The Importance of Fathers

A quick search in the sidebar of this blog reveals that I have often written about St Joseph on his feastday. In a way, that is odd. For far too long I subscribed to the view that Joseph was an almost disposable element in the Infancy narrative, and his early disappearance from the gospels and the absence of patristic commentary confirmed me in my opinion. It took Bossuet to make me realise what a great man he was, and that his greatness was precisely that of a father.

If, like me, you have happy memories of your own father, it does not require much of an imaginative leap to recognize how important Joseph was in the life of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. But if you don’t, if your father has been absent or in some way inadequate, it must be much harder. So many of the qualities we admire in Jesus must have come from Joseph. In the same way, family members will often remark that we are ‘a chip off the old block’ and recognize in us traits that we had no idea once existed in another. When they are perceived as negative or in some way damaging, there is a double handicap to overcome. It is not just our own flaws but those we have inherited that we must deal with. Yet none of us is defined by our father or limited by his flaws. Fathers give us life, they help to form us, but their role changes over time. The one constant is that they go on loving us, as Joseph went on loving Jesus.

It seems to me that fatherhood is a tough call. To combine both strength and tenderness is not easy. To love one’s family, to be like Joseph a man of integrity and courage, is to give a wonderful example to others. More than that, it is to ensure the flourishing of those we are closest to, to give and sustain life. That is a great vocation. Today, let us pray for all fathers and the families they care for.

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8 thoughts on “The Importance of Fathers”

  1. I found parent hood quite difficult. Having been a survivor of my parent separation and five years in a Catholic Children’s home, I found it hard to adapt to living at home again after five years. Father was a stranger, but one who frightened us.

    He was I discovered after he’d died, suffered from mental health issues connected with war service which made Social Services describe him as an angry man.

    As I was only three years old when my mother left, I have little memory of her and is coloured by what I read of her in my care reports that I recovered in my late fifties.

    So my idea of parenting was idealistic, i.e. the life that I knew other children enjoyed that I could only aspire too. When my children came along, I was over protective and found it difficult to actually allow them to achieve as I was so strict with them. As they grew however, I learned
    a softness of heart that love can bring. And I know that I had learned not to put them in my place, but to learn and to grow individually and blossom.

    I am certain that being parted from them when we divorced was damaging, but thankfully our relationship of love was restored as they live their lives out individually. Not perfect by any means, but not toxic or in any way unfriendly.

    I still find my childhood impinging on my life as an elderly man. I am unable to celebrate Mothering Sunday as others can, as my relationship with mother figures was short term as carers changed often in care, or when our father had a succession of transient girl friends, who frankly were not mother figures we could aspire too.

    My feelings about father figures are also coloured from living in a home with a damaged father, whose overbearing nature exhibited itself in physical punishment for any transgression. I know it now to be abuse, but being cowed by him, so many times, meant that the image or impression of fatherhood left me with a determination never to treat anyone like that in my life. I hope that I was successful in this, but if not ‘meal culpa’.

    Joseph is probably my ideal of a loving father, I wish I had known him as my patron saints as a child. Mind you, my fathers middle name was Joseph, but he modelled a Joseph that I would not like in my life at all.

  2. I honor and revere St. Joseph as the patron saint of workers. For some reason, I find it quite natural to pray for St. Joseph to intercede for us on behalf of all of our work endeavors. I puzzle that this comes more easily to me than devotion to The Holy Mother, Blessed Virgin Mary. Perhaps this is because the BVM is so highly venerated, and St. Joseph more or less “demoted” in the Gospels? Thank you for your teaching about St. Joseph this day and in the past.

  3. I suspect it is difficult for lots of us to relate well to a saint who has the tag of a parent attached, because our own experience is bound to colour our perceptions. I have no problem with St Joseph in his role of earthly father to Our Lord, but a massive one with Our Lady as our mother. My difficulties with my mother culminated with her commiting suicide, which seemed to set every aspect of motherhood at variance with the ideal. But Pope Francis recently referred to Mary as the Untangler of Knots. That is an attribute to which I can relate, so I have the chance of a new beginning with Our Lady. Maybe the thing is to consider other sides of a saint‘s character if the most often quoted one isn‘t helpful?

  4. Just reflecting on this post. My parish is in vacancy at the moment and I was scheduled to lead the Mothering Sunday service. I was so troubled by this, that a young lady, Laura, who is to commence training for the Priesthood (she is Anglican like me) volunteered to lead the service, meaning that I am able to step back.

    Someday, I might be able to face that issue, but for now, I’m grateful that Laura could see how I felt and Bless her, offered to help.

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