Russia’s New Social Project: Bring Back the Fathers

Slowly but surely, the large-scale social project to build up the family in Russia is turning to perhaps the most important question: the necessity for fathers to be fully involved in their children's upbringing

Editor's note: The gradual extinction of fathers in Russia in the aftermath of the Soviet Union has long been a topic of discussion. And while the issue of motherhood has been addressed consistently by state and social institutions in the past few years, the glaring lack of active fathers has been receiving less attention.

But slowly but surely, the large-scale social project to build up the family in Russia is turning to perhaps the most important question: the necessity for fathers to be fully involved in their children's upbringing. In Moscow, for example, free fatherhood courses are gaining popularity (watch for an article on the topic) and fathers are also allowed to take 'maternity' leave

The following interview, published on the official Russian Church site that deals with family issues, was translated by Kimberly Gleason.

It was given by a priest and a father of a large family, and unflinchingly represents the dire situation and begins to address how the idea of fatherhood should return to Russian society.

Today it has become fashionable to talk about motherhood. But if the concept of fatherhood is used, it is only used rarely, and it is usually taken for granted. We conversed with Archpriest Igor Valentinovich Pchelintsev. He is an experienced priest of the church, deputy director of the press-services of the Nizhny Novgorod diocese, a member of the Department for External Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, and a father with many children. In the name of the Vladimir and Oran Icons of the Mother of God, we want to find out:

What is important for modern fathers to know?

- Unfortunately, fatherhood as an idea has been somewhat pushed away recently. I can't say exactly when it happened. Maybe it happened in the Soviet period when the slogan, “All the best is from the mother” was strongly advanced, and a 'quiet' matriarchy was advocated. It might have seemed that there was nothing bad in this, but it led to the fall of men’s roles in family and society. Previously, all teachers in schools and universities were men, and the ones who taught trades were also men. Today, they are almost entirely women.

- Why?

- Maybe for the banal reason that there is not enough payment for work today. A man can't allow himself to take such a job, because he needs to feed his family. And maybe they were influenced by different feminist currents which circulated in the twentieth century, some of which presented man as a biological continuer of the species, nothing more. I don't know, but the result is evident. In Russia there are a lot of men, unfortunately, who 'found themselves' in a glass of alcohol or in some kind of “tramp” way of life, where there is no attachment to anything or anyone, and no supports. Because of this, they themselves aren't supporting a family, and fatherhood has ceased to be a motivating principle for them. I think that today not only adults are suffering from this, but to a greater measure the children are suffering as well.

I can confirm this from my own experience. I can hardly remember my own father. I was barely four years old when my parents divorced. And in my memory, there are only a few bright memories of my father's existence. When I think about my own son, who is now almost 12, I hope that he will have many more good memories, even though I am so busy that unfortuantely I cannot devote as much time to my family as desired. I leave early, return late, and I don't have even one day in the week, which I could dedicate in full to my family. This is an obvious disadvantage of my work. I even read somewhere that one boy from a priest's family once publicly announced, ”I want to be an orphan.” When they asked him why, he said such strange things. The boy said that his father watched over an orphanage, and that he devoted much more time to the orphans than to his own children.

This is wrong. I hope that my children don't suffer this way, even though they don’t get as much of their father’s attention as would be ideal.

You don't remember your father at all, and you didn't strive to see him in your childhood?

- My mother brought me up, and all the best that is in me is from her. But she worked a lot to support me, and she was often content that she could afford to keep me. God knows this could have ended, but as a matter of fact books saved me. Mom was able to inculcate a love of reading in me. I think that if I had fallen to life in the street, that would have been it, and I would have just fallen. Even though we often moved from city to city, I never made close friendships with children who lived life out on the street.

It seems to me that I didn't feel the absence of a father. The wish to find out about him appeared very late, when I was already sufficiently an adult, my personality fully formed. Because of this, the indissoluble connection between father and son, which is built up in childhood, was already destroyed. Still, I came to understand that he was an interesting, special, smart man. He and my mother were just not able to work things out as a family.

You know, it is a big mistake when a woman suddenly stops living with her husband, experiencing pain, insult, anger, and hatred for him, and then she tries to make the children her 'associates', making them feel the same way. I often use the term “negative publicity” to describe this. I am convinced that even if a woman suffers greatly, she should bear this suffering as her personal cross, not transmitting this to the child in any situation, especially if she is raising a daughter. Imagine what opinion the child will form about men in general, if the mother constantly impresses on her that her father is a traitor, a scoundrel, a deceiver, a rascal, and so on.

Not in any way do I have the right to judge my mother, who has already departed this earth, and whose spiritual wound was apparently very deep, but in our family that’s exactly how it worked. As a result, I formed a prejudice against my father, who I practically didn't know for 26 years. And when we met, I finally understood that this remarkable man was an advanced professional in his work, and that he worked very much for the benefit of his country. The whole history of his difficult, complex relationship with my mother was a row of so-called youthful mistakes. The two of them didn’t manage to bear one another’s failings, they didn’t work on personal repentance, and they didn’t manage to forgive one another.

Have you been able to correct the mistakes of your parents in your family? As the father, what are you for your children?

- Most likely - and this is bad - but I did not comprehend my role in the family as deeply as I should have. I couldn't correct the mistakes of my parents – and I probably made many more of my own. Nonetheless, I sincerely think it is important for children to have a father. He exists every day, always, even if he is busy and has little time. When I have an opportunity, I do my best to devote a free minute together with my children, even if it is simply to be near to each other. We watch movies, discuss things, and have conversations. I buy various books, and we read them in turn and then share our impressions. With such examples I can influence their intellectual environment, which makes me extremely happy.

Father-Priest” – this position is, most likely, a special place in the family. Is it a special, maybe a bit of a secret way of life?

- I can't judge this. You would need to ask my children what they think about their father being a priest, and how they regard this. It seems to me that it is peaceful. We don't have any special condition of life, a dictatorial setup, or any sort of stringently ruled family life in our family. The children are all different, and each has his own pursuits, normal, everyday, not only having to do with church.

More than all, my son has turned out to be the most advanced. Last summer we didn't travel like usual to vacation with his grandparents, and he often helped me serving in the altar. For him this was a completely new side of life. Even though he had come into the church before, it was one thing to be on one side of the iconostasis, and a totally different thing to be on the other side of it. Wearing the vestments, he really felt like an altar server, and it helped him to watch me in a different way. And then, on the way to church and back, there turned out to be more time for us to be together, to get to know each other and to communicate.

My daughters are almost adults. Juliana is a student in a linguistic university, and Liza is a senior. They already have their own life and their own pursuits, but my son is very attached to me. He is very happy when we go somewhere together, and I feel that for him this is really necessary.

We have a very democratic family way of life. Everyone lives according to their own schedule. Everyone gets up at different times, leaves at different times and returns. From the point of view of a patriarchal family, this is not exactly right, but for me it is most important with all the incongruence of rhythms of life, with different regimes, with everyone's shortcomings, that we do not lose the internal connection with each other. We are a family, and this, in my opinion, is most important.

You came to Orthodoxy when you were already a full grown man. Your children have been Orthodox, you say, from birth. Is oneness of faith a powerful uniting factor?

- That is completely right. But what an “Orthodox family” is, no one has yet explained. We go to church, do confession, take communion, pray. This, unquestionably, is what unites us, but each person experiences the Faith in a different, individual way.

And can faith, as in a religious confession, be a reason for the breaking up of a family?

- It can, of course. And this is a very serious question. For the last 10 years I have seen several families who were unhappy because of a division of faith. In modern society, where some people don’t consider religious values to be essential, if a husband and wife merely convert to some religious confession conventionally, then this difference doesn't stop them from living as one family long and happily. But the moment one of them begins to live their religious system internally – this often leads to tragedy.

In interfaith conflicts, the ones who suffer most are the children. Because of this, I ask all young people to think before losing their heads and throwing themselves into similar whirlpools of upheaval.

This is why truly religious people of traditional confessions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, endeavor to bind themselves in marriage with people of the same faith. This guarantees stability in family life. Unity of spirit is very important in a family, much more important than many other things.

What do you most of all wish for your children?

- That they would not bury their God-given talents in the ground, that they would not entomb them under layers of sloth, enduring unnecessary suffering and empty achievements, but on the contrary that they would nurture them, because it is important; it is one of the most important human tasks on earth.

And what do you wish for modern fathers?

- Most importantly – to love their children. In spite of the fact that they sometimes mess up. Love is unconditional.

And secondly, I want to appeal to both parents to appreciate their children. First of all, because they are different. Often in families, both in patriarchal families and the most liberal modern families, parents want for their child to be the way that they see him. Conflicts arise, and fates are divided. But it is very important to see that each child is a different, complete personality. And the parent's task is to teach this personality not to divide, but to create.

Translator: Kimberly Gleason

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