In our Caribbean matriarchal society, decent men are often given short shrift. Many women say: “The only good man is a dead man”. This runs against the tide of many decent men who struggle—like Joseph, foster father of Jesus—to be the best father possible.
There are many stories of fathers trying to get custody of their sons through the courts only to have them left with the enduring impression that the justice system is prejudiced against them: the court trusts mothers not fathers. These are often good fathers spited by their ex-spouses/girlfriends who use their children as a weapon of domestic warfare.
We need to affirm the good fathers of our society, starting with Father’s Day celebrations in parishes, which are often done with less gusto, planning and expense compared with Mother’s Day.
Is it any wonder that good fathers feel neglected or unappreciated? Even St Joseph has suffered this prejudice in the life of the Church, getting the dregs of devotional and theological attention compared with Jesus’ mother, Mary, as if Jesus could have come into his own under the solitary care of his mother.
In this regard our Marian theology is rather dysfunctional and may unintentionally be at the service of continuing prejudice against males in our society.
Not all men are wife beaters, child abusers and absentee fathers. There are many men in our society of whom a book can be written—My Father Who Mothered Me.
They tend to their children just as well as any mother. In fact, there is no logical reason to assume that a mother’s love is naturally stronger than a father’s love. They just love differently and show love differently, like Joseph.
Thankfully, this ecclesial neglect of Joseph was rescued by two popes—Pope St John XXIII who added his name to the Roman Canon, and Pope Francis who inserted Joseph’s name in every eucharistic prayer.
The villagers of Galilee regarded Joseph as the biological father of Jesus. Even Mary exclaimed on finding Jesus after three days of anxious seeking: “See how your father and I have been worried sick looking for you” (Lk 2:48).
Joseph’s love for Jesus removed the cultural barriers of fatherhood—that a man cannot love as his own a son who was not his. This is refuted in two ways. Mary herself refers to Joseph as Jesus’ father and the people in the villages and towns knew enough of him to ask: “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?”.
In our society, we might be more inclined to ask, “Isn’t this the son of Angela?”. Jesus being identified in relation to his father is not merely genealogical convention. It is saying something about that unique father-son relationship.
It celebrates our Caribbean context with its complex family configurations. In our context, men often marry or live with women who have children from a prior relationship.
These children, including sons, look upon these men as their fathers, more so than their biological fathers. They love their sons and weep for and over them. Their numbers may surprise us. They’re more than just ‘a few good men’.