The high cost of absentee fathers is reflected in school dropouts, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, nefarious behavior against teachers in public schools, and crime and violence in the streets. Father-absence contributes to social problems, emotional dereliction, male aggression, and low academic achievement. Some have blamed the collapse of the father-figure on the Freudian Oedipus-complex.
Millions of children have fathers who are physically present but emotionally absent. These numbers have increased with the growing number of premarital births and a continuing high divorce rate. Divorce is no longer the main reason that children do not grow up with both of their parents. In recent years, divorce has declined, but single parenthood has increased.
As yet, we do not have firm numbers on those fathers who are addicted to drugs, alcohol, gambling, or pornography. Today there are more idle or unemployed men than at any time since the Great Depression. This is partly due to issues in the work place. If fatherlessness were classified as a disease, it would be an epidemic and a national emergency.
While super-Dads exceed our expectations, derelict fathers debase their exalted vocation. Discussions about women having it all and all at once are a fallacy. Most women cannot conceive children, give birth to them, and raise and support them without the presence of a loving father in the home. It must be said however that single mothers try doing it all the time.
The Biblical Father-God
In his book, The God of Jesus Christ, Walter Kasper writes that “the relation of father-child is not only an inalienable aspect of being human, but it also cannot be replaced by other relations; father is a primal word in the history of humanity and religion. It cannot be replaced by another concept and cannot be translated into another concept” (138). The same holds true of the mother-child relationship. Father and mother are primary words incapable of being reduced or replaced.
God, the mystery beyond all mysteries, transcends gender and human language. Nonetheless, the Divine I-AM-The ONE Who IS is revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures as Adonai, (Lord), Melech (King), Avinu (Our Father). These are figurative and not literal ways of speaking about the source and creator of the cosmos.
Jesus and His Father
In the Christian Scriptures, Jesus addresses his Abba, the intimate form of his very dear Father, connoting their intimate relationship. When did Jesus pray to his Father? He prayed before making a decision, after apostolic work, before the Lord’s Prayer, in Gethsemane, and on the cross (Lk 6; 12; 5:15-16; 11:1; Lk 2:41; 23:34, 46). In the Johannine Gospel alone, the Father is mentioned about 110 times. What did the Father mean to Jesus? The Gospel’s entire Chapter 17 expresses their mutual love in which men and women are invited to share. If the word Father is purged from the Gospels and liturgical language, then the Trinitarian dogma collapses, God the Father is dead, Jesus Christ is his Only Son, Christianity collapses as does Catholicism.
The biblical belief in the Fatherhood of men and women has been revealed to us. Jesus taught his disciples to pray “The Lord’s Prayer” beginning with the verse,“ Our Father, who art in heaven.” As we pray, so we believe; as we believe so we pray. Without the Fatherhood of God, how do we begin our prayers? ‘In the name of the ( ),’ ‘Glory be to the ( ) and to the Son (whose Son?) and to the Holy Spirit?’ “The Father must be the addressee of praise, thanksgiving, and petition” (Kasper, 155-6). The Eucharistic sacrifice is addressed to the Father, and Christians are baptized in the name of the Father. . . .
The Odyssey: Telemachus
(Column continues below)
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In Homer’s Odyssey, there is a touching moment between Odysseus (Lat. Ulysses) and his son Telemachus, who is determined to find out what has happened to his father who left home to fight in the Trojan War when his son was still a baby. Telemachus has yearned for a lifelong relationship with his father.
In Crisis of Manliness by Walter Newell observes that too many boys today are like Telemachus who long for a father who will nurture and guide them through a hard world.
Many boys are from broken homes and are forced at a very early age to be their mother’s protector from oppressive men. At the same time, they struggle to bring themselves up in a way that would make their absent fathers proud of them. Each year Newell tells his students the story of Telemachus and his father in Homer’s Odyssey. As the narrative advances, the classroom grows silent because his students realize that they are Telemachus. Part of the dialogue is given below:
“Sir,” said Telemachus, “as regards your question, so long as my father was here it was well with us and with the house, but the gods, in their displeasure, have willed it otherwise and have hidden him away more closely than mortal man was ever yet hidden. . . .”
“And Ulysses said, “I am no god; why should you take me for one? I am your father on whose account you grieve and suffer so much at the hands of lawless men.”
As Telemachus spoke, Ulysses kissed his son, and a tear fell from his cheek on to the ground, for he had restrained all tears till now. But Telemachus could not yet believe that it was his father, and said: