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What is the ultimate purpose of being a man?
How can you be so certain?
Think of what differentiates us from women. Agere sequitur esse: Our created being tells us who we are meant to be and what we are meant to be doing. Our generative capacity predisposes us towards fatherhood. Read on, as we develop this theme.
Why fatherhood, then?
St John Paul the Great tells us that our task as fathers is to reveal and relive on earth the very Fatherhood of God. We are meant to be fathers to represent God’s Fatherhood to humanity and specifically to our own children. The human father is an icon of God the Father, the voice of the Father that the children cannot hear, the touch of the Father that the children cannot feel and the loving heart of the Father that the children cannot comprehend.
Hang on, what about men who aren’t biological fathers?
There may be different reasons why a man cannot fulfil his biological fatherhood – priesthood and the religious life spring to mind, of course. A number of mature men may have a calling to the single life, while younger single men may still be discerning their vocations. There is also the profound sadness of married men who have not been able to have children of their own, or who have lost their only child. Do these men not qualify as fathers? On the contrary, every man’s innate fatherhood is enlivened by living as a mature man of God.
St Paul, of whom we have no clear evidence of marriage, let alone children, was a great advocate and example of spiritual fatherhood. To the Corinthians, he wrote, “Indeed, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel”; to the Thessalonians, “We dealt with each one of you like a father with his children”; of Timothy, “How like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel”; to Titus, “My loyal son in the faith we share”, and of Onesimus, “My child, whose father I have become during my imprisonment”.
Priests most obviously carry out this spiritual fatherhood, by caring for our sacramental needs. But every man can extend his inherent fatherhood to becoming a Godfather, a mentor, a coach, a teacher, a guide, a counsellor. Indeed, there is a strong argument for the regular intervention of other men in the development and education of children, particularly of boys. As a wise man said, “The lone father is not a strong father. Fathering is a difficult and perilous journey and is done well with the help of other men”.
Ancient and traditional cultures understood this when they ritually initiated boys into the intergenerational assembly of mature men, or sent their sons to be squires and apprentices in the households of knights and master craftsmen. Biological fathers, like all men, have their limitations and exhibit only finite aspects of the Fatherhood of God. It is incumbent on all men, biological fathers or not, to use their divinely appointed talents to sustain the whole family of God.
How exactly does fatherhood make me a man?
How exactly does clay become pottery? It is designed, moulded, smoothed and fired. The vessel then becomes what it was meant to be and finds its purpose in the action it was created for. Fatherhood moulds and fires a man, and makes him wholly aware of sacrificial love, of emptying himself for others, of laying down his life. Fatherhood not only makes him a man, it makes him holy. Holiness is the fulfilment of every being created in the image and likeness of God, bringing him close to God. In contrast to the clay, however, we have a choice to participate in this work or not; a moral decision with eternal consequences.
So, fatherhood makes me a man. Why not leadership, sexual prowess, wealth, strength?
You are not far wrong. In the Garden of Eden, when God established the first family, He gave man four clear roles: primacy (dominion over creation), procreation (be fruitful and multiply), provision (to till the land) and protection (to keep, or guard creation). These are the pillars on which fatherhood is founded. They are not, however, ends in themselves. If they develop as such, they quickly become aberrant. Nonetheless, a man’s task is to cultivate each role to the best of his ability and resources, in order to support his duty as a father. It is in the context and framework of the family, spiritual or biological, that the roles of primacy, procreation, provision and protection are at their most divine.
Lots of men have children but are rubbish fathers. Doesn’t that undermine the argument?
If human fatherhood is meant to ‘reveal and relive on earth the very Fatherhood of God’, then yes, many children growing up will have a distorted vision of who God is. It’s not easy to break the chain – many men suffer from what is called, ‘The Father Wound’, where poor examples of fatherhood have caused such profound pain in men that they are often unable and unwilling to take up their own responsibilities as fathers. Much groundwork of therapy, relationship-building and forgiveness must take place before a man can accept the extent to which he was let down by his father, and the consequences thereof, and then move fully into the role of his own fatherhood.
However, this emphasises the work that every man needs to undertake to become holy, to become as close to God as possible and as like God as possible. God the Father is not a reflection of human fatherhood; on the contrary, men should strive to reflect the Fatherhood of God to humanity. Regardless of the cost to our own selves, we do this by laying down our lives in service to our wives, families and communities. This is a lifelong task, one we enter into in marriage or the priesthood or religious life, and aim to perfect until we die.
Fatherhood as the Purpose of Manhood
A Man's Roles
The Father Wound