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Father’s Day approaches. You know how I can tell? I watch very little television but when I have over the past week or two I’ve seen a huge increase in hardware store and power tool commercials. Or food commercials with witty taglines such as “Men: Difficult to Understand but Easy to Feed.”
Yes, it’s Father’s Day. So just give me my can of Simoniz, a steak and a new socket wrench. Because, you know, that’s really all I need.
What a load of crap. Real men, not the cartoonish men who unfortunately exist in smaller numbers but are magnified in the minds of the women they’ve spurned and who now influence Madison Avenue, are too busy for such nonsense. We fill our days working to provide for our loved ones, protecting them, and praying for them.
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However, I acknowledge that far too many of us have failed. Big time. Here are just a few of the ways in which we have failed and the effects of said failures:
- Fatherless Generation: Today, 98% of youth whose father does not attend Mass with the family will also abandon their faith once they leave home. In addition, regardless of neighborhood, a startling 40% of children are being raised without their biological fathers. This does not account for divorce or absent fathers. The devastating effect of fatherlessness cannot be underestimated and has already taken its toll on a generation.
- Promiscuity: Chastity is just one of many forgotten virtues. In a 2005 nationwide survey, 46.8% of polled high school students had had sexual intercourse. Another survey found 90% of 8-16 year olds had viewed pornography online. The average age for first exposure is 11.
- False Identities: Many young men grow up in environments that suggest power, prestige and promiscuity equate to manhood. These false identities need to be exposed and replaced with truth. Only Jesus Christ reveals true manhood.
- Fidelity to God’s Call: All are called to holiness, but many miss this call due to the above factors. In 2008, 83% of Catholic males polled said they have never considered becoming a priest or a religious brother.
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In an article today at First Things, the Archbishop of Los Angeles Jose Gomez writes:
Some years back, Stephen Gabriel’s A Father’s Covenant, a book aimed at young fathers, came out. The book consists of a series of aphorisms and promises for fathers to meditate on to help them grow in their relationships with their children, their wives, and God. These promises range from the solemn to the funny, and one made me laugh out loud: “I will play Chutes and Ladders with enthusiasm!” It reminded me of my childhood; it was a game my father used to play with my sisters and me all the time. But there is real wisdom in that promise.
It’s a promise to be faithful to the vocation of being a father. Even after a long day of work, even if he’d rather be doing something else—instead he will smile and laugh and take delight in spending time and playing games with his kids. Because that’s what fathers do. They keep their promise to love.
[Confession: I’ve never played Chutes and Ladders. My young daughter instead takes a fiendish delight in clobbering me at Candyland on a regular basis.]
In one of the most well-known and beloved chapters of the Bible in which we learn that “the greatest of these is love”, St. Paul said something else very important and obviously overlooked by many males:
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13:11)
I love this video. It is a clarion call to what being a man and a father is all about.
Too many men have not given up their childish ways and it’s killing our society. One of the many good answers as to what to do to combat this failure was presented by Pope Pius XII in Educating the Whole Man:
“Let them [young men] learn, therefore, and let them show by their conduct that they have learned how gentlemen ought to act: let their appearance and their dress be what it ought to be; let their words be truthful and let them be true to their words; when they have given a promise, let them keep it; let them be ever the master of their every movement and their every word; let them show respect for all, disturbing no man in the peaceful possession of his own rights; let them bear unpleasantness graciously, be courteous always; then they will do what is most important of all, they will keep God’s commandments. You know very well that this whole structure of so-called natural virtues is lifted up to the dignity of the supernatural life, and that this is especially true when a man sets out to cultivate these natural virtues precisely for this purpose that he might become a good Christian.”
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One night a few weeks ago my oldest son was in a talking mood. Specifically he wanted to talk about books. So I stood in front of three of our overfilled bookcases and tried to answer what I could.
When my 16-year old was four I decided to build a library by purchasing books from Easton Press’s “100 Greatest Books Ever Written” series. They sent a list of the 100 and allowed you to order only those you wanted and then deliver an edition to you every three months for as long as it took. I selected around 86 of the books and it took almost nine years for all the books to arrive, one by one every two months. The initial volume was Moby Dick. Nolan used to crawl into bed with me and we’d lie on our stomachs with our pillows under our chests and I’d read to him from Melville’s great novel. There are few illustrations but he of course loved the one of the whale itself.
I decided to build this library as a legacy for my children. I wrote of this process in the post called Monuments. I do enjoy having them and reading from them, too, and they are supplemented by many more from Easton, the Folio Society, online booksellers and of course local stores. I have plans to build two large oak bookcases upstairs in our living room so I can ease the strain on the three downstairs and clear up some of the little stacks I have around the house. I have also begun the process of sorting through them and boxing up those that I no longer need and will be donating them to a book re-seller here in town.
So back to that night. I’m proud of the fact that Nolan has continued to be a voracious reader. A few years after Moby Dick he did as millions of children (and adults) did and devoured each Harry Potter book. From there he just took off on his own. But by the age of 14 he’d read many of the classics and continues to do so. Like his father he has developed an affinity for Russian literature: Doesteyevsky, Turginev, and a little Gogol. I’ve still not got him to love Dickens as I do, but our shared love of J.R.R. Tolkien and Michael O’Brien more than make up for this. On this evening we discussed Plato, Flannery O’Connor, and the 19th century Russians. When he went to bed I sat in a chair by our bookcases for awhile and read a little from another favorite, Henry Van Dyke. As I closed the little volume and looked at all the books I’ve yet to read I was taken aback by a smallish wave of melancholy. For the first time it dawned on me that I may not read many of these books. I’m only 44 and plan on living at least a few decades yet, but…well, you know. We don’t know.
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Am I perfect? Good grief, no. I have failed and will continue to fail many times. I never claimed I was perfect or that I never make mistakes. But I persevere. Until the hour that my time does run out on this earth I will continue to do as I’ve tried my best to do: care for, earn for, give for, and pray for those with whom I am charged by God to do so. For my wife and my children, but also for my parents, family and friends. I do these things through private, individual prayer. And then I join in the communal prayers of the Church and pray for the world. I will continue to promote reading, education, an ethic of work and play.
I will continue to play Candyland with enthusiasm.
I will keep my promise to love.
Happy Father’s Day.