The Joy of Fatherhood

The Joy of Fatherhood

Next to a man’s love for his wife, the other great joy in his life is his love for his children. So says Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa in homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, which was almost a week ago. The title of the homily is “The Joys of Fatherhood.”

Father Cantalamessa, who is the preacher of the Papal Household, reflects on a little remarked-upon aspect of the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, that of the relationship between fathers and their children. He notes that while society and culture seems to speak endlessly of the erotic and romantic relationship between man and woman, it has almost nothing to say about a father’s relationship with his children.

If we serenely and objectively look into the human heart we will find that, in the majority of cases, a good, understanding, and untroubled relationship with his children is, for a mature, adult man, no less important and fulfilling than the relationship between a man and a woman. We know how important this relationship is for both sons and daughters and the tremendous void that is left by its disintegration.

He notes that what is most destructive to a man’s relationship to his children is “authoritarianism, paternalism, rebellion, rejection, lack of communication,” just as there is nothing more destructive to the relationship between a man and a woman than “abuse, exploitation and violence.” Yet men bear suffering in these relationships as much as they originate it.

There are fathers whose most profound suffering in life is being rejected or even despised by their children. And there are children whose most profound and unadmitted suffering is to feel misunderstood, to not be esteemed, to be rejected by their father.

He finishes by echoing then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s words about the crisis of fatherhood being at the root of all major social ills by saying that reconciliation between fathers and children is important to a new evangelization.

Perhaps this is why Satan is expending so much effort making fathers—both spiritual and biological—into objects of suspicion and fear and emasculating them so that their children and their wives no longer respect them.

(By this I’m referring to anecdotes such as the dad having lunch with his daughter in a mall food court being approached by police because an adult man being alone with a child is automatically a cause for suspicion. Or the nurse in the maternity ward waiting for me to leave the room so an in-labor Melanie can be grilled about whether I abuse her.)

Our society has become hostile to dads qua dads. The only good father is the befuddled milk sop who rolls over when his children demand money for the latest gadget and whose highest ambition is to be their pal. It’s a sad substitute for the fatherhood that ignites contempt, not love.

  • Children rejected by fathers; fathers rejected by children. Women can do so much with their “feminine genius”—by creating the essential bridge between them. Like Mary, like Holy Mother Church, every woman has to work creatively to bring about whatever reconciliation is within her sphere of influence, ending the isolation that YKW strives for.

  • This is a perptetual difficulty, too, for the adult children of, shall we say, challenging fathers.  How do you teach respect of elders to your own children, when they can see that their grandparents (in my case, particularly my own father) are not worthy of respect? At least not for wisdom.  And they don’t know even half of the story; they are basing their (correct) judgments on the things he says to them and to us.

  • “can be grilled about whether I abuse her”

    I’m a nurse, and I need to clarify here. I can’t speak for the nurses who were in on Melanie’s delivery, but typically speaking, nurses don’t “grill” patients about abuse. We *ask,* and yes, of course we need to do so when the patient is alone. For the record, we ask the same two questions regarding relationship/at-home safety of EVERYONE, male and female, young and old alike, and regardless of reason for admission. We’d ask you, Dom, if you were the patient. It’s now just part of standard nursing assessment (at least where I work), along with a host of other questions designed to help us understand the patient’s needs and preferences better. We are just as vigilant about asking if the patient would like to have a chaplain visit as we are about inquiring as to abuse. For some people, the first time they are hooked into services, eg, social services, or something like a speech and swallow consult, is with a hospital admission. And the needs assessment for these services comes from the patient interview questions.

    That said, it certainly seems true that Satan is hard at work undermining the family by attacking the dad. It seems like he does so in part by pitting the sexes against each other, as Fr. Cantalamessa said, through abuse, exploitation, and violence (and I’d say pornography, which is a common manifestation of these things in our culture, unfortunately including within marriage), in the same way he pits parents and children against each other via abortion.

    It is a shame though that good people, in this case, good dads, are sometimes eyed with suspicion due to the misdeeds of others! I try to remember to pray for the men in our culture who endeavor to do what is right, especially with regards to their wives and children.

    Take care, all smile

  • Dom—I don’t know how the program works these days, but my dad and I had a lot of fun together in YMCA’s Indian Guide/Indian Princess program. (We were in a Xenia “tribe”, so one of the dad/daughter pairs was Shawnee in real life. Heh!) There’s a comparable organization for father/son fun. (And these days, a mother/daughter one. Good add-on.)

    The program focused on kids a little younger than Boy/Girl Scout age (although I realize that Tiger Cub/Daisy scouting starts earlier these days). There seems to be one for older kids as well, now.

    A local Guides webpage:

    Another local Guides’ history webpage:

    Dorky national webpage for the program: