Fathers are heroes. A father who is living his vocation shows what it means to be a fulfilled man by giving himself away in love for his wife and children. He follows the model of Jesus Christ pouring himself out for his bride, the church, and giving his life for us.
Fathers protect, provide, teach, encourage and ennoble. These are essential parts of the mission of fathers. Fathers model to their sons what it means to be a man; they are also essential to the development of their daughters’ sense of identity and their success in life. Fathers’ church attendance and active religious involvement is hugely impactful on whether their children will keep the faith when they grow up.
I turned to three experts on Catholic fatherhood to help illuminate this high calling. The first was my own husband, Nathan Bartel. Here is an excerpt from the interview that took place at our kitchen counter late one night.
“Help!” I said, “I want to write an article about fatherhood and masculinity, but I’m a woman. What do men need to hear?”
“Boys and men need to be challenged to take up real responsibility and commitment,” he said. He thinks young men today are reluctant to take on the self-giving sacrifice of fatherhood. S. Michael Craven, writing for The Christian Post, agrees: “During the colonial period in America men defined themselves by their level of community involvement and fatherhood. Marriage and fatherhood were seen as being among the highest aspirations in a man’s life. Today the highest aspirations of men seem to be career success and personal leisure.”
The second expert I called was Brian Kraut, director of marriage and family life (and of many other areas!) for the Diocese of Spokane.
“Challenge men to be fathers to a fatherless generation,” Brian Kraut told me, when I asked him what message to share with Catholic men.
With the crisis of fatherhood in our culture, so many boys and girls grow up without a biological father. As an extension of their mission of fatherhood to their own children, Catholic dads can look for ways to be a father figure for young people who don’t have one. One especially powerful part of the mission God gives fathers is to lead their children to faith. That is why the crisis of fatherhood in our culture is linked to the steep rise in atheism, as authors such as psychologist Paul Vitz have pointed out.
Brian discussed how men being father figures to fatherless children can have a big impact on their spiritual life. “Maybe God wants to use us to be that person to bring someone back to the faith,” he said.
The third expert I consulted was St. John Paul II (through his writings). He reflected on the theme of fatherhood often, such as in this passage from the 1982 encyclical on the family, Familiaris Consortio: “In revealing and reliving on earth the very fatherhood of God, a man is called upon to ensure the harmonious and united development of all the members of the family: he will perform this task by exercising generous responsibility for the life conceived under the heart of the mother, by a … commitment to education, a task he shares with his wife … and by means of the witness he gives of an adult Christian life which effectively introduces the children into the living experience of Christ and the Church.”
Many thanks to all you great Catholic men and fathers out there! You make a world of difference.