Saturday, June 19, 2010

Theology of Father

Happy Father's day weekend to all the dads out there.

Why not take this opportunity to comment on dads? As I've hinting at in the now not-so-secret "Secret Talk for Men" of the winter, we are in the midst of a huge crisis of fatherhood. But, rather than dwell on the negative, perhaps it'd be more constructive here to state my view of what fatherhood is, or ought to be.

Yes, a father images God in a particular way. He provides for, protects and guides just like God does. God is never a failure in what He does, but fathers always feel like failures, or at least on the verge of becoming failures. I think, again, this is a modern thing. In times past when roles were clearly defined, input, output, case closed. Are fathers - Christian fathers who take their fatherhood very seriously - obsessed with outcomes? Their children need to be prepared in such a way as to make economically successful, and yet well-rounded adults. To err on either side is failure - a hardened business man with no time for God or man in a failure; a loving but economically improvident father (like me!) is likewise a failure. To turn your kids into success-machines is failure; to turn them into flower-children is failure.

The benchmarks of successful fathering. Your children are:

1) well-educated
2) have well-paying jobs
3) go to mass every Sunday, or even more often
4) not homosexual
5) not alcoholic
6) not living with girlfriend / boyfriend
7) have more than two children of their own
8) visit / call own parents often
9) visit / call siblings often
10) not attached to any ideology
11) not vegetarians (see #10)

I'm not joking about the last one - well, not totally. But quite the list, eh? No pressure there. The theologyofdad special additions are:

1) are not creationists
2) are interested in space
3) read deeply: not merely fiction, but philosophy, theology and history
4) prefer soccer to baseball, basketball and hockey
5) do not gamble
6) do not like bars
7) do not take vacations south more than once or twice in their lives
8) live close to dad
9) are really well-educated (kind of redundant on #s 1, 2 and 3)
10) marry women like their mother
11) do not marry men like their father
12) do not like to dance
13) don't litter
14) don't use the word 'green' as an adjective or adverb, unless referring to 'that green apple' (see #13)
15) don't use the prefix 'eco-' (see #13)
16) like Latin and Greek
17) don't care for the Brontes (see #3)
18) prefer Tolstoy to Dostoevsky (see #3)
19) think Quebec should separate
20) don't speak in an affected English accent (see #s 3, 9 and 16)
21) like Latin mass because they know Latin

I'm just being honest here. We all have our dreams for our children. But you know what, some of the items on this list are negotiable, some.

Of course, the first list is the one that Catholic parents - especially dads - bear in mind all the time. The way things are now, it seems, dads are expected to be stars in two places: at home and in the workplace. Times past dad made his majestic appearance at home, was universally received with acclaim, ruled by fiat with his august wisdom and no one questioned his role or importance. He could not fail. Only mom could fail. Things have changed since then. Dad's role as a nurturer has been underlined by psychologists. Sure, he has no legal standing so as to defend and perform that role well, but men don't complain. So what if mom and and government own the kids, and so what if their failure is completely dad's fault?

So, whatever the outcomes are suppose to be, I think the vocation of a father is decently spelled out by these three functions: he provides for, protects and guides.

1) He provides for both his children's material and spiritual well-being. This is the positive aspect of his vocation. This is what he does. This is him engaging his mind, heart and body in service of his family. He does not balk at crappy jobs as being below his dignity, if that is all that is available. He asks the kids about their day and what they are thinking about. He never gives up. Sure, he rests and he feels disillusioned but he never gives up. He knows lives depend on him; souls depend on him. He always puts a better foot forward, better than he wants to. He treats his wife like a queen, because he knows his children consider her a queen.

2) He protects them from evil. This is the negative aspect of his vocation, negative, but every bit as important. One of the key elements here is that he does not go with the flow. Sometimes he has to stop everything and say, "I'm not really sure that this is for the good of the family. I know everyone else in the world is doing it, but let me stop and think for a moment here." This aspect of his vocation earns him few friends, least of all in his own children, until they have had their own children. He has to have the courage to say no to friends, events, movies, etc.

3) This could be included in #1, but I wanted to keep it separate for emphasis. He must also learn about the good, and teach it to his kids. Engage his mind and his soul on the difficult questions, to provide real advice to his children. He has to learn about things in which he natively has no interest. He should never consider that his thinking is outdated or that he is not smart enough. It is his vocation to know and love the good and the true.

An Additional Thought

I asked myself what thing about fatherhood needs to be pointed out today? My views about fatherhood are pretty traditional, but I came from a family where my father did a great deal of the cooking, most of his own laundry, and a portion of the house cleaning. It was no surprise that my brothers and I picked up on all those things, indeed, even the dreaded diaper-change. So where does tradition come in? I'm the boss. haha. I laugh, but I am. I like the term gentle patriarch. I stole it from a book written a while back - never had the opportunity to read it yet (other than the dust jacket). But I imagine myself to be a Jesus-type boss (which is again the author of that book's point, that Christian men are actually better parents than others because they have interred the virtues of partiarchy and gentleness - Jesusness). I spend most of my authority in service, or ought to anyway. I get to serve.

But none of that is my 'additional thought.' Mine is about the spiritual life. Is there a man's spirituality? Of course there is!

My thoughts are drawn to an hilarious incident at mass today. I won't go into it right now - I'd like to devote a separate post to it. Long story short: there was a Mennonite couple at mass. She was obviously Mennonite; he by propinquity. Now, he is the man, so much so as to make me look like the not-man. She, quiet, demur, and taciturn - at least, until the ladies engaged her in conversation, and then she was bright and cheery. There is something both attractive and disturbing about that. First of all, one has to admire people living according to their convictions, regardless of whether one actually shares them. But further, there is something admirable in itself about nun-like taciturnity. I sin by loquaciousness. Big time. And it is a fault, just one that even we Christians hardly ever think about. Of course, being a boor is a vice too, says Aristotle. It's definitely a non-excellence, but a sin, I'm not sure. Why does the man get to talk and not the woman, though? A chatty woman seems more offensive than a chatty man, but I'm biased. As I think about it I have no objective criteria to set forth, but there is a time and a place for everything. Some of my favourite people are hilarious women, but when I'm in a low mood or introverted that is the last type of person I want around. The Mennonite fella was clearly the boss in that marriage. But they sat lovingly close together during mass.

Those two would never make the mistake - for better or for worse - of confusing men and women. We do all the time. One of the greatest problems with this is assimilating spiritualities. A man's heart is not a woman's. They do not pray the same way, they should not be expected to. So what does this come down to? - women pray your rosaries, men contemplate the Blessed Trinity? There is a part of me inclined to this, but it's an absurd exaggeration. Does not Theresa of Avila smack of the latter, while St. Alphonsus of the former? I am much more comfortable with her than with him. I am not inclined to a emotive type of prayer, thoughtful, yes, but I cannot "compassionate my Saviour thus cruelly treated." It's not about abstraction verses concreteness. I deeply adore St. Ignatius' spirituality and the practical spirituality of the Desert Fathers, especially Evagrius Ponticus. Perhaps what I'm getting at here is nothing more than that women feel more in prayer, men think more. Anguish and pity are not a part of my relationship with Christ. Admiration, respect and wonder are.


I've been treated very well today by Anne-Marie. That means lots of time for blogging. So here I am again. I kind of left things in mid-thought.

I didn't grow up Catholic, as you know. Sometimes I wonder what I grew up. I went to the United Church of Canada until I was about 13 or 14, and then nothing for a few years. My mom always went to church; my father never. My brothers had basically no faith either. So what does that produce? The spiritual highlights of my youth consisted in being upset when ET died, when Han Solo was frozen in carbonite, and when Anakin Skywalker died. I knew some stuff about the Bible. I thought it was interesting. I prayed when I was young, and thought I had a strong faith. All of this is to say I don't really know what Catholic Faith is. I have always been proven right in my primary assumptions, but some things still defy me. I don't get the whole fascination with the rosary. You've seen that by now. I pray it with the family almost every night, and I deeply love Mary, but I hesitate to say I have a marian piety, since I am sure that my Mary is not many other people's Mary. I'll elaborate on that in another post. But the marian piety that I've observed in others - unless I am just not getting something - is foreign, and I am forced to conclude, womanly.

How many times have I been told (by women) that I should pray to St. Joseph. But again, that St. Joseph is the marian piety St. Joseph: the quiet, demure, second-rank, St. Joseph. One thing I liked about Anne Rice's book, Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt was how she portrayed Joseph as the head of the family, which of course he was. I like to think that that is why God tended to 'check with Joseph' before He borrowed his family. I get annoyed by the myriad saints' lives that feature the wise, saintly woman and her sinful, often stupid, always in need of her guidance, husband. Yes, these are true stories, and there are sinful, stupid husbands in need of their saintly wives' guidance. But this tends to make an anomalous case standard.

Men need saintly role models, but they have to be men. Mary is not a manly role model, nor is skinny, bumbling, lilly-white 'Joseph'. What is the Christian male ethos? Martyrs, certainly. What else?


  1. Well Happy Father's Day! Wonderful list! I have some objections to the theologyofadad outcomes (particularly your preference to Tolstoy, and expecting your kids too as well) but I think you were bang-on with most

    ESPECIALLY using 'green' as an adjective. Blech.

    And I hate to admit you're probably right in disdaining the Brontes.

    (Also, Patrick and I agree that only taking one or two vacations south MAX is a good goal for your kids -- heck, ours too; my parents have an insufferable neighbour who goes to Cuba twice a YEAR...! AND insists on calling it "COO-ba" not "q-ba." This confirms my belief that there is a direct proportion to one's annoying-ness and numbers of trips taken South.)

  2. Thanks, Jenna!

    I am, likely, envious of vacation-people. But I'd like to think that even if I ever arise from poverty I would have that spirit of simplicity required of the servants of God. I dislike travel as it is. Travel to visit family, shrines, and for educational purposes is great. But it is one of those things that reminds me most of the disparity between wealthy and poor. I'll never forget a guy who was in the seminary when I was. He would never go to restaurants out of solidarity with the poor. You have to admire that.

    Now, Cuba twice a year sounds excessive - but what do I know? Maybe he is mentally at his wits end and this is the only thing that motivates or sustains him? Or, maybe he's a jerk?!

    Just like the skidooers around here with their $15,000 machines. I don't begrudge them. Winter is hard here, as you know. If it keeps them from drinking, then I say great.

    q-ba is right. COO-ba so very wrong. Just like people who call Ka-beck or qwe-beck, Q-beck.

  3. I like much of your list, but I can't agree about the Brontes (surprise). The problem is that people lump them all together. Emily writes about dysfunctional relationships in a depressing way (thumbs down). Charlotte writes about the value of personal integrity in the face of great moral challenges (thumbs up). Anne... nobody reads Anne (except graduate students in literature).

    Anyway, reading the Brontes would help foster something that undoubtedly would figure prominently on my list, if I had one: correct spelling and grammar!

  4. You need help (psychological) just like I need help (with spelling and grammar, oh yeah, and psychologically).

    The attack on the Brontes was a short-handed way to attack all women romance novelists. ;)

    You are back home early?

  5. You missed the Tolstoy thing too!

    and, I'm sure little Karl will have impeccable grammartaciousness by the time he's 8 years old.

  6. A few things:
    1. Christine - complete agreement about the Brontes although I definitely couldn't have synthesised them so well. I would have said something like: "Uh, I sort of like them."
    2. Colin - the skidoos don't keep them from drinking - they really, really don't. If anything, they only add to the fun and danger.
    3. Just for the record - Spanishly speaking (that adjective is for Christine), Cooba is correct, just as Abana is for Havana. However, I was banned from Cooba long ago by my father who drilled it through my head that all southern resorts are built upon the backs of the poor and I would be swiftly disowned if I travelled to one. Our financial situation keeps us from making such a gross error.

  7. 2. Well, they could keep them from drink. With nothing else to do, the chance of developing a habit would increase, wouldn't it?

    3. I don't care if Cooba is correct in Spanish. We have a convention here in Canada that it's pronounced cuba. And, it's only Abana to Hemingway, and he's dead. What do you call that delicious sandwich meat named after that Italian town? Balownee or Bologna?

  8. By no means did I mean to infer that I use the correct pronunciation. To say Cooba or abana would be overly affected; although I did see a great short film once called Los Vampiros in La Habana and it truly only sounded great with the proper pronunciation. One also had to say Los vampirrrros in a really menacing way and "la habana" really quickly sort of like "Don't drink the water." Anyway, just noticed the blue writing about Mary. Funny, because I have always seen Marian devotion as something truly masculine and the key to Catholic masculinity. Dave gets Mary and got her a heck of along time before I ever did. (However, if you ask him about Mary he will pull a St. Joseph and not say anything.) She really is key - especially to our children's growing up in the faith. It seems to me, from a large body of anecdotal evidence, that Mary is absolutely essential to keeping adolescent, teenage and young men on track (until their wives can take over...). My dad also gets Our Lady and has for the past 20 years and the devotion changed him completely.

  9. I don't, or at least I don't understand what she means to other men.
    I see a women (just like Christ) who conquered absolutely the power of sin. But I see an amazingly ordinary plebe of Nazareth, a working women whom I can respect, who didn't look for celebrity, but was faithful to her duty, preferably in total obscurity. The angels are dazzled in amazement at her holiness, but no person would ever suspect that that peasant girl was who she was.
    I am going to write something on her, eventually, to help me through this total mystery. Until then, I remain the poor Francisco Marto of the group.

  10. "The Knights of the Holy Queen" was a men's household at Franciscan University when I was there (I'm sure they still exist). These guys were consecrated to Mary and many even wore these chain link bracelets to remind them that they were slaves of Our Lady. The devotion didn't make them sissies...not in the least. They bowed their heads at the name of Mary and had a real charism for chivalry, I tell you. I think there's something to that as Elena wrote, for young men seeking chastity (and all men for that matter). Consecration to the Queen and treating women as queens goes hand in hand.

  11. I think we're beginning to take a turn here in the right direction, but this 35 year old has to smile at (but yet admire) those Knights. Sounds good for 20 year olds...

  12. But you would still open the door for your wife, even at 35, no?

  13. Honestly, what a lot of, at various points offensive, tripe. Self obsessed, navel gazing twaddle, even if it may have been an attempt at humour.

    Also thanks for calling my parents failures.