The Drama and the Dilemma of Fatherhood

Toward the end of his international best-seller, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope John Paul II makes the startling comment that original sin is, above all, an attempt “to abolish fatherhood”.  Tradition teaches that our primal parents’ first sin was one of disobedience and pride.  This is correct, but describes the disposition of Adam and Eve.  When we look at the object of their offense, God Himself, we see that their sin is against His Fatherhood.

According to the serpent, by abolishing fatherhood and the authority it contains, Adam and Eve would be free of all restrictions and become gods themselves.  Tradition also teaches that this Original Sin led directly to a Fall of catastrophic proportions.

The attempt to abolish fatherhood continues unabated in our present age.  On the cover flap of his much discussed and highly controversial book, The Golden Compass, author Philip Pullman writes:  “My sympathies definitely lie with the tempter.  The idea is that sin, the Fall, was a good thing.  If it had never happened we would still be puppets in the hands of the Creator.”  Pullman’s intentions could not be more clear:  “I am all for the death of God.”  “My books are about killing God.”  “I am of the Devil’s party and I know it.”  Pullman names the principal evil in The Golden Compass, “the Authority”.

In other contemporary circles, the opposition to fatherhood may not be as graphic as it is in Pullman’s writing, but it is still there and operates with sinister effectiveness.  In an article entitled, “Deconstructing the Essential Father,” that appeared in the June 1999 issue of American Psychologist, Louise B. Silverstein and Carl F. Auerbach argue that fatherhood is dangerous:  “We see the argument that fathers are essential as an attempt to reinstate male dominance by restoring the dominance of the traditional nuclear family with its contrasting masculine and feminine gender roles.

Like the serpent, these two academics believe that the authority of the father is intolerably domineering and stifling.  On the other hand, there is no lack of writers and thinkers who speak in behalf of the critical importance of fatherhood.  Psychiatrist Fred Goodwin, head of the Center on neuroscience at George Washington University, states:  “The absence of fathers is the biggest single predictor of antisocial behavior.”  Even Sigmund Freud, not exactly a friend to Christianity, affirmed the indispensable importance of fatherhood when he said, “I could not point to any need in childhood as strong as that for a father’s protection.”

David Blankenhorn, whose book we cited earlier (Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Problem), shows how present American society disparages the fatherhood that it so vitally needs.  He argues that fatherlessness is the most harmful demographic trend of the current generation:   the leading cause of the declining well-being of children;  the engine driving our most urgent social problems, from crime to adolescent pregnancy to child sexual abuse to domestic violence against women.  Despite massive social problems that fatherlessness has created, he informs us, a concerted effort is being made to “deculture” paternity.  Our society is not content with the vilification of fatherhood;   it also want to abolish it.

John Paul II has taken great pains, throughout his “Theology of the Body” to make it clear that God’s plan for human fatherhood is far different than the distorted image of fatherhood that is the direct result of Original Sin.  “From the beginning,” according to Genesis 1:27, man and woman were destined to enjoy a two-in-one-flesh union that is an image of the Trinity.  As a result of Original Sin, man and woman suffered a wound.  In Genesis 3:16 we read:  “Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.”

This notion of the husband ruling over his wife represents a form of domination.  As John Paul explains, this unacceptable comportment also affects a man’s fatherhood and cries out for redemption.  Thus, men are faced with a dramatic choice.  They can either adapt to the broken image of man and fatherhood or be transformed in accordance with God’s original plan.

Marxist feminists and others have seized upon this notion of male domination and concluded that all men oppose women.  They then urge the “deconstruction” and “deculturation” of fatherhood in the interest of producing a genderless society in which there can be no possibility of male oppression.  Such a revolution, however, if it could be brought about, would mean the end of both fatherhood and motherhood.  What these revolutionaries fail to understand is that fatherhood is of indispensable significance and should not be rejected and replaced, but redeemed and restored.

The Fatherhood of God is a role model for the fatherhood of man.  God the Father is surely in a position of authority.  After all, he both authored as well as authorized creation.  But His Authority is inseparable from His Love.  So too, a father must rule with love so that his guidance is directed to what is best for his children.  Moreover, he uses his authority in the interest of freedom, but freedom properly understood as the freedom to do what is good.

If one loves his father, he will abide by his rules.  As we noted earlier, the respect one has for rules naturally flows from the respect one has for the ruler.  Such respect is engendered when a child sees his father as loving him and leading him to a better life.  An anecdote from the world of sports well illustrates this point.

A pitcher, toiling in the Minor Leagues, injured his pitching arm so severely that it destroyed any hope of his making it to the Big Leagues.  Rather than retire from the game he loved, he learned how to throw a pitch that put very little stress on his damaged arm.  He taught his two sons how to throw this unusual pitch, that players call the “knuckleball”.  In time, both his sons, utilizing this unorthodox pitch, made it to the Majors.  In fact, they became stars.  On the last game of the regular season in 1985, Phil, then 46 years old, became the oldest hurler every to pitch a complete game shutout.  After this victory, the three hundredth of his illustrious career, he dodged reporters and flew to a mid-western hospital where his father was recovering in intensive care.  He placed the ball he had thrown to strike out the final batter in his father’s hand.  “This is for you, dad, because you taught me to throw the knuckler.”

Phil Niekro is now in the Hall of Fame.  Together, he and his brother, Joe, won more Major League games than any other brother tandem.  But there can be no doubt that their love for baseball and the proper rules for throwing a knuckleball proceeded from their love for their father.

Fatherhood may be wounded and under attack.  But there is hope for its restoration.  It has been said that the best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.  It has also been said that the best thing a mother can do for her children is repeatedly to introduce their father to them as a great man.

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About the Author

Dr. Donald DeMarco is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, St. Jerome’s University, Waterloo, Ontario; a Visiting Scholar, Holy Apostles College and Seminary; a Distinguished Visiting Teacher, St. Hyacinth College, Granby, Massachusetts; Faculty Member at: Catholic Bible College of Canada; St. Joseph’s College, Edmonton; Mater Ecclesiae, Rhode Island; Domus Mariae, Rhode Island; John Paul II Institute, Melbourne, Australia; and a Lecturer for the Sisters of Mary Immaculate, Cambridge, Ontario. He is the author of 21 books, including, How to be Virtuous in a Not-So-Virtuous World with Fr. Bill McCarthy, MSA (Los Angeles, CA: Queenship, 2007); several hundred articles in scholarly journals and in anthologies, and articles and essays appearing in other journals and magazines and in newspapers; and innumerable book reviews in a variety of publications. His education includes: B.S. Stonehill College, North Easton, MA 1959 (General Science); A.B. Stonehill College, 1961 (Philosophy); Gregorian University, Rome, Italy, 1961-2 (Theology); M.A. St. John's University, Jamaica, NY, 1965 (Philosophy); and Ph.D. At. John's Univ., 1969 (Philosophy). His Master's dissertation was "The Basic Concept in Hegel's Dialectical Method" and his Doctor’s dissertation was "The Nature of the Relationship between the Mathematical and the Beautiful in Music". He is married to Mary Arendt DeMarco and they have five children.

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1 Comment

  1. Dr. DeMarko, Thank you for another very insightful piece on fatherhood. You point out the evil of the world that is trying to undermine Fatherhood and the negative consequences we are experiencing as a society growing up without a loving fathers influence. We live in a culture that has very neatly separated itself from God and God’s love and it seems to be working to program in us an understanding of love that is separated from God. Your article seems to focus on fatherhood from a Christian worldview. Those who are trying to undermine fatherhood are pointing to that version of it that expresses itself from a secular worldview.

    I think we must be careful to notice that we live in a society with two completely different understandings of what fatherhood is and how it affects children. From the perspective of the Silverstein and Auerbach, in some sense they are right. Fatherhood that is stripped of divine love and replaced with secular love tends to create a father that is self centered, domineering, and can be seen as manipulating and controlling. I’m not sure how Adam could see this in God) The secular father has a much different effect on the development of children than the ideals of a Christian father. Although both types of fathers play an important and beneficial role in society I believe that they are miles apart in the long term effects they have in the development of our children.

    When one speaks of fatherhood in our increasingly secular culture I think we should be cautious to distinguish the difference between these two types of Fathers. The church is calling us to a fatherhood of divine love. This divine love helps guide us in being the type of father you outlined in your article “The Meaning of Fatherhood”. In being a father in God’s divine love we promote connectivity in a sense that get our children to plug into the conduit of life by teaching them a love that teaches them to give unselfishly of themselves in kindness, humility, courtesy, good temper, etc. The Christian father’s expression of divine love is self donative and models self discipline, self sacrifice and virtue. Most importantly the Christian father’s divine love inspires his children toward greatness through virtuous living.

    I’m not sure how this type of fatherhood can translate to secular society nor how it can be achieved outside the graces of the church. I would like to see the Church more clearly define the role of fatherhood in term of how it needs to be structured in divine love as compared to worldly love in line with what you outlined in your previous article. I think we as a society lack a clear understanding of the difference between divine love and secular love and how these loves translates themselves into important role of life such as fatherhood. In my own life I have been struggling to find a good real world witness of Christian fatherhood, and a deeper understanding of what it should look like.

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