Fashionable Fathers

Fatherhood is coming back into favor. For most of us, it never went out. However, in today’s climate of absurd perversions of biology, we can expect — and have seen in certain academic circles as, for example, Peter Singer’s Princeton — that even such natural, normal beings as fathers have been deemed unnecessary and cumbersome.

Fortunately, truly absurd theories have a limited shelf life. The newest literature on family life, more than at any time since the feminist revolution, stresses the necessity of the father for the health of the family. For a while, we were reading much about the irreplaceable role of the mother in maintaining a stable family. Now we hear from writers like Michael Gurian and others that the father is indispensable and that boys cannot become mature men if they do not have a father or at least some exemplary man to stand in the father’s shoes. A father shows a son how to become a man; he shows a daughter what she can expect a man to be.

Interestingly, that most fatherly of men, the late-Pope John Paul II, lost his mother when he was only nine years old. Nevertheless, his father, Captain Karol Wojtyla, to whom the young Karol was close and whom he loved and admired, was such a remarkable example of manhood and fatherhood that the pope attained an extraordinary maturity at a young age. Surely much of the pope’s wholeness of character and spiritual and moral richness must be attributed to the upbringing he received from his father.

As George Weigel says in Witness to Hope, his biography of John Paul II, the pope wrote that he is “above all” grateful to his father. “We never spoke about a vocation to the priesthood, but his example was in a way my first seminary, a kind of domestic seminary.”

George Washington, who adopted children but never fathered any of his own, was a figure so obviously fatherly that he was known even in his own day as the father of his country. Contrast his manly, fatherly character with the sad example of childish selfishness and disorder presently in the White House. The first president protected and preserved his people; the current one strives, through promotion of abortion, to kill the most innocent and helpless people in his care. The first president imitated the noble aspirations of King David. The current president has not risen above King Herod.

All men are meant to be fathers — whether physically or spiritually. Every man who is a good ruler, military leader, teacher, CEO, or priest is foremost a good father. A priest, of course, is made a father by the sacrament of holy orders. Nonetheless, all men act as fathers whenever they exhibit the attributes of a father — that is, as a moral leader, a shepherd, a caretaker, a wise authority who leads in charity those given to his care. Those men who best heed their fatherly inclinations are those who exercise their authority with greatest charity and wisdom. It is not too much to say that the man who does not accept, by fatherly attitude and example, the fatherhood that is his gift as a man does not become a man at all.

Clearly, a man does not become a father out of thin air. To become a father, he requires a spouse. His spouse can be his wife, or his spouse can be the Church, especially as personified by Mary. In either case, a man has to consider himself married — espoused to someone with whom he shares a fruitful love that produces offspring in either a physical or spiritual way. A father, in other words, is also in some way a husband who loves his spouse.

God the Father is the model of all fatherhood. In the household of His family, the Church, He has become mysteriously espoused to us, as the prophet Hosea foretold. He also has made us His children by adoption. Christ is His only Son, but because the Father loves us, He has made us His adopted children, co-heirs with Christ, and, thus, able not only to share in Christ’s suffering but also His resurrection.

The mature man notes the analogy of his destiny as a father to the creative love of God the Father. The mature father, for whom the world cries out, is exactly the man for our age. Too long have we suffered the wrong end of the spectrum, where lawless boys on the loose — outlaws — rage and wreak havoc because no father protected them. Too long have we suffered babyish men who reject their fatherly gift. Whining and selfish, they seek only instant gratification. The yuppie era produced a great many of these vain, coiffed types, who, because of their refusal to claim their place as spouses and fathers, unwittingly became babies, usually to a woman. They forgot that a woman deprived of motherhood, physical or spiritual, finds a substitute baby — a dog, a boyfriend, a husband.

The time for juvenilia is past. If we are to carry out the culture of life demanded of Christians in the new millennium, then we need mature men, fatherly men. Men should know the great secret: The domesticated male who has become a man through acceptance of his fatherly responsibility is the only man worth a woman’s heart. If a man loves a woman enough to take responsibility for the children he gives her, then he really loves her. He becomes, then, transformed by his new task: Namely, with love, prudence, wisdom, gentleness, and authority, he can carry out the Father’s work in the world.

By

Mrs. Anne Husted Burleigh is a free-lance writer, mother, and grandmother who lives on a farm overlooking the Ohio River in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, near Cincinnati. She has written two books: John Adams, a Biography, and Journey up the River: a Midwesterner’s Spiritual Pilgrimage. She has contributed to many publications, including Crisis and Catholic Dossier, and now writes for Magnificat.

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