My Doctoral Defense Did Not Go as Planned

by Camden Pulliam March 6, 2022

Two years ago today, on March 6, 2020, my son Brooks was born at 6:00am, and I defended my doctoral dissertation at 3:00pm. How that situation arose is quite comical.

When scheduling the oral defense, I attempted to tip-toe around my son’s due date, March 26th. When the defense was then scheduled for late March, I kindly requested a new date – Friday, March 6th. This would give three weeks of buffer, plus it would be the last agenda item on a Friday afternoon. I would successfully defend, then my wife and I would celebrate with a Friday night on the town. I had it planned.

God has a sense of humor. Brooks came three weeks early, and we headed to the hospital at 1am on March 6th. My wife was a champ – as she had been with our older two children – and she made quick work of the delivery. By 6:00am, we were holding a precious, but awfully tiny, 4 lb, 7oz boy in our arms. The doctors surmised that his growth in the womb had finished, and her body evicted him.

As the sun was coming up and shining into the post-delivery room, my wife and I realized we were on the same page about the defense. We wanted it done. No one gets to the end of a marathon, only to run one mile more. We could feel the chains unshackling, and we were bound to be set free.

During the defense that afternoon, one of my supervisors, Dr. Todd Chipman, asked what I had learned through the process. I broke down. The emotions of the day finally caught up to me.

You see, my dissertation was on the topic of fatherhood. Here I was, a new father again, defending my work about fatherhood itself.

What had I learned? Fatherhood will make a man out of you.

1. Fathering will stretch the father to the limits.

The New Testament describes a husband as standing in the metaphorical place of Christ in the marriage relationship. As Christ dies for the church, so a husband should die for his wife. He must sacrifice everything that she may be presented blameless. And so it is with fathering. A father who has a full tank at the end of the day is not doing it right. He must sacrifice everything for his family’s soul.

2. Fathering will require the father’s presence…and absence.

Many fathers are physically present but emotionally and spiritually absent. One of the first steps to growing as a father is learning to be present – in all ways and at all moments. But a father must also learn the value of his absence. He must go away – to work, provide, and produce. When he returns home, he brings in his hand not only a paycheck, but an identity. Whether he is a hunter-gatherer, a construction worker, or a software engineer, his honorable work brings honor to his family. Pay attention to any biography or documentary or testimony, and you will hear individuals recall their parents’ jobs as part of their story. That’s not a coincidence.

3. Fathering leads the father to the Father.

In his task as a father, a man learns that he is not capable. Some men buckle under this reality and give up altogether (i.e., the “dead-beat dad”). Some men defy this reality and clench down on their children (i.e., the “demanding dad”). The gospel invites us to embrace this reality and become the “dependent dad.” Ephesians 3:14-15 tells us that every family is grounded in the heavenly Father. In his overabundance of love (3:16-19) and overabundance of spiritual gifts in the church (4:7-16), the Father equips his people to do “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (3:20). In other words, dads were meant to feed their children with five loaves and two fish.


As I plodded through doctoral studies, these realities about fatherhood sank into my bones. My wife and my children needed my sacrifice, my presence, and even my absence. But most importantly, they needed something – someone – far greater than me. They needed a sacrifice, a presence, and a provision that I could not provide.

So when I was asked, “What have you learned in this process,” the only sufficient answer was my tears. I set out to write a book on fatherhood, and I became a dependent father in the process. That’s another way of saying: God made a man out of me. A needy, desperate, dependent… man. From the beginning, this is how it was supposed to be.

In short, if children are arrows, fathers are meant to bend the bow. Fathers: may we bend all the way back so that our sons and daughters may go all the way forward, into the arms of their heavenly Father.

P.S. – Happy birthday, Brooks! Fly to Him.

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