by Fr. Matthew Habiger, OSB
I want to reflect upon the meaning of fatherhood – both natural and spiritual. Every man participates in fatherhood; that's the way God designed us. Similarly, God designed every woman to participate in motherhood.
As men, we do not feel completed unless we are exercising our fatherhood. And this means much more than having sex and making a woman pregnant.
Every child, every boy and girl, every young man and woman, need a father in their lives. Every wife and mother need a man that they can rely upon to support their efforts as a mother and homemaker. When men with the skills of fatherhood are missing from their families, there is a real gap, a real deficiency. This is creating huge problems in our society.
Many young men in prison today never had a real father involved in their lives. Many young women, single moms, today never had a real father in their lives. God has a definite plan for the family, for spouses, for fathers and mothers, and for respectful children. If we ignore that plan, and walk away from it, then we soon arrive at the real mess we now find ourselves.
So what does fatherhood involve? What are the skills and strengths that each man is called to develop? A true father recognizes the needs of those who depend upon him, and he then responds to those needs. God designed a man to provide for and to protect his family. By his work he earns a salary and supplies his family with all their material needs. But there are other, and greater, needs: emotional needs, a need for the personal involvement of a father in his children’s lives, the need for encouragement when problems arise, a need for guidance as a young person enters the broader world as a young adult. A father protects his family from anyone, and anything, that threaten to harm them.
A man can father only if he has gained maturity himself. He must first move successfully through the stages of maturity before he can give good guidance to others. He must acquire the various virtues, like chastity and courage and enterprise before he can foster these virtues in his children. He must have Faith, and a prayer life, before he can share these with others.
Priests, men and women religious, exercise spiritual fatherhood and motherhood. Every man fathers, and every woman mothers. They help people grow in their spiritual lives, in their prayer life, in their relationship with God, in their growth in virtue and control over vices.
Begetting a child is just the beginning of fatherhood. Once you're a father, you are always a father. Fathering means dedication to your family. It means giving up your comfort so that they may be secure. It means being there when problems arise, and problems will always arise! It means being a source of security and strength.
Children frame their image of God the Father from what they experience in their natural fathers. All fatherhood comes from God.
So there is our challenge. We are to become the men God designed us to be, able to live and to exercise true fatherhood.