Saturday, September 24, 2011

Christian Fatherhood

Little baby Beyer at 13 weeks, 1 day
I'm happy to be able to say that my wife and I are expecting our first child. It's a strange thing, being an expectant father--to know that one has produced a new life and, at the same time, to have that life remain hidden from view. That is to say, I know I have a child, but, not having met him/her, it's a very abstract and theoretical kind of knowledge.

Expectant mothers, on the other hand, begin being affected in very tangible ways very early on. It's kind of amazing how quickly and to what degree a new mother begins to be affected in every way possible. Of course, the new baby has affected me too, but only in a sort of indirect, "I'd be happy to run to the store at 4am to get you a cinnabon," kind of way. In other words, it seems like my role as an expectant father has little to do with the child, except in an indirect way, insofar as I am responsible for caring for its mother.

All of this makes me wonder whether there's something to the fact that motherhood seems to come along gradually, as the baby grows, growing and affecting its mother more and more over time, while fatherhood hits you all of a sudden in the delivery room.

In some ways, I think it's true that my wife has been a mother since we conceived, but I won't really be a father until the baby is born. This turns out to be more than just a feeling of mine, too. Apparently, when the baby is born, it will already recognize its mothers voice, but won't recognize mine over anyone else's for quite some time. I think this speaks to the fact that real fatherhood has to be earned.

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." This is the beginning of all faith, the foundation on which all religion lies. Everything that is receives its being, more or less directly, from the first cause of all things, God. This makes him our Lord. But Christ teaches us to call him "Abba, Father." Could we rightly do that if, in good Deist fashion, he had simply created a machine that would run its course while he observed from afar?

It is true that God is the Other, infinitely transcendent. Scripture tells us, "His greatness is unsearchable," (Ps. 145:3). Yet, because all being proceeds from him, everything that is bears his mark, as it were--participates, shares in his ultimate Being, otherwise it would not be. This is the sense in which God is "all in all," for "in him we live and move and have our being," (Acts 17:28). "In the words of Saint Augustine, God is 'higher than my highest and more inward that my innermost self.' With creation, God does not abandon his creatures to themselves. He not only gives them being and existence, but also, and at every moment, upholds and sustains them in being, enables them to act and brings them to their final end," (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 300-301).

The reality, then, looks something like this:

God creating ex nihilo and of his own free will, yet eternally, even though that Creation happens in time.

It is God's act of Creation which makes him our Lord and God. It his continual act of sustaining that Creation from within, that makes him our Father. Our God interacts with his children on a daily basis, sustaining us moment-by-moment, giving us everything we need to succeed. For that matter, giving us everything he is, in Christ, allowing his entire existence to revolve around his beloved children.

Human fatherhood, then, imitating the Divine Fatherhood, sticks around. True Fatherhood lasts a lifetime. It is a gift of self to one's wife and children, a gift of self without reservation, a gift "unto death, even death on a  cross," (Phil. 2:8). This gift is given, not primarily out of a sense of moral responsibility, though this is necessary, but out of love, a love which is action in the family and in the world, day in and day out.


  1. Just wait til that baby pops out. Your whole worldview will turn over. For me it was like going from larva to butterfly in 2 seconds.

    Even after the child is born, the mother maintains a different relationship with it than the father; their investment is so different.

    I've always been a bit jealous of women that they can grow another person inside themselves.

    "It his continual act of sustaining that Creation from within, that makes him our Father"

    "My Father is working still, and I am working."

    Is that diagram your handiwork?

  2. Hey there was an article about the Decembrists in yesterday's Wall Street Journal.

  3. Exactly. So many fathers talk about a similar experience. I didn't put it in the post, but I've been thinking the separation between father and child which occurs at pregnancy is probably a result of sin. I think it can be seen as analogous to the separation that occurred between God and his People before they were "reborn" into him in Baptism with the coming of Christ.

    This may be part of why the Church looks upon the Baptism of Our Lord so highly. The understanding is after being baptized himself and thus elevating the rite to a Sacrament, he turns around and baptizes John and everyone else. God looking down and saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," sounds so much to me like a proud father in a delivery room.

    And yeah, I just threw something together real fast.

  4. I looked up that article. It's about Colin Meloy's new children's book that we're actually in the middle of reading right now.

  5. First of all: Congratulations. I know my husband went through a lot of similar emotions when we were expecting and also afterwards. I was a breastfeeding mama so our son was pretty dependent on me. But now as he is 2 1/2 he and his father are growing really close. There is a special bond between them and I know that the both really cherish every moment they spend together. So trust me when I say that there will come a time when only Daddy will do.

  6. Thank you very much. Yeah, the pregnancy books that even stop to consider the father usually mention that pregnancy, especially early on, can be especially hard on the dad. I can say that it hasn't exactly been upsetting, just strange.

    We were really lucky too, in a way. We've had sonograms every 2 weeks since we found out, which has been incredibly helpful, being able to see it happen in front of your eyes. It's definitely helped me make a connection in a way I don't think most expectant fathers would be able to.

  7. Your diagram reminds me of how I explain God and Time to my 6th-graders:

  8. I was looking for hints of June Hymn in the pictures of the house.

  9. Oh, in the Journal article. It took me a while to figure out what you were talking about.

    I see, yeah, there are some echoes of their home in the song. It's important to remember, though, that though imagery in art is always drawn from the artist's own experience of the world, art is never biographical. The substance of a work of art must be imaginary, though the specific elements of that imaginal vision are drawn from the world of the artist.

    This is why those who would suggest the first and most important element in the interpretation of a work of art is the study of the artist's historical and biographical situation. These things can give one understanding about particular details and imagery in the work, but the work of art should be studied as it is in itself, not via the artist.

  10. The father's role is so critical in the foundation and future lives or our kids. We've been reading a great new, actually renewed book, I think all dads would enjoy. Great for all dads of daughters. We're loving it, so I have to share... It's called “She Calls Me Daddy: 7 Things You Need to Know About Building a Complete Daughter,” by Robert Wolgemuth. Originally released in the 90s, it was a best seller. His girls are grown up and give their own input along with their husbands who are daddies to girls. I understand 40% of the book is new material. It's so unique in this way. Robert puts the anxieties of Daddy raising his girl(s) to rest, guiding you through challenges and good times – protecting, conversation, affection, discipline, laughter, faith, conduct. So great for helping daddies learn to lead, love and cherish. I highly recommend it!


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