Pope John Paul II, taking a broad view of fatherhood, makes the startling point in his international best-seller, Crossing the Threshold of Hope that Original Sin is "above all" an attempt "to abolish fatherhood". The disobedience of our primal parents was a rejection of God's legitimate authority. But God's authority is inseparable from his fatherly love. Hence, a rejection of his authority was also a rejection of his Fatherhood. John Paul offers a most important insight when he identifies Original Sin with the attempt to abolish fatherhood. The Serpent offers Adam and Eve a caricature of fatherhood – an authoritarian posture that is incompatible with human freedom.
The first step, then, in restoring the good name and the fullness of fatherhood, is to re-establish the original connection between fatherhood and an identity that inspires confidence. The dissolution of this connection and the resulting state of "fatherlessness" is truly calamitous. David Blankenhorn, for example, provides evidence in his book, Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Problem, that fatherlessness is the leading cause of the declining well-being of children and the engine that drives our most urgent social problems from crime to adolescent pregnancy to child sexual abuse to domestic violence against women. Despite the massive social problems that fatherlessness has created, he informs us, the concerted effort continues to "deconstruct" and "deculture" paternity.
In his elegant and insightful memoir, Blessings in Disguise, Alec Guinness recounts an unintentional experience of fatherhood he had while he was in France for the filming of Father Brown. Sir Alec, dressed in priestly black, was traversing a winding road that led to the village where he had a room for the night. He had not gone far before he heard scampering footsteps and a piping voice calling, "Mon pere". A young boy of about seven or eight seized the actor's hand, swung it back and forth and kept up a non-stop prattle. Guinness dared not say a word to him for fear that his "excruciating" French would scare him away. Suddenly, with a "Bonsoir, mon pere," and an awkward bow, the boy released his grip and disappeared through a hole in a hedge.
Reflecting on the incident, Guinness began to think more positively about "a Church which could inspire such confidence in a child, making its priests, even when unknown, so easily approachable". Sir Alec's journey home that night was part of a longer journey that ultimately led him into the Catholic Church. Even the portrayal of fatherhood can inspire genuine trust.
Pope John Paul II, taking a broad view of fatherhood, makes the startling point in his international best-seller, Crossing the Threshold of Hope that Original Sin is "above all" an attempt "to abolish fatherhood".
Nathaniel Hawthorne had the well-deserved reputation of being a good father and devoted husband. His daughter, Rose, who later came into the Church and, as a Dominican nun, took the name Mother Alphonsa, offers a splendid testimony of her love for her father: "To play a simple game of stones on one of the grey benches in the late afternoon sunshine, with him for courteous opponent, was to feel my eyes, lips, hands, all my being, glow with the fullest human happiness". This is the kind of love for dad that the eminently quotable Adabella Radici captures when she writes: "I love father as the stars – he's a bright shining example and a happy twinkling in my heart".
"I could not point to any need in childhood so strong," wrote Sigmund Freud, "as that for a father's protection." How much do children need a father? As author Maggie Gallagher tells us, "children not only need a father, they long for one, irrationally, with all the undiluted strength of a child's hopeful heart".
The Nobel-Prize-winning novelist, Albert Camus, was killed at the age of 46 in a car crash near Paris in 1960. Near the wreckage, investigators found a black briefcase that contained 144 pages of an autobiographical novel he had been preparing. When it was finally published, 43 years later, it contained these poignant words reflecting how much he lost when his father was killed in the First World War in 1914: "I tried to discover as a child what was right and wrong since no one around could tell me. And now I recognize that everything had abandoned me, that I need someone to show me the way, to blame and praise me . . . I need a father."
Re-establishing the natural connection between fatherhood and confidence is needed in order to do justice to God, priests, and laymen who have children (either biologically or by adoption). Fatherhood is multi-faceted and organic. It is not simply one thing, such as authority, strength, reproductive achievement, being a breadwinner, or having the legal privilege of passing on one's name. Perhaps worst of all, from the arena of reproductive technology, fatherhood is not merely a "donor" or a "seed". Fatherhood is a paradox, a dynamic blend of opposites, as it were, a fact of life that makes it both indefinable and elusive, on the one hand, but rich and magisterial, on the other.
The following 10 paradoxes illustrate the dynamic quality of fatherhood, a quality that invests it with both vitality and depth.
Fatherhood means being:
The father serves all the members of his family without being in any sense subservient or inferior. One might say, in this respect, that fathers, like tennis players, enjoy an advantage when they serve.
The love of a father is strong and unwavering. His love is not bound by a feeling, and hence prone to sentimentality. It is strengthened by principles that always focus on the good of others. Love means doing what is in the best interest of others.
Fatherhood, on all three levels, should inspire us with confidence. The child takes the hand of his father, the communicant receives the Eucharist from the priest, the believer prays to "Our Father who art in heaven". The rupture between fatherhood and confidence can he healed and restored to its original wholeness. St. John Vianney has reminded us that fatherhood and confidence go together. His simple and wise words, spoken almost in obscurity, have more truth in them than what can be found among all the postmodern thinkers who are vainly trying to deconstruct fatherhood on every level. God the Father will not be mocked; the Serpent will not be triumphant.
"Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us by letting us be called God's children and that is what we are" (1 Jn 3:1). "We are children of God by adoption. By the gift of the Holy Spirit we are able to cry 'Abba, Father" (Ga 4: 6).
Donald DeMarco. "Restoring the Fullness of Fatherhood." Homiletic & Pastoral Review (December, 2011).
Reprinted with permission of the author and Homiletic & Pastoral Review.
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