This has been quite a week; something akin to a hurricane. In New York, we are one senator’s vote away from gay marriage, and it is my senator who is on the fence. Then, news on Friday lands like a bomb that Father Corapi is packing it in after just three months of fighting the allegations against him. His message to us portends something that many see as ominous. All of this leading up to Father’s Day.
I’ve been through an actual hurricane before. What is interesting about these storms is that as they intensify, they develop an eye-wall at their center. The more intense the storm, the more defined the eye, and the greater the calm is at the center of the storm. It’s blue skies and sunshine there in the middle, and I’ll never forget the experience.
The events this week have been concrete expressions of the storm that has been raging in society for decades, building to a raging howl. One could hear that howl in Father Corapi’s exodus statement, and in the militancy of the gay marriage proponents and opponents squaring off in New York. The howl has also built to a fever pitch in the national battle to defund Planned Parenthood, while many fathers who desperately want their children to be born are disenfranchised of their fatherhood by the philosophy of radicalized autonomy that has infested society, and has given rise to abortion rights.
In the center of this boiling, swirling, and raging vortex of madness resides the two institutions most under seige by all of the destructive forces tearing across the American landscape:
Motherhood and Fatherhood.
We can’t have either in their functional wholeness without the other. We need each other, daily. Regina has taught me that in countless ways throughout our marriage and shared experience of parenting three beautiful children. And, through their complete dependence, our three children have taught me the very essence of what it means to be a father, through a series of lessons. Some quite humorous in hindsight.
First Lesson: Real men change diapers! Mountains of diapers! If a man can deal with the messiest diaper in the world, he can sail through Navy SEAL training, because as any SEAL will tell you, it’s all about the mental toughness, not the physical braun. Joseph and I bonded in ways that are simply beyond words the first time he got me in the face during a diaper change.
Second Lesson: Real men push strollers! Children have a need for adventure, and mothers seem to be as serious behind the wheel of a stroller as they are behind the wheel of the family van. Dad’s satisfy this need for stimulation by popping wheelies, racing, and taking the bumps in the sidewalk with commanding authority. It’s also a great witness to other men that we take ownership of our children’s lives and embrace our role.
Third Lesson: Driving a minivan is NOT tantamount to chemical castration. Being among the first of my buddies to become a dad, I was the point man in the platoon. They clucked and shook their heads in disbelief, but in time, each has followed suit. The man makes the car, not the other way around.
Fourth Lesson: Little girls teach men true masculinity. The complementarity of the sexes means that one only realizes one’s own sexuality in its fullness by being open to the sculpting and molding effect of the other. Our daughters, especially the older of the two, notice the intricacies and delicacies of nature and constantly stop me to point them out. They are caught up in all things frilly and girly at the moment, and have a natural expectation that I have an appreciation of these things as well. How does one say ‘no’? I love these things because they matter to my girls.
Fifth Lesson: I must be the type of man I want my daughters to marry. I can’t expect them to bring home that which they have not seen modeled at home, though I’m sure they might at some point. But good fathering gives me great veto power that has moral authority behind it.
Sixth Lesson: I get to call on God for assistance in direct proportion to how I have been present to my children in their stated and unstated needs for me to be there for them. I am their paradigm for “Father”, and their understanding of God as Father is shaped in no small measure by how I have lived fatherhood in their lives.
Seventh Lesson: Father is not just something that I do, it is something that I AM. It is an indelible imprinting on my soul, and on the soul of every man who has ever fathered a child.
I’m far from perfect at this, and when I make mistakes, I ask my children’s forgiveness. Once, I mistakenly chastised the wrong child, and when the mistake was realized, I apologized to nine year-old Beth. With tears still staining her cheeks she said, “That’s okay, Dad. You’re still learning how to be a father, just like we’re still learning how to be good kids.”
She said it all.
It’s a process of growth, and one that requires openness to input from my wife and from my children. It also requires input from my confessor, who knows a thing or two about fatherhood from the perspective of his priesthood.
So, amid the maelstrom, today is our day. In ways big and small, our children will tell us that they love us, and show us little acts of gratitude, that for them are mighty big expressions. There is a part of me that doesn’t want gifts and all of the ritualized kow-towing that goes with the day. It isn’t necessary for me, and truth be told, they are such warm and loving children, taking a day to show their love is actually redundant. However, a day to focus and show gratitude is something THEY need. Gratitude is the indispensable prerequisite for psychological and spiritual growth and maturity. I’ll be doing plenty of my own thanks today as well.
I’m going to enjoy this day with Regina and the children, and I’m going to show my gratitude to my own father, and to God my Father. I see the eye-wall of the storm, and I know that the island of calm that is today will move on and I’ll be back in the thick of it. But for today, I’m going to start by thanking Regina and the children for making me a father, and for being the best of teachers. Then, I’m going to let them lead me through the day with all that they have been planning, and thinking that I haven’t noticed.
Happy Father’s Day dads and beloved priests!
Ad Multos Anos!