Over the last few days, my head has been swirling with thoughts about fathers. My hubby being gone a lot these days for work and scoutmaster training, we’ve noticed a change in the boys that can only be remedied by some intensive daddy time. Which is why I took all the boys — big and small — to the park yesterday and left them there for 2 hours while I ran errands. They went boating for an hour, threw frisbees and just hung out together. At this time in their lives my two older boys need their dad more than they need me. They’re young men eager to take on the world and I know it will take a man to mentor them from this stage to the next with as little damage as possible. Dads are good for that because they don’t get as emotional as Mom, and my boys need a good dose of manly, no-nonsense advice as well as the perspective that only a man who’s been there and gets it can give.

I’ve also been thinking about fathers because my Papa’s birthday is coming up. He’s turning 82 this year. We have indeed been blessed that he’s still very much active, putting around the house, cooking, tending his garden and growing all manner of beans and tomatoes and squash and bitter gourd. I always feel a bit nervous about fall and winter coming, recalling how in years past he’d found it difficult to stay put in a warm house, often preferring to brave the biting cold and slippery streets just so he can get out a bit and *do something*. Because that’s how he is. He does things. He keeps busy. And though I love that he’s able to nap whenever he wants to — one of the biggest privileges of being retired — I know in the wintertime he can’t wait for spring to arrive again so he can get back to his garden. Having written all that I am now thinking that what I need to do is hunt for a tiny farm hereabouts that we can perhaps share, if I can ever convince him and Mommy to move closer to us. We’ll have fun picking out seeds in the winter, since he’s grown to like catalogs and I’ll be happy to introduce him to more… I can try and get him interested in wintersowing perhaps… maybe even plant a winter garden. And if he wants to take a walk around the farm in the middle of winter I can drive him there myself so he won’t have to navigate sloping driveways or unplowed roads. Hey, a daughter can dream.

But getting back to fathers. The past weeks I’ve been reading so many books (this is what a homeschooling mom does when her boys devour books — she is compelled to pre-read them, even if she would normally forego science fiction and other non-Jane-Austen selections) and it seems lately there’s always a father figure in these books that’s missing… an absence that was keenly felt by the main characters, both fictional and non-fictional. An absence that clearly explains why certain choices had to be made, paths taken that otherwise would have been ignored or altogether gone unnoticed…. an absence that’s a growing reality in much of the world today.

My cousin has been posting pictures on Facebook. Several of them has my mother’s father’s smiling face in them. He passed away the day of my church wedding, seven hours before the ceremony. We were in sudden, deep mourning, and though it was a day to celebrate, we decided we just couldn’t dress up when Lolo was lying in the hospital and not going to wake up again, at least not here on earth. So we got married in jeans. Through my mother’s stories I have come to know the man even more than I knew him when he was living. Though my grandfather had faults of his own, I am mostly left with the profound realization that he was a man who sacrificed, and gave, and gave, and gave, until he hurt. I still tear up at the memory of his particular heartaches and physical sufferings…. earthly burdens that he often chose to downplay or shoulder quietly, for the good of many.

I am very much aware that my life is the way it is because of fathers who were FATHERS in every good sense of that word…. my own Papa, then my Lolo who lived with us the last four years of his life, and now my husband, whose daily actions constantly speak of commitment and caring and self-denial.

I think of great fathers I’ve known through the years…. fathers who relish every moment of being a parent, the ones that take pride in pulling out those 2×3-inch portraits of their children, the ones that tell you of their kids’ latest accomplishments in sports, or music, or academics; the ones who have lost jobs and now take their children to daily Mass; the ones who hang around at parties even when it’s mostly the moms that are there and the dads mostly end up lost in the storm of chatter; those who take jobs thousands of miles away, enduring loneliness and separation, just to provide for their families; those who are torn apart from their wives and children to defend and protect an all too often ungrateful country….

I’ve been thinking of wannabe fathers…. the ones that have always wanted kids, and yet were not gifted with any. The ones you just KNOW would make AWESOME dads, but it just didn’t happen for them. I think about the father who has been married 12 years and who finally got to hold his newly adopted daughter just a few months ago. I think of the father who was left by his wife, and now keep dreaming about children that might not come. I call him a “father” even though, technically speaking, he isn’t yet, because I know in his heart of hearts he already is, he’s just waiting for his dream to be born.

I also think of fathers who, for one reason or another, have a somewhat limited view of what fatherhood is and could be. The father who dotes on his three beautiful children, but who insisted on getting a vasectomy because he just didn’t think he could handle any more. The father who left his wife and four children to travel halfway around the world to father three more by another woman. What was going through their heads?

Naturally, the Holy Father has been a lot on my mind lately, especially as he visited England where he’s got quite a few wayward children 🙂 . How his leadership is so, so needed by our world today. There are two words I often use to describe the fathers I’ve admired: GENTLE yet FIRM. They’re attributes that aren’t present in every dad, but blessed are the children that can describe their dads this way. Those two things are how I perceive Papa Benedict at any rate. Then, of course, there are the ones we’ve called “Father” through the years, these men who choose to live their lives in the service of Christ and His Bride, the Church. I’m tickled pink that I recently found (thank you, Google!) the priest who married us 20 years ago; he’s only 6 hours away. The last time we saw him we had one child. We kept in touch through letters for a while, but the last time I wrote him we had three children still. I can only imagine how pleased he will be when we present ourselves at his parish in Chicago, with two more…. one of these days, I hope.

This being “40 Days for Life”, I can’t help but think of the many, many fathers who have lost children through abortion. Often when I read articles or blog posts, I am struck by the overwhelming support for the mother…. regardless of whether the writer is pro-life or pro-abortion (funny how that works). Hardly, if ever, is the choice of the father mentioned. I’d like to believe that more men would step up to the plate and be the fathers their children need them to be, if only society would give them a fair chance. In working so hard to give women a “choice” (and there’s a good reason that word is in quotation marks), I fear we have left many men without any. The continued emasculation of our men fueled by the lie masquerading as “women’s reproductive health” is hurting us more than we care to admit.

It is a pity that we now have, in our world, what seems to be two distinct types of men: those who would embrace fatherhood and everything that that entails wholeheartedly, and those who shun it like it’s a dreaded disease. We purport to give women “freedom”, but we seem to have forgotten that women will always carry in their genes and in their hearts something that’s called maternal instinct. Whether we accept or deny it isn’t relevant, as it is imprinted in our very natures, like indelible ink that won’t scrub off no matter how many showers we take or how many drinks we down or how many pills we pop. Guess what? There’s such a thing as paternal instinct too — that undeniable yearning to beget an offspring: flesh of one’s flesh, blood of one’s blood. It is a desire that cannot be quenched by mindless sex, if there is indeed such a thing. It is still a wonder to me how in one breath we boast of being learned, modern intellectuals, supposedly holding our destinies in our own hands, and then in the next proclaim that we are mere animals, ruled by our passions, and that the only way we can minimize the “consequences” of our actions is through such artificial means as the pill, or failing that, the ultimate control freak’s weapon, abortion. No room for abstinence, no room for mastery of self.

That there is incredible pain in abortion seems to be unbelievable to a good loud segment of our society. But it really shouldn’t surprise, should it, given that what we tear away from women’s bodies isn’t a bunch of dead cells like our hair or our nails. It is a living, breathing organism that’s as much a part of us as, or rather even more so than our pinky or our ear. Given that this other person isn’t simply an extension of us, ourselves, but the extension of another human being as well, its father — is it any wonder that fathers hurt too? We all hurt.

I think we sell our men short when we either tell them we don’t want or need their children, or we don’t need them but for their seed, or we don’t need them at all, or when we deny them the very choice that we then demand is our right: to govern our bodies and those of our unborn. In insisting that we are masters of our own bodies and our babies’ we deprive our men of the freedom to be fully men. Too long we have yelled from the rooftops that we want freedom, freedom, freedom… refusing to understand that what we call freedom is that which enslaves us and that what we fear will tie us down will actually set us free. Too long we have expected men to give up responsibility and then we are disappointed and devastated when they do just that. We tell men that they can freely sow their seed, and leave to others the cultivating, the tending, the watering, and yes, if we so choose, the weeding, the exterminating. And when they champion the cause for extermination (because that’s what abortion is) that shocks us even more. But we cannot expect to reap what we did not sow.

How often I have seen immature men grow into mature adulthood by becoming a father. (Surprise, surprise, it happens to women too.) I’m not saying that that’s the sole purpose of children — to bring men to maturity, but it does happen. I say let our men be men. Let them be fathers. They just might surprise us.

More thoughts on men and fatherhood:

40 Days, Abortion and Men
On Father’s Day: Abortion Debate Should Include Forgotten Dads, They Hurt Too
Fatherhood Forever
Reclaiming Fatherhood
When Daddy’s Dream Died, Daddy Died Too
Cohabitation: Why Not?
Facing Life Head-On: Men Hurt Too
Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem

And I am no rap fan, but this one contains a powerful message, one that needs to be heard.