Have you ever thought about the word “father”? It is so commonplace, and yet has such profound import as to signify the initiation of a man into parenthood: “He FATHERED a child.” We don’t say, “She mothered a child” until later. Fatherhood is attached to the BEGINNING of something great, a leap into a new phase of manhood. So much meaning and expectation is woven into it, that when a man doesn’t deliver, disappointment is exponentially magnified.
We have a shortage of authentic Catholic fathers because we have a shortage of authentic Catholic men. Feminism and the sexual revolution set into motion a seemingly endless cycle. Second-wave feminism, particularly, was supposed to correct wrongs both perceived and real, but has instead led to more egregious wrongs. Instead of holding men to a higher standard, we have lowered the bar, expected mediocrity, and now have to live with exactly that. Equality sounds good and noble, but the role reversal especially as concerns sex has all but gutted and emasculated men. No need for authentic men in the “liberated” women’s world: an oversimplification of The Pill’s long-term effects, perhaps, but not too far from the truth. Too many of our stories today do not begin with the aforementioned initiation into parenthood, because a man’s role as FATHER — with all that that implies — has been seriously eroded.
Today’s world paints a picture of extremes, of fatherless homes or of abuse, of men who abdicate responsibility, of men who have little to no understanding of what responsibility is, of men who unleash aggression on their wives and children. On the other extreme we have Peter Pans, men who have never grown up and are perpetually tied to their wives’ apron strings, sometimes even their mothers’: a scary tug-o-war scenario played out in everyday life, with no winner in sight — not husband, wife, nor children. It is not a pretty picture. A non-dysfunctional family today seems almost unreachable, a fantasy for many.
Research statistics show the frightening magnitude and depth of mis-fathering and fatherlessness. One could almost argue that all the ills in the world have these as the root cause! It is an epidemic that affects both the USA and the Philippines, though the manifestations are different. In America and other Western nations, cohabitation and divorce are seen as normal and have resulted in “modern families” of all sorts of configurations. In the Philippines where there is no divorce, we find instead men with second or even third “families”, recognized neither by the Church nor by law.
If we are to turn society around from the state it’s in, then our sons need to learn how to become men. There are three pieces to this puzzle:
a) Only a man can teach and show a boy how to be a man; a mother can’t do that.
b) For fathers to be effective, we need to allow them to BE fathers.
c) In the absence of fathers, we need to find suitable, positive role models for our sons to emulate and follow.
The only way to rebuild a culture that appreciates and promotes Christian/Catholic manhood, is to decide that the buck stops here: in our homes, our families, the circles in which we move around, and in our hearts. The cycle has to be interrupted and reversed. We need more Godly men to step up to the plate, no question (see resources below). The onus is on them. But the rest of us have a role to play as well.
Job number one is to shore men up, not tear them down. There should be no place for man-bashing of any sort. As a wife, I am aware that we women are naturally verbal, and if we are not careful we can easily silence our husbands. My children need to be able to look up to the man they call “Daddy”, to know that he is someone I deeply value, respect, and admire. It is worth following a Godly man who doesn’t compromise his integrity, and who knows he’s in charge of shepherding his children into heaven. But I cannot model this mindset while undermining him at the same time. One cannot be proud of a father who is dominated or treated like a doormat by his own wife. The lessons on authority that my children learn at home carries over into how they regard other authority figures, most especially their own Creator. And they need to recognize His authority in their lives if they are to conform themselves to His will. The cycle continues: men who know how to follow Divine authority become men who know how to lead, and who become worthy of being followed, not only by their own children but by their peers as well. Moreover, I cannot tell my daughter that the man she will marry is probably not going to be good enough, intelligent enough, rich enough, and that she’ll have to take the reins or she’ll be going nowhere. We parents have a tremendous responsibility here, if we don’t intend to prime our children for feminaziland in their future domestic churches! My son needs to hear the message, “Be like your father.” And I need to be able to tell my daughter, “That’s what you look for in a man.”
One of the most important things we can do is to shine our light on the fathers who live lives of quiet sacrifice and self-gift, but who are hardly ever paid attention or celebrated. Authentic Catholic fathers are the Atlases of our world today — they bear so much on their shoulders. They provide the bones and musculature our weakened, battle-weary society needs. Entire generations have been affected by the sexual revolution, and undoing its damages may take several more. Not every man will feel up to the task of living an authentic Catholic life, but heroic fatherhood is needed now. The only way to restore Catholic fatherhood to its rightful place is to allow men once again the dignity they’ve inherited as sons of God.
Resources for Fathers:
Your Daughter Needs A Hero
Fathers for Good
What Is A Real Man – Part 1
What Is A Real Man – Part 2
Practicing the Art of Catholic Manhood
Restoring the Fullness of Fatherhood
Reversing the Deculturation of Fatherhood
On the Demise of Fatherhood – A Review
Fatherless and Hopeful in America
In Defense of Fatherhood
Men of the Church
The Essential Father
Toward a Theology of Authentic Masculinity