Providing a Catholic framework on the truth and meaning of sexuality, love, and family

The Importance of Being Father

by Brian CaulfieldWhile it may be overstating the case to say that we fathers are fighting for our lives in today’s culture, it is certainly true that we are struggling for our identity. When it comes to fatherhood, identity is key.A mother, in this sense, has it made. She looks at the child in the crib and knows she carried that baby for nine months. There’s an instant bond of identity, based in flesh and blood.A guy looks in the crib and thinks: Wow, did I do that?As Pope John Paul II wrote, a man receives his fatherhood from the mother. She leads him into the mystery of new life, and affirms his paternity. On the other hand, guys are pretty clueless about what fatherhood entails until the baby is put in their hands and the nurse says, “You’re a dad!” And even then we’re more worried about dropping this little body that has the consistency of Jell-o.Of course, we are proud – it may be the proudest day of our lives – but we’re also a little scared. Bottles, diapers, blankets, burping, formula, money, mortgage, debt. Will my wife recover from the ordeal of giving birth? Will we be the same together?Most men are not ready for fatherhood. We really set out in faith for the future, perhaps for the first time organizing our lives around the needs of another – and we do it out of love. A baby changes you; the world is quite literally new. You give this child much more than a name. You give your very self.That is, at least, how it should be. Today, fatherhood seems a bit more complicated than it was even for our own fathers. Certainly things have changed drastically from the iconic TV days of “Father Knows Best.” Surveys show that we still have the dream of marriage, family and domestic happiness, but there are more pitfalls along the way to achieving it.Divorce is perhaps the most pervasive and destructive bump on the terrain. The high rate of break-up is staggering, and the human suffering is immense among husband, wife and children. Even “good couples,” the Catholic ones who seemed so devoted to one another, have been known to divorce.Three generations of divorce have sown the seeds of doubt about marriage and any type of personal commitment. From a man’s perspective, we realize that the large majority of divorces are initiated by wives, and many of us know a buddy or neighbor who found himself divorced against his will under our “no-fault” laws. His children are taken away, or shuttled between parents, and everyone seems unhappier than before.It is difficult to build an identity of fatherhood on these shifting sands. Yet despair is not the answer.These troubled times call for stronger men than ever, with a new kind of strength. Before we confront the culture, we need a conversion of heart that comes only from faith in God. We need not only to reclaim our role as head of the family, we also need to become like Christ’s suffering servant when necessary.Indeed, the answer to the lack of commitment in our culture is to become men of exceptional commitment. The answer to familial breakdown is to become a strong and consistent foundation for our families’ future. We must become men of prayer, action, strength and understanding – tender enough to communicate with our wives, and tough enough to discipline our children.God made us fathers for just these times. Let us strive to be worthy of the challenge before us.(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Headline Bistro or the Knights of Columbus.)

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