There is a great crisis of men and fathers in our country which is not being addressed. The number of fatherless-families and single mothers is ever increasing. An Anglican minister, Rev. Samuel Edwards, addressed this in a homily years ago. Here it is:
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Today, let us consider fathers and fathering. The secular calendar designates this as “Fathers’ Day” almost as an afterthought. This tells us more than we wish we knew about the regard in which fatherhood is held in much of contemporary western secular culture. That culture’s crisis of identity is almost defined by a widespread absence of understanding of what genuine fatherhood is and how essential it is to the health of all the institutions of society.
It is not as if the evidence of this is absent or sketchy: New confirmations of the value, not to say the necessity, of effective fathering and of the catastrophic consequences of its absence seem to be released almost monthly. To cite but one study of special interest to Christians, there is a direct correlation between the involvement of fathers in the life of their local congregation and the involvement of their children when they become adults: If neither parent is regularly involved, only 5% of their children will be. If only the mother is active, 15% of their children will be. However, if only the father is active, the percentage increases drastically – to 55%. (The best situation, of course, is when both parents are regularly involved. In this case, the percentage of adult involvement by their children is 85%.)
The reason for the dramatic gap between the consequences of father-only and mother-only attendance lies in something that I have mentioned here before: The different ways in which mothers and fathers influence their children. Mothers tend to be more influential in practical matters, while fathers are more influential in matters of identity. Psychologists call this “imprinting,” and put most simply, it means that we learn to deal with the world mostly from our mothers, but our sense of who we are in the world comes largely from our fathers. It is primarily the father’s role to show us who we are. However, if he does not know who he is – and that above all means his knowing whose he is – he is not going to be effective, at least not in the right way.
When Jesus says that he does only what he sees the Father doing, he is telling us something vitally important not just about genuine sonship, but about genuine fatherhood. Our children get their sense of what is really important not from what they hear their fathers saying, but from what they see their fathers doing.
Twenty years ago, Fr Weldon Hardenbrook wrote a book called, Missing from Action: Vanishing Manhood in America, in which he pointed to four types of false manhood that make for ineffective fathers, dysfunctional families, and rudderless, confused children. He called these types the macho-maniac, the great pretender, the wimp, and the gender blender (which today is called the “metrosexual”). None of these types presents a model of genuine, biblical manhood, and none of them can contribute to a family or church or society that is both just and humane, because each of them is focused, not on his mission as a man and a father, but on himself. None of them is a model for a genuine man of faith. One of the most important challenges of orthodox Christianity today is to take these males and turn them into men and fathers.
In addressing this challenge, we need to remember that, literally in the final analysis, only God is Father. The rest of us who have a fatherly role, whether in the family, the church, or the institutions of state and culture, have only a derived fatherhood. Only God is his fatherhood. The rest of us have the role, but how well we fill it is in direct proportion to our conformity to the Father.
There are two essential elements that characterize genuinely effective fatherhood: (1) Faith – belief in action –which is always allied with (2) godly and sacrificial love, which is the kind that Saint John speaks of in this morning’s epistle. Faith is what gives a father his power; sacrifice is what gives him his authority. These elements are seen in his active willingness to defend those in his charge “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” That is, his call is to “stand in the gap” and by the grace of God the Father to oppose and to repel and to defeat and to destroy not just those things which threaten the life and possessions of those societies he has been assigned to father but which would prevent the fulfillment of their God-given purpose to be schools of sanctity characterized by hope for the future and charity in the present.
These enemies, these threats, are not only outside, but within, and the state of warfare is constant so long as life shall last, even though at times there are lulls in the storm. The father, or father-figure, must fight not on one, or even two, but on three fronts. Not only must he oppose those destructive forces and persons which press upon his family or community from the outside, not only must he oppose the influences of those forces and persons on those within his gates (which often means he must tell them, “no, we’re not going to live like this”), he also must recognize and struggle with their influence within himself.
He will recognize that, by himself, he is not equal to the task. He will recognize that, if he is to punish wickedness and vice and to maintain true religion and virtue, he must begin with himself, even though he cannot by the terms of his role limit it to himself. He will recognize that ultimately, he must be in spirit and in truth who God has made him: If he pretends to be other than that, he will deceive neither God nor the devil nor, in the end, other people – only himself. He will recognize that he cannot abdicate his role as teacher and protector without surrendering his humanity and joining the other side, to the detriment of his calling to be an icon and true son of the one Father.
He also will recognize that, unlike the mythic macho-man, he needs the grace of God, mediated both through the sacraments and through the fellowship of other men of like nature with himself. He will know and live the truth expressed in today’s Collect that, due to “the weakness of our mortal nature, we can do no good thing without” God, and that therefore in order truly to love God – which means to keep his commandments – the help of God’s grace is indispensable. He will recognize that, if he means to stand on his feet in the battle, he must be on his knees before God in his heart.
Let us each this day pray for God to raise up men who know all of this and do thereafter, for truly they are men after God’s own heart, and through them will his Church, here and throughout the world, be renewed and extended. Indeed, to be a good father, one must rely on the grace of God--for that is the only foundation we can have that cannot be shaken by the storms of this life. May God grant each father that faith and trust in Him.BACK TO LIST