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Strong fathers needed now more than ever

The following story appeared in the June 10 Idaho Catholic Register.

By Jay Wonacott

Marriage for Life

Sunday, June 19, marks Father’s Day this year. I vividly remember last Father’s Day. I had a Holy Spirit inspired idea to sit down with my five daughters and my wife and tell each of them what they meant to me. Our family gathered in our living room, and one by one from oldest to youngest daughter, I shared my father’s heart with each of them. I shared something about each of their personalities, their strengths and a fond memory I had of each of them.

Of course, this kind of sharing prompted tears of appreciation and joy to flow from their eyes and mine as we were filled with gratitude and grace for the gift of being father and daughters. My intentional desire to share my love and my daughters’ responses were some of the greatest Father’s Day gifts I have ever received.

As I look forward to this Father’s Day, I am planning on asking us to gather again and share with each other in this same way. In all of our families, we must take time to gather to express how others are a blessing. It is my role as a father to be the initiating source of love, identity, and healing for my family.

Every time I read the Gospel passage of Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist, I am reminded of the words of the Gospel writer who says that the Spirit of God descended, and a voice was heard from Heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)

These words are the words that each child longs to hear from his or her father. Each of us wants to know our earthly fathers’ and Heavenly Father’s love and know the fundamental identity that we are unconditionally loved as children. There are so many people in this broken world who hunger for this kind of love and affirmation. This deep longing for a father’s love is tied up with that fact that we are suffering the consequences of the fall because of the original sin of our parents, Adam and Eve.

Pope Saint John Paul II

called this gratuitous Love from the Father the “rays of fatherhood.” In his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, the pope writes, “… as we know from Revelation in human history the rays of fatherhood meet a first resistance in the obscure but real fact of original sin. This is truly the key for interpreting reality. Original sin is not only the violation of a positive command of God but also, and above all, a violation of the will of God as expressed in that command. Original sin attempts then to abolish fatherhood, destroying its rays which permeate the created world, placing in doubt the truth about God who is Love.”

Our first parents, like us, bought the lie that God the Father is a tyrant who does not have our best interests at heart. So, we take matters into our own hands and shape our own destiny by disobeying His laws. The consequence of being pushed out of Eden as a consequence of our sin is that we no longer are able to walk with Him in the “cool of the day” as our parents once did in the Garden. Where we are now is East of Eden – a place where God’s Fatherhood seems abolished. As St. John Paul II notes, we are left with a sense that we are in a master-slave relationship with God rather than with the loving Father who Jesus reveals to us at His Baptism.

In his book, Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, Dr. Paul C. Vitz, argues that disappointment in one’s earthly father, whether through death, absence, or mistreatment, frequently leads to a rejection of God. Vitz offers a biographical survey of influential atheists of the past four centuries showing his “defective father hypothesis,” which provides a consistent explanation of the intense atheism of these thinkers. Here we see that the way we view our earthly father impacts the way we perceive our Heavenly Father.

In the mid-1990s, David Blankenhorn wrote Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem. Blankenhorn’s thesis continues to manifest itself in the social science research of today. The National Fatherhood Initiative reports that 18.4 million children, that is 1 in 4 children, are without a biological, step or adoptive father in the home. Research also shows when a child is raised in a father-absent home, he or she is at four times greater risk of poverty and two times greater risk of infant mortality.

Likewise, the child is more likely to have behavioral problems, to commit a crime and go to prison. A daughter without a father is seven times more likely to become pregnant as a teen. They face more abuse and neglect, are more likely to abuse drugs, are two times more likely to be obese, and twice as likely to drop out of school.

In her book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, Dr. Meg Meeker shares sound and practical advice for fathers raising daughters. This book is must read for any father raising a daughter. Meeker argues how crucial the father is in the proper formation and emotional development of girls. The National Fatherhood Initiative reports that children with involved fathers have a strong foundation for child well-being with lower infant mortality, lower emotional and behavioral problems, lower rates of abuse, injury, obesity, poor school performance, teen pregnancy, incarceration, alcohol and substance abuse, and criminal activity and suicide.

On this Father’s Day, let us reach out to all those who serve and act as “fathers” in our lives. The social science statistics don’t lie. The simple presence of a father in the home makes all the difference in the world in the life of a child. This year, tell the fathers in your life how much they mean to you. Thank them for being there to provide, protect and love. We thank our brother, Jesus, for revealing the love of the Heavenly Father to each of us. This Father’s Day we echo the words of the Apostle Philip who says to Jesus, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” (John 14:8)

Happy Father's Day!

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