Recovering Fatherhood - What Must a Man Do?

The main thing here is faith and piety. The family is the church. The father of the family is the head of this church. Let him keep it pure. To define and uphold the method and time of prayers at home is up to him. Finding ways to educate the family in the faith is up to him. The religious life of everyone is on him; it is for him to enlighten and strengthen them.

I had intended to begin my thoughts on the concept of "fatherhood" and its loss by modern society with a biblical quotation on the subject, as befits a priest. However, I will refer to the quotations in question later, and I will begin with a source more understandable to the modern reader — an Internet search engine.

In Yandex (similar to Google), when typing the word “motherhood”, 10 million links are found. But if you type the term “paternity”, then the result will be only 2 million links.

No, the problem is not that the second digit is five times smaller. The problem is that 95% of the links found under “paternity” imply a specific DNA test. I don't cite this example by chance — in the consciousness of our society the role of the father is reduced to a minimum. He helps to produce children and is, at best, a breadwinner for the family. And if society is interested in the problem of paternity, it is only in the context of biological identity.

Our Heavenly Father and Earthly "Fathers"

This situation is not accidental, and in principle, it is not new. It is caused by the human consciousness corrupted in the fall. Man, if he recognized the existence of God, ceased to see the Father in Him. And hence the loss of the true concept of fatherhood. Metropolitan Amphilochius (Radovich) in his book “Man - Bearer of Eternal Life” reminds us why the theme of the relationship of Heavenly Father and Son is central to the New Testament Gospel:

The God-man Christ reveals His Father and Our Father. He reveals the relationship of the Father and Son as the long forgotten relationship of God with man, and man with man. Therefore, the Church of the God-Man, the Church of the Only-Begotten, is the Church of our Father, and the Church of the Holy Fathers.

Adam and Eve, in their betrayal of the Heavenly Father, in their striving for self-deification and power over the world, pushed their descendants onto the path of godlessness, fatherlessness, and tyrannical authority. Vladyka Amphilochius continues,

Christ, the new Adam, with the kiss of the Cross, fulfilled the will of His Father, became the Parent and the Resurrector, the Teacher of the new humanity, united in the unity of the Father's Begotten, Uncreated Life and Love, that is, united in the Father through the Son and the Holy Spirit. By his example, there were prophets, apostles, and saints who understood authority, power, fatherhood, leadership, the upbringing of a person not as violence and tyranny, but as a godmother surrounding him with love  — love that does not exalt ... does not seek its own (1 Cor. 13:4–5), but is crucified with Christ’s crucifixion. 

Thus, the basis of fatherhood is sacrificial love. Christ calls us to love one another, and this call is most relevant in our own families.

Spiritual Aspects of Fatherhood

Speaking about the qualities necessary in a father in relation to the family, I will cite the words of St. Theophan the Recluse on the spiritual aspects of fatherhood. The saint reminds the father that he is the head of the house and must, above all, attend to spiritual matters.

The main thing here is faith and piety. The family is the church. He is the head of this church. Let him keep it pure. To define and uphold the method and time of prayers at home is up to him. Finding ways to educate the family in the faith is up to him. The religious life of everyone is on him; it is for him to enlighten and strengthen them. Finally, he has the duty to preserve the family customs both common and private, and in the latter case, especially concerning the spirit and customs of their ancestors, to keep them in the family and to pass them on from one family to another.

The father does not need to raise his voice and speak exclusively in an authoritative tone in order to show his leadership in the family. The father must begin by assuming responsibility for his own spiritual life. Exactly the way that he prays, attends the church, and shows virtue in the family, will testify to his true leadership, which is based on a strong relationship with God.

At one lecture, a well-known psychologist on family issues asked how a father could best show love for his children. The lecturer gave an unexpectedly universal answer: "The best way for a father to love his children is to love their mother." A woman, entering into marriage, subconsciously seeks in her husband a fatherly attitude and support. Therefore, men, before you marry, ask yourself the question whether you are ready to become a father for the girl you love.

On the one hand, it is not quite normal when a woman who has not received enough fatherly love and attention equates her expectations for her husband and father. On the other hand, a real man will show his willingness to be a father precisely then, if he treats his spouse in a fatherly way. And this attitude will be manifested primarily in responsibility for the one you love.

Thus, one more crucial and decisive feature of fatherhood has been designated — responsibility.

A man who does not take responsibility for his wife, cannot be a responsible (read "good") father. Fatherhood begins with the willingness to take responsibility for his wife, for his children — for his family.

"Husbands, love your wives,” says the apostle Paul, “and do not be harsh with them.” (Colossians 3:19). And he continues: “So husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself, so each of you should love your wife as yourself” (Ephesians 5:28,33).

There is tremendous power in responsible love. Such love from a husband may change a superficial, careless wife into a wife that is deep, faithful, meek, zealous and caring.

Nowadays, when everything has been turned upside down (to put it mildly), the wife often bears the husband’s duties. In such a situation, the unstable husband does not show love, care, or responsibility for his wife and children. Relaxed and miserable, he is capricious and unbalanced. He easily falls into insults and hysteria, becoming stubborn, irritated, and annoying. This is how his cowardice manifests itself, and from cowardice, drunkenness, smoking, and adultery frequently arise.

And, nevertheless, the Holy Scriptures tell us that the husband is the head of the wife. He needs to have such a power of love and care for her, such an ability to support both her spirit and soul, that everything in her will be directed to goodness, and no one is more fully able to do this than a loving husband.

A responsible and loving husband, together with his spouse, will consider the birth of children to be a blessing from God. The very news about the future child gives him a new impetus for even greater concern for his wife, and an inexhaustible source of joy in the awareness of his future fatherhood.

Modern scholars almost unanimously agree about the great benefits of the presence of the father at birth. The mutual empathy and compassion of the baby, mother, and father truly transform the soul of the father and impose a positive imprint on his further attitude towards the child. Only for a proud, selfish, irresponsible, and faint-hearted "man" (and in this case I would like to put that last word in quotes), would the birth of his own child be perceived negatively even for the first few minutes. After all, now a "competitor" has appeared for his undivided possession of the attention and care of his wife . . .

Some women, in order to appease infantile consumerist attitudes within the husband/wife relationship, assign him the role of the “eldest child” in the family. This is barbaric! He who is expected to behave like a “head”, “protection” and “support”, behaves like a helpless child himself.

Here you have fatherlessness in the most ugly form — Dad is physically present, but his influence on the family climate is such that there would be more benefit if he died worthily in battle. Then the children could at least be proud of their father and imitate his courage.

Become a Father Once and for All!

We need to consider two important factors, which actively spread such negative examples of “paternity” in our time: 

In modern families, more often than not, a child is born and brought up alone. He is also, moreover, a late child. To convince such a child that there are other concerns in life, besides his own — around which life revolves — is an empty exercise. If such a child becomes a father, it is only on one condition — that among his own children, he must remain "the eldest child".

Another problem is in our modern schools. No place for men has been found there. And if a boy spends whole days at school with no male role models, and the only adult male he sees at home is his own dad, sitting in front of the TV, then where will such a boy learn how to become a real man? Who will he learn to emulate?

Thankfully, even with all this happening in modern society, we do still have quite a few good fathers, sincerely striving to do what is right. Psychologists compare paternity with a long distance race. Calm, poise, restraint, calm breathing, and a strong heart are very useful here. One must become a father once and for all, not looking back. To successfully reach the finish line, you need to remember three important things.

First, the father must take an active part in the daily life of his child. You cannot merely be "dad on the weekend." Children must feel every day that a loving father is responsible for their deeds, words, and thoughts. Children need to be sure that it’s impossible to love someone, and to stay away from the one you love.

Second — constancy. It is very important for the child to realize that his father can always be relied upon. An unbalanced, quick-tempered father is a painful test for a child, because it is impossible to know what mood such a man will be in at any given time.

And finally — awareness. Children should not doubt that dad is "in the know". The father needs to take care of the needs, weaknesses, and talents of the child, to be interested in his inner world: his experiences, plans, communication with friends, etc. At the same time, he should allow the child to have his own territory of freedom and responsibility.

Memo to Fathers —

  • An earthly Father must have a living and effective relationship with the Heavenly Father.
  • A real father must constantly take care of his own inner spiritual cultivation.
  • A good father begins with a loving and sacrificial husband.
  • Fatherhood and responsibility should be synonymous.
  • A father must be connected with his children, so that the children will be connected with their father.
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