Editor’s Note: This column is adapted from the introduction to the new book titled Man to Man, Dad to Dad: Catholic Faith and Fatherhood, which was published June 1 by Pauline Books & Media.
“Congratulations, you’re a father!” Hearing those words for the first time is a transformative moment in a man’s life, and for many of us, it marked our passage into a new world of love, joy and responsibility. Holding that little life in your hands, and seeing some small reflection of yourself in the eyes of your child, is a life-changing experience. And by the time that baby wraps a hand around your finger and holds on for dear life, you know you’re in this for keeps.
The joys of fatherhood are many, yet today there exist many questions and uncertainties about the role of a father in the life of his children and family. What does it mean to be a man and a father in a time when some even question the need for a father? We have few guides in this new world of easy divorce, widespread single motherhood and women who choose children alone through sperm donors, in-vitro fertilization or adoption. With these and other seismic changes in the relations between the sexes, in what way can we men be valued for our unique masculine strengths and virtues? How does our Catholic faith fit into this picture when, on an average Sunday in the average parish, we see more women than men in the pews?
The last thing a man wants to do in this situation is feel sorry for himself. That would be self-defeating, and tears in your beer don’t make it taste any better. Yes, perhaps you deserve a medal for navigating the crooked paths of our culture and emerging with your masculinity and sanity mostly intact. But for all your efforts at balancing family and work, diapers and deadlines, manhood and feminine achievement, the most you are likely to get for a job well done is more work.
But maybe that’s enough. For men willing to invest the effort, there are opportunities today for blazing a new path.
Much has been written about the “Greatest Generation,” our fathers and grandfathers who grew up during the Great Depression and served during World War II. The men of that time are presented as unreachable icons called to higher duties, who gave or risked their lives to make the world safe for freedom. Many were heroes, with larger-than-life exploits.
Just because we can’t repeat that glorious past doesn’t mean we should count ourselves out. Today, by our actions and decisions, and under very different family, social and political conditions, we can make another greatest generation. Although we live in a culture that tends not to prize heroism, we have a chance to stand against the tide and be true men of virtue. We can be quietly but insistently countercultural in the way we live and relate to others, particularly in our duties as husbands and fathers.
In a society that is wedded to the escape hatch of divorce, we can honor our vows, “for better, for worse ... till death do us part.” In a day when so many use abortion as a backup for contraception, we can cherish every human life as we respect all women, especially our wives. While science puts forth a “brave new world” of reproductive options, we can embrace the marriage act as the natural and exclusive means to bring new life into the world.
If you’re a man who has faith even the size of a mustard seed, there is a path for your marriage and your fatherhood that leads to the greatest satisfaction a person can have in this world: the grace and accomplishment of finding your vocation. This true fatherhood is a call from God the Father to be a dad, not just in name, but also in deed. Let us embrace the adventure.
BRIAN CAULFIELD is editor of the website Fathers for Good, an initiative for men by the Knights of Columbus.