There was a time when if you wanted to annoy someone, you could just say, “Merry Christmas!” Now it seems that if you want to get people really upset, you can say, “Happy Father’s Day!”
I say this because of a message I recently received from someone close to me: “Rant for today. I want to publicly thank my husband for being one of the most loving, compassionate and dedicated fathers I know. Today I helped out in the oldest of my two daughters’ first grade class while the kids were making cards and filling out questionnaires about their dads for Father’s Day. Out of 29 kids about 7 could do it without help or getting upset. The poor teacher had to go through questions like ‘Well, how often do you see your dad? Is there an uncle who helps? Well, does your mom have a friend? Is it a man?’ As I helped the kids fill out the sheets there were SO many who obviously had poor relationships with their dads, if any at all. So many children wouldn’t check the box for ‘Dad hugs me’ or ‘Dad plays with me.’ 3 of the kids were shaking and teary eyed. I am overwhelmed with sadness. My husband doesn’t have a 9-5 job. I’ve seen this man come home to have supper with his family, put the girls to bed, go BACK to work and then get up after a few hours to have breakfast with us and take them to school. He’s left meetings to go to a reading of the children’s book, ‘Stone Soup’. He’s seen the movie ‘Frozen’ 700 times. He’s had bows in his hair, glitter on his nails and has made cardboard armor. I got on my knees in gratitude.
Men, please understand how important you are. Kids NEED BOTH of their parents!! Be loving! Be involved!! I was heartbroken. When I told my husband he cried too. I did not expect that so many cultures have inactive dads. One mom said to me ‘Well shame on the school for bringing out an activity that would be hurtful to the kids’ and I said ‘NO! Shame on US for allowing our culture to have broken families!’ I’m gonna go squeeze my kids and write my husband a love note. Rant done.”
Rather than an awkward silence, we need to have an honest, thoughtful, lively and prolonged conversation about men, fatherhood, the needs of children to have both a mother and a father (Pope Francis said that children have a right to both), and the ill effects of growing up without a father (Churchmilitant has a concise summary of those effects). Why might people be reluctant to have that conversation?
If we consider the evidence in favor of the indispensability of the natural family, the role of fathers in the raising of children, and the God-designed goodness of masculinity, then certain cultural forces will be embarrassed or otherwise discomfited. Misandry, the hatred of men as men, is a many-headed hydra. Certain types of feminism, both secular and religious, have nothing good to say about men. Christina Hoff Sommers documents the cultural animus against our boys and young men. Fathers are popularly portrayed as buffoons (“Homer Simpson”) and young men are derided as advocates of “.” The phrase, “male privilege” is often asserted in popular and academic circles, enjoying the status of an unquestioned and unquestionable fact (cogently challenged recently by ). If we take seriously the claim that masculinity is good and fatherhood is indispensable, then the basic claim of popularized gender theory, namely, that gender identity is fluid and ultimately does not matter—must be called into question (as Pope Francis has done repeatedly).
The story I began with about first graders crying when asked about their father’s love is both a snapshot of a vast problem and the sounding of the alarm in response to a catastrophe galloping out of control. Many different forces have conspired against masculinity and fatherhood; countless families and children have suffered physically, emotionally and financially as a result. (See “
The 9 Devastating Effects of the Absent Father” at www.myabsentfather.com.) The breadth and depth of the spiritual devastation caused by the loss of fatherhood will never be fully known in this life. What is certain is this: our civilization and our Church can no longer afford to pay the price for a culture that diminishes, dismisses and destroys masculinity and fatherhood.
What shall we do? We have to rally our minds, hearts and actions in service of the preservation and promotion of authentic masculinity and fatherhood—both God-given vocations elevated by God’s grace and wisdom found in the Catholic Church.
We must engage our minds, to be able to understand and then articulate clearly the God-designed charism of men to be fathers. Start with William May’s, “The Mission of Fatherhood: ‘To Reveal and Relive on Earth the Very Fatherhood of God’ (cf. Familiaris consortio, 25).” Then turn to Saint John Paul’s “Redemptoris Custos: On the Mission and Person of Saint Joseph in the Life of Christ and the Church.” Finally, turn to John W. Miller’s, “Calling God ‘Father’: Essays on the Bible, Fatherhood and Culture.” These works can provide a good foundation for intelligent conversations about the God-intended goodness of masculinity and fatherhood.
We must engage our hearts, so that we may pray for and love men-as-men and their indispensable gift of full fatherhood. It is not enough to love and pray for the ideal of masculinity and fatherhood; we must learn to love and pray for the real men and fathers in our lives—men who are always flawed and incomplete, who nonetheless have been called to a heroic life of leadership, service and sacrifice.
We must take action. We can begin by loving our boys for the boys they are and the men and fathers they are called to be. Our boys are worthy of our praise, our discipline, our guidance and our protection. (Bill Whittle summarizes nicely what we’ve been getting wrong and what we might do to make it right in his video, “: Why Boys Can’t Just Be Boys Anymore.”) Boys need a father to become men, of course; they also need the acceptance and guidance of a community of good men so that these boys can grow up prepared to accept the responsibilities of manhood and fatherhood. (See Sam Kean’s “Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man” for more on this.) With the traditional values of the Boy Scouts of America now called into question by its own president, it may be time for faithful Catholics to look into alternatives to provide their boys with the strong masculine communities they need and deserve.
Father’s Day is on June 21 this year in the U.S., U.K. and Canada (September 6 in Australia and New Zealand). How might we worthily mark this day, especially when our culture seems determined to corrode and destroy masculinity and fatherhood? First, let’s intercede for all our fathers—living and dead—invoking God’s mercy and blessing upon these men who bear the gravity and glory of being called to fatherhood. Second, let’s thank our fathers—however imperfect they may be—for whatever good they may have done for us. Third, let’s remind our daughters that what they should look for in any man is a capacity to become a good father. And finally, let’s remind our boys on Father’s Day of the nobility and costliness of their God-given vocation to become truly worthy of the title, “Father.” Please, let’s do all that—while there is still time.
This weekend, I will give the keynote address at the Medical Student Boot Camp sponsored by the Catholic Medical Association. When I write next, I reflect on what I saw there. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.
Father Robert McTeigue, S.J. is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. A professor of philosophy and theology, he has long experience in spiritual direction, retreat ministry, and religious formation. He teaches philosophy at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, FL, and is known for his classes in both Rhetoric and in Medical Ethics.