Yes, we have super-Dads like Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) who, in the film, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” exceeds our expectations of fatherhood. A widower and defense lawyer with two young and impressionable children, Atticus is devoted to them not only as father but also as a patient teacher.
In the television drama, “Blue Bloods,” Frank Reagan, played by Tom Selleck, is the Police Commissioner of the NYPD. Not only is he the beloved patriarch of the Reagan family but he has also earned the respect, admiration, and affection of his officers.
An Outstanding Father on Nightly News
A few years ago, Bret Baier, the Anchor of Fox Special Report, took a leave of absence when his infant son Paul underwent heart surgery. He and his wife remained at Paul’s bedside round the clock, and this experience only deepened their Catholic faith.
Despite their disabilities, wounded male veterans still manage to fulfill their roles as loving husbands and fathers. Long and arduous rehabilitation becomes a family project because facing the future alone, especially if it entails living without limbs or sight, is unthinkable. There is nothing more moving than to see young children help their struggling Dads move about their homes in new and limited modes of living. The actor and activist, Gary Sinise, also a wounded veteran, now assists other wounded veterans in a variety of ways. Married with four children, Sinise is a faithful Catholic.
Present State of Fatherhood
In this country, life without fathers is now established as a major social concern. More than 27 million children, four out of ten, live apart from their fathers, and half of them do not see them. In most TV sitcoms, if a father is present, he is portrayed as a bumbling, aloof, and unnecessary member of the family.
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.
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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. . . .