Q: Archbishop J, is fatherhood undervalued in today’s family?
I meet many men who make significant sacrifices for their children. When I enquire about their experience of being fathered, I learn most of them have had bad experiences. They are giving their children what they have never experienced. This is heroic and commendable. This strength of character and perseverance needs to be acknowledged, supported and praised.
In a discussion about fathers, one young man, filled with emotion, said: “There are plenty fathers around, what we do not have are daddies.” A daddy is one who is present physically and emotionally; he makes sacrifices for his wife and children, putting their needs before his. He learns, usually by trial and error to love in a sacrificial way and to give what he himself never received.
I am meeting many daddies, men young and old, who have embraced the burden of fatherhood and are truly present to their children; men who go beyond the call of duty and live nothing less than heroic lives. They give because of a deep inner choice that they have made and invent their style of fatherhood. They give till it hurts.
I want us to celebrate every daddy in our beloved country this Father’s Day, every man who has made a sacrifice for the sake of his wife and children; men who say, ‘yes’ to the most precious gift of fatherhood. Congratulations and Happy Father’s Day to you.
A strange time for fathers
We are battling against many historical forces that create a challenge to fatherhood. The plantation system destroyed the family of the slave in a systematic way. It separated mothers and fathers to ensure control—to prevent rebellion and keep order on the plantation.
The matrifocal family in the Caribbean is not an import from Africa or Europe: it is culture that was born of the bizarre social circumstances of our region. A large part of our population cannot trace four generations of fathers present to the family.
But, in addition to this, the western world has also seen the awakening of women’s power. The balance of power that saw women treated as inferior to men was disrupted in the 1970s. The pendulum has now swung to the other side.
Women have found their place in the workplace and society. They have esteem and have found their voice. They will not be subservient as their mothers were. They are proficient, striving for excellence, willing to lead and capable of doing any job.
The rise of the woman has eclipsed the development of the boy: boyhood and manhood are now undervalued. In all our schools and the workplace, the female is excelling. Women are quickly occupying many senior positions in the secular world. The natural communications style of women is seen as the gold standard. Men are not keeping up.
In the movies and TV shows fathers are often portrayed as bumbling idiots. Women make the real decisions and have the real relationships with the kids. At multiple levels, secular western culture has shifted away from the father, and men have to learn a new playbook. Their roles are changing significantly: a new expectation is emerging and there is no new socialisation to prepare them for this brave new world.
We are living in a time when men are undervalued as imperfect women. Even when they are present and committed, they can be judged as somehow deficient. This is not conscious. It is an unconscious reaction to the overplayed power men held for so long. Our ministry to men must help them emerge into the new expectations of masculinity and fatherhood.
We now need to move to mutual partnership, away from the principle of domination by either men or women. This is why Pope Francis says:
Men “play an equally decisive role in family life, particularly with regard to the protection and support of their wives and children… Many men are conscious of the importance of their role in the family and live their masculinity accordingly. The absence of a father gravely affects family life and the upbringing of children and their integration into society. This absence, which may be physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual, deprives children of a suitable father figure” (Ch 2, 55, Amoris Laetitia).
Let us encourage and celebrate all our fathers.
Signs of hope
Driving along the North Coast recently, I saw a barebacked young man with a bundle in his hand. When I got close, I realised he was carrying a baby. There was tenderness and comfort, pride and joy in his step. The modern father has learnt to change diapers and feed the children, cook and clean and enter into a relationship of mutual care with their spouse. This is an important transformation.
I have seen many of my peers struggle hard to become active fathers in the lives of their children. And, I see their children even more committed to being daddies. This is a sign of hope that we need to encourage.
What is most amazing is the emergence of grandfathers who are giving their grandchildren what their children never experienced—unconditional love. This gives back to the son what he never saw in his father while he was growing up.
It also gives him courage to realise that ultimately only selfless love, given at great cost, can bring fulfilment. Fathers of the prior generation tended to be aloof and detached, if they were present. Times have changed.
Whatever the cultural influence, we need to remember that the ideal context of parenting is within marriage. There is a good reason for this.
In his book, Love and Responsibility, St John Paul II says: “In the sexual relationship between man and woman two orders meet: the order of nature which has as its object reproduction, and the personal order which finds its expression in love of persons and aims at the fullest realisation of that love. We cannot separate the two orders, for each depends on the other… the correct attitude to procreation is a condition of the realisation of love”.
Procreation requires a man and a woman, a mother and a father, a husband and a wife. It takes a man to father a child, just as it takes a woman to mother a child. We need both.
Key Message: Only a man can be a father; his role is different from but equally important for the development of the child. His relationship with his children is vital for their healthy development.
Action Step: Men, reflect on how you were fathered. Then ask what else you would have wanted from your father. Strive to give this to your children: become a daddy. Join a men’s group to find support for this awesome responsibility of fathering.
Scripture: Luke 1:17
A father and child at ‘Sisters Can Cook V’. Photo: Gerard-Paul Wanliss