually melodious song and it is surprisingly loud.
A bird’s general pattern of behaviour can be a crucial shorthand to identifying them – especially when spotted from the corner of your eye. Wrens are vulnerable to the cold and a really hard winter can viciously beat back their population. A wren, hopping along the foot of a hedgerow on a mission to survive the vagaries of winter, is a sad sight.
There can be little more dispiriting for parents of more than one child than watching their children argue. I am continually aware of my failings as a parent, but still, one puts so much time and effort into trying to give children the best possible start in life. To see the project collapse from the inside – usually in a flurry of pinching or hair pulling – is very upsetting.
Though minor squabbles are inevitable, my great hope for our children is that they will be there for each other when we can no longer be there for them. I say this to them continually. I am not generally sympathetic to the idea that some things are so obvious they don’t need saying. I never miss a chance to tell them I love them, even when I am cross. More specifically, I like them to know that we love them all equally.
The avian parent needn’t worry about reassuring their young that they are loved equally while attempting to discipline them appropriately. A worm or two does the trick. It is to be assumed that the wren does not think in a linear manner about matters pertaining to fatherhood. He acts on instinct. We are privileged to be able to hold our own instincts up to reason and scrutiny, but it would be foolish to imagine we don’t have any.
The busy efforts of the little wren, delivering food to his chicks, mirror a great number of mothers and fathers who work diligently up and down the land to build brighter futures for their offspring. When our first child arrived, I discovered an instinct to feather the nest and feed the brood. The desire to look busy (much like the wren) fizzed up within me. It gave me a way to channel the love I felt for them that could somehow come close to the herculean efforts my wife was making.
We can hide in busy-ness, much like the wren, but equally our busy-ness can itself be a place where we attempt to express our love for others, and this applies to mothers and fathers equally. We all have a deep need to be useful and an obligation to acknowledge the usefulness of others.
This month we think of St Joseph, and of the way he modelled fatherhood. Throughout March, when wind, rain, sun and hail can fall in different places at the same time over the same meadow, let us pray for fathers, family and above all peace, and entrust family and mother Church to St Joseph’s protection.
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