The Adventure of Fatherhood

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4/1/2009

What does it mean to be a father today, in a culture that sends very mixed messages about manhood? On prime-time television, we see bumbling dads unable to get through the day without help from their conniving wives and condescending kids. At the same time, advertising often presents an image of macho guys who have it all while drinking beer and getting girls.

Meanwhile, the high rates of marital breakup and single motherhood have placed fathers on the sideline of their children’s lives. Practices like in vitro fertilization and abortion further send the message that men are merely instruments in the conception and care of their offspring.

There is a great and tragic irony to all of this: As the role of fathers has been increasingly denigrated in popular culture, the vital importance of fathers has become clearer than ever. For example, children growing up without their father in the home are twice as likely to drop out of school, whereas half of all children with highly involved fathers in two-parent families report getting mostly high marks through 12th grade. In addition, kids in single-parent homes report higher rates of drinking, smoking, drug use, delinquency, aggression, early sexual experience and a host of other negative behaviors.

Clearly, now is the time for fathers to take a strong and active role in their families, yet many men suffer from a lack of direction and identity. They may have been put off by radical feminism or witnessed the divorce of their own parents, leaving them without a strong father figure and fearful of commitment. Or they may simply be unsure of how masculine virtues — and the instinct to protect and provide — play out in a modern, technological world.

Whatever the problem, help is available on a new Knights of Columbus Web site designed for men to live out a fulfilling fatherhood. Fathers for Good (www.fathersforgood.org) addresses the questions that are central to a man’s life: faith, family, finances, the economy, the domestic church, teens and sex, love and marriage, grace and God. All of these topics and more are covered on the site in a contemporary, yet decidedly Catholic, manner.

Think of the Fathers for Good site as a safe haven for fathers, an online community of men who can consider the quality of their fatherhood, ask questions, learn from experts, grow in their Catholic faith, gain guidance about life’s pressing problems and even communicate with one another through Facebook, the popular social networking site.

To emphasize the fact that a father cannot do his job well apart from his wife, there is also a section called “Good for Mothers,” where the theme is taken from former Notre Dame president Father Theodore Hesburgh: “The greatest gift a father can give his children is to love their mother.”

The central themes of this initiative are expressed in the name Fathers for Good, which has two related meanings:

1. Every man, deep down and amid his flaws, wants to be a good father, to make a positive contribution to the lives of his wife and children, even if he has to struggle all his life to do so.

2. Once a man becomes a father, once he contributes to the creation of new life, there is no turning back. He is a father for good, with the responsibilities that go with it.

The good news is that God is with us, in our troubles and our joys, if we allow him to lead. Fatherhood is not something alien to the male soul; it is written into the heart of every man. While no earthly father will ever be like our Father in heaven, God does give certain graces to men who accept and embrace the vocation to fatherhood.

This call demands that a man develops virtues allowing him to defend, to sacrifice, to lead and to nurture new life. Learning to be a good father, in short, means learning to love. The problem many families face today may be rooted in a misunderstanding of love, which is not simply emotion, sex or sentiment. Love, in fact, is a guy thing. It is the settled determination to do what is best for another person in all circumstances, no matter the sacrifice. As Jesus said the night before he died: “Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13).

This is a marching order for fathers. What better “friends” do we have than our wife and children? What greater goal is there than to be the father they deserve?

Brian Caulfield is a communications specialist for the Knights of Columbus and editor of Fathers for Good. He is a past grand knight of Holy Family Council 8882 in New Haven.