Any man can only be a father if he first has three basic gifts: the gift of being himself a son, the gift who is the mother of his child and the gift who is his child. Because he is gifted in these ways, a father is himself a gift.
Since he is a gift, a father gives himself. His self-giving is not part-time or at his convenience: it is constant, total and unconditional. His child does not belong to him so much as he belongs to his child. His giving is not primarily about things but about love. Gifts from a loveless father will be met with confusion and even contempt. But a child who receives his father’s love knows deep down that he has already received everything.
A father’s love makes him attentive to the needs of his child which he always puts before his own. Apart from his father’s love, a child needs to see the love of his parents for each other. Their love gave life to the child in the womb, and that love must continue to nurture the child until death doth part them, and even beyond. In the love of his father for his mother, a son or daughter will perceive how their father provides security, strength and foundation. In times of difficulty or stress, they will see how their father takes the initiative in finding the way ahead and in following it.
A father will be faithful to his spouse, dependable to his children, earnest and committed to his responsibilities both within and outwith the family. He will not allow into his family anything alien to its stability, harmony and happiness. He will speak a firm no to whatever might undermine his marriage and family, thereby speaking a strong yes to the sanctity and dignity of the home. In his external dealings, whatever is best for his family under God will be his first measuring stick. To the true and lasting good of his family he will subject any attractions or proposals of whatever nature. In so doing, he will not only strengthen his own identity as father and husband but will strengthen the authentic values and purpose of his family.
A father does not just generate life: he educates it. To educate a son or daughter is to draw them out towards their full potential. It is not just to put food on the table, but to put love in the heart and truth in the mind. It is to encourage, to challenge, to correct, to draw boundaries. A father can only truly be a father if his own life is itself open to God the Father, for it is from God that all fatherhood in heaven and on earth takes its name. While he is not himself God, something he must always remember, a human father shows the face of God to his children. It is a smiling face, a compassionate face, a strong face. If it is ever an angry face, it should only be so if something or someone endangers the true good of his children. A father will rejoice when his daughter’s knowledge is greater than his own. He will gladly acknolwedge when his son’s freedom is mature enough to let him be and to let him go.
Book education, while important, is the least important kind of education. A father, along with his spouse, is the first and best educator of his children in the faith. This is his supreme task. For, a father knows that his children are first of all God’s children. God has given them to him to prepare them to know and love God and to live with God for ever. And so, a father cannot truly be a father if he does not first himself know and love God the Father, if he does not worship God as God asks, if he does not pray, if he does not form his way of thinking and his standards for acting according to the Gospel. How can a father pass on the love of Christ if he does not have it or seek it out himself first? How can the giving of multiple opportunities to a child for various activities, good though they may be, compare with teaching a child to pray, to learn their faith, to know and practice the commandments of God and the teaching of Christ? Preparation for earthly careers is surely necessary but it is to no lasting purpose if preparation for eternal life is ignored.
When King David’s son Absalom was killed in a battle in which he had wanted to dethrone his father, David wept so loudly for his son that his own army’s victory felt like defeat. David cried, “My son, Absalom! My son, my son! Would that I had died in your place!” A father will give his life even for a son who wanted to kill him. His love for his son is greater than his son’s hatred for him.
When the prodigal son left home, squandered everything and then returned, the father respected his son’s wish to leave when his time had come, but waited for his return and ran out to him as he came back, kissing him tenderly. A father does not succumb to despair about his son, nor hold grudges or settle scores with his child, because his love is greater than any hurt his child might cause him. A father knows how to wait and to hope and, when the moment is right, to reach out and embrace the one who might have been lost. The prodigal son returned home because he remembered his father. The memory of a loving father stored deep in the heart may well be the salvation of a child who is lost.
A true father is not an absentee; he is neither a dictator nor a bully but leads by example and commands respect by the integrity of his life. He is not a moral coward but a courageous observer of the law of God. He is not virtuous only when someone is looking while, when alone, he becomes pitiful in vice and self-indulgence. His eye is clear and undimmed in dealing with others, men or women, and not muddied by jealousy or lust. A father speaks plainly and without double meaning or deceit; a child should be able to trust his father’s judgment because it is rooted in the truth and in justice as well as in unconditional love.
A father must not recoil from discipline but be firm and even-handed and be able to judge when a child has learnt his lesson. To discipline is to love, and a child without discipline will go astray and be ruined. A father cannot be a father only when it is pleasant to be so but must show that he is a true father by enduring and doing what is unpleasant. A father’s voice should rarely be raised but be easily and frequently heard in correcting and explaining what is right and what is wrong. A father will draw limits only to ensure growth, as a vinedresser prunes the vine so that it will bear more fruit. He will face his child with no risk which he himself has not taken and tested. He will show the way because he has himself walked it.
When a son thinks of his father, he will sense within a deep confidence, a deep strength, a deep peace, a sense of stability and of purpose. While a mother’s love is like the sun which gives life and light and nourishment, the love of a father is like the solid earth beneath your feet. The final test of the love of a father is two-fold. First, it is the grief of his children on the day he dies, since a child filled with the loving care of a true father who has died will feel the earth vanish from beneath his feet. But second, it will be the legacy of true peace which will follow upon that grief. For the love of a father endures forever and is its own guarantee that his children, if they wish, will know it face to face again in the presence of the Eternal Father.
All these things and so many more form the picture of that gift who is a father. It is a beautiful picture because it reflects and shares in the glorious, omnipotent, eternal and all-merciful Fatherhood of God.
So, to ye fathers one and all: Happy Father’s Day!