I am a father. It's one of the most important titles I have — right up there with husband. Despite the lip service of Father's Day, I'm not sure the larger society values the title because it didn't take lots of schooling, lots of overtime or lots of money to obtain. Besides, it's so plebeian; plenty of men have the same honor. But amid all the titles one could earn, “father” is among the tops.
To steal an Army slogan, “it's not just a job.” It's an identity. To look down at another face and see your own. In a world of 6 billion, to know that yours was among the first faces this new person saw. Saw and loved, not for any merit of my own but because I was the father.
Becoming a father brings me face to face with existence: this new face exists, through the grace of God, because of me. This new life, that most likely will see tens of thousands of faces after mine is long gone, is because of me. Fatherhood is not just a physical phenomenon. As Karol Wojtyla pointed out almost 40 years ago in Love and Responsibility, the beginning of life possesses not just biological but also existential value.
Being a father in the United States today is, however, problematic. American society may deem it de rigueur that I get another necktie on the third Sunday of June — which is good, because it will replace the last one that has spaghetti stains either my daughter or I put there. But I would prefer that American society thought it more important that I be able to exercise the rights and responsibilities of a father from the moment I become one.
Unfortunately, in America, I am not allowed to do that.
In the immediate wake of the barbarism of Roe v. Wade, some states tried to pass paternal consent laws predicated on the existential fact that, if it “took two to tango,” a life-and-death decision about this child should also involve its father. The Supreme Court's abortion fanaticism, of course, could not countenance that and the laws were declared unconstitutional.
But what disturbs most is the logic of the decision. The court reasoned that if a state could not veto an abortion, neither could it “delegate” that veto to a father. With all due contempt for a court that thinks in such categories, this father does not regard himself as a surrogate for Virginia, either now or at the time he became a father.
On Father's Day, American society might also insist I should rest. I would much prefer that it gave fatherhood a respite from the constant attack it faces in American society. I am a man. Pace those who believe in conspiracies of “patriarchy,” I do not apologize for being a man. Being a father teaches me everyday that I am a man. I am not a mother. My daughter does not react to me as if I were androgynous. She and I have a different relationship than she and her mother have — not better, different. And I prefer her 2-year-old's sense of how things should be over the ranting of those who would design a humanity in which “male and female he did not create them.”
Yes, I am a man. I do not apologize to those who would want a mea maxima culpa from me. At the same time, I could not have been a father without a wife; and I, for one, thank God that he saw “it is not good for the man to be alone.”
That's why this father is concerned about the social engineers who would redesign fatherhood asexually. I am a male father. I think it's telling that I had to put that in italics.
Even 10 years ago, any good editor would have deleted “male” and thought that such redundancy made me a poor writer. But in a world in which some states allow homosexuals to adopt children, I need to say: “I am not a parent. I am a father.” What my wife and I do cannot be replaced by two men or two women. Only people who don't have day-to-day contact with real children could even have a doubt about that.
There are a few, albeit scant, glimmerings of hope. In recent years there's been a spate of social science literature indicating that our society deprecates fatherhood to its detriment. This Father's Day, I wish some people would read books like David Blankenhorn's Fatherless America or David Popoenoe's Life without Father. While not perfect, these books go a long way to showing how fatherhood and marriage are indispensable for the good of children and society.
Another positive sign: a search of “fatherhood” through some of the commercial Internet booksellers turned up a lot of books, mostly Protestant, about the religious significance of being a dad. I hope some Catholic book publishers will take the lead and issue titles on what it means to be a Catholic father today.Finally, the fact that Bill Cosby's Fatherhood stayed on the best seller list for so long suggests — as long as it doesn't become just another popular Father's Day gift — that there may be some hope left.
Meantime, I'm going back to feed my daughter. In talking to her, washing her, playing with her, and seeing her, I learn every day what St. Paul meant about God and the human condition when he praised God “from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Ephesians 3:15).
John M. Grondelski writes from Arlington, Virginia.