Two fathers, two legacies. Father One: Celebrity intellectual and author toasted throughout Europe. Wrote on many topics, including child-rearing, though children interested him little in real life. Not married to the wife of his five children. Abandoned all five babies to an orphanage where 80% of its wards died before age 7.
Father Two: Didn’t write any books. Worked his artisan job and enjoyed quiet time in his attic study where he read, prayed and meditated. His primary joys in life: attending Mass and spending time with his daughters. All five daughters were admitted to respected convents.
Father One is Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Father Two is Venerable Louis Martin. Rousseau unleashed a barrage of bogus theories on the modern world that led to the guillotine and totalitarianism. Louis Martin unleashed St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who in turn unleashed a barrage of holiness on the modern world.
Most fathers reading this column know the importance of fatherhood. Unfortunately, I suspect many harbor within a little bit of Rousseau. Rousseau loved the flesh: fame, fortune and the company of pretty women. His intellect, novel theories and writings were his road to carnal delight. No man is immune to such temptations (of this, I’m painfully aware), and only the rare man wrestles them to submission.
None of that is surprising, but perhaps the thing that ought to be understood — the thing that Louis Martin’s life underscores — is this: Those who can subdue their fleshly inclinations, those who pray, those who love: Those are the fathers who make the best dads.
In the words of spiritual writer Thomas Dubay, “Husbands and wives have a beneficial impact on each other and on their children to … the extent of their prayer.”
It’s not the man who gives his children a Nintendo Wii, a new car and a trust fund that makes the best father. It’s the man who makes himself into a saint.
This dual desire — the desire to be holy and the desire to be a good father — thrives in the blogosphere. A quick trip through Catholic cyberspace will reveal a small army of anti-Rousseaus. If you want to find them, start with these:
• Catholic Dads (catholic-dads.blogspot.com). The blogosphere’s gateway to Catholic fatherhood. With more than 50 listed contributors (unfortunately, most not active), the site is dedicated to building an online community of Catholic dads. St. Joseph is the patron. Its blog roll in the right column provides scores of Catholic father links.
• Sardonic Catholic Dad (sardoniccatholicdad.blogspot.com). Its sub-title, “Confessions of a Bad Catholic,” is hard to believe. This new blogger has 11 children and his posts are faithful to the magisterium.
• Pro Ecclesia (proecclesia.blogspot.com). Jay Anderson’s popular blog. Not dedicated to fatherhood, but the topic comes up frequently.
• Thoughts of a Regular Guy (regularthoughts.blogspot.com). Varied and fun. Strongly pro-life. Could any sincerely good father could be otherwise?
• Quaffs and Quibbles (quaffsandquibbles.blogspot.com). Blog by a no-nonsense military man and father of six. Highly recommended.
• Three other good Catholic father-centric blogs that would be great if updated more frequently: Catholic Father (catholicfather.blogspot.com), Be the Dad, Play the Dad (playthedad.blogspot.com) and Bruggie Tales (bruggietales.blogspot.com).
“Fathers should be neither seen nor heard. That is the only proper basis for family life.”
That’s Oscar Wilde, the 19th-century libertine who contracted syphilis from a prostitute and had black teeth the rest of his life from the mercury treatments. He was also jailed for pederasty. He and Rousseau would’ve gotten along well.
If you want to see Wilde’s view of fatherhood in action, visit a neighborhood where the majority of children are born out of wedlock. A recent government study poignantly summed up the effects of the inner-city’s implementation of Wilde’s fatherhood view: “Children of fatherless families have greater and earlier sexual activity, dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, more mental illness, more suicide, poorer educational performance, and higher rates of teen pregnancy, criminality and sexual abuse. They are more likely to have suffered child abuse and more often have earlier death, confused identities (boys), more aggressive behavior (boys), more emotional distress, uncooperative behavior, more anxiety and depression (girls), more antisocial behavior and school suspensions.”
I suspect that litany of problems just scratches the surface.
I had a good upbringing. My first-generation immigrant father taught me the meaning of respect, honesty, duty and learning. When I think about fatherless families in America and then compare it with my situation, I feel nauseated and grateful at the same time. For those of us who grew up with good fathers, we can’t begin to count the blessings.
On the flip side, we can’t begin to count the deprivations of those who didn’t then, or don’t now, have good fathers.
Men, mull your fatherly role this Father’s Day. Visit the blogging fathers and see how they’re approaching fatherhood. And always ask yourself, “Am I leaning more toward Rousseau or the Venerable Louis Martin?”
If you see even a shadow of Rousseau, flee to St. Joseph and beg his intercession.
Eric Scheske, father of seven children, blogs about fatherhood
and other subjects at The Daily Eudemon (ericscheske.com/blog).