Ode to fathers

By 
  • June 7, 2007
It’s customary for some segments of society to view Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, not to mention Valentine’s Day, as marketing occasions for greeting cards, florists and golf retailers. Cynicism should be set aside, however, as these special days mark important aspects of human relationships that deserve special recognition in this Age of the Individual.
Of the three occasions mentioned above, Father’s Day gets the shortest shrift. Fathers themselves, traditionally inclined to demur to anyone making a fuss over them, contribute to the low key celebrations. And, unfortunately, the very notion of fatherhood has been debased by modern society.

Fatherhood, like motherhood, is defined by relationship. One can only be a father in relation to someone else, that is a son or daughter. Fatherhood is about being both present at and a part of the creation of another human being. For men, it is about as close to playing God as they are going to get in their brief lives. Anyone who has ever been through the birthing room experience as their wives brought forth their child knows the exhilaration, exaltation and sheer joy that arises, even in circumstances that, for the mother in particular, are painful and exhausting.

Fatherhood, too, is about becoming an adult. As St. Paul says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up my childish ways” (1 Cor. 13:11). Responsibility is thrust upon a man abruptly, sometimes ruthlessly, and the man must grow up very quickly if he is to be a true father to the child.

Modern society, for the most part, teaches a very different lesson to young men. It offers the siren song of perpetual childhood, of playing Peter Pan forever, without responsibility, without the need to be gift for someone else. Our entertainment industries idolize men who treat women as sex objects or baby-sitters (countless Wendies patiently taking care of their bratty Peters). And it teaches women that they don’t need a life-long partner to share in family life; modern technology has shoved the father aside, allowing women to “manufacture” a child through science.

Our biblical tradition offers another vision of male adulthood: of men strong and true, though not plaster saints by any means. There’s Joseph, the silent caretaker of the child Jesus and His mother Mary; Peter, the sometimes bumbling but courageous servant; Paul, the articulate and cerebral interpreter of Jesus’ mission of salvation to the world; and many others. Our communion of saints presents hundreds of other men — full of flaws and rough edges — who nevertheless responded to God’s call to holiness and became models of true manhood.

On June 17, let’s give fathers their due, even if it is a just a hug. They don’t ask for much, but they are needed more than ever.

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