Last week, I stopped by my tax preparer’s office not to file taxes given the tax season is over but amendments are always there. Throughout the time I spent there, the gentleman kept pondering aloud what he could present in his Christian community that captures the essence of fatherhood. That set me thinking but before long, he mentioned that maybe he should invite his son to come to his community and share what he has learnt from the dad about fatherhood.
For those of us sons who are now fathers, it seemed appropriate for me to meditate on a father celebrating father’s day with the father. It is often said that the true mark of a son is to do better than the father. While there are so many shades of gray needing clarification, the one question that bugged me on father’s day was what gift could I give my father? Buy him a car? Cannot afford one myself but my dad has always driven one even though he would appreciate one from me.
May be send him a few hundred dollars. And while am on this issue of money, it is worth remarking that one of the many things that scared some of us of fatherhood was whether one would be able like one’s dad to give money, daily for breakfast. My dad stepped up to the plate and kept his side of the bargain. He sent all five of us to the best schools money could afford and this without complaint. He only insisted on commensurate results. Could not have had a better dad.
As I continued pondering on what gift to afford my dad on father’s day in gratitude to one who slaved away to provide the best for my siblings and I, finding nothing tangible, I consoled myself that the best gift was becoming a father of whom my dad could proudly say: “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased,” to borrow from scripture.
And for those of us who proclaim God as Father, in whose Fatherhood we participate or whose generosity permits some of us to share that title with Him, one must daily strive to mirror Him so He could say of us: This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.
In this context then, one can understand why an essential part of fatherhood is being the breadwinner, the provider. The book of Genesis puts it more starkly “Cursed is the ground* because of you! In toil you shall eat its yield all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles it shall bear for you, and you shall eat the grass of the field. By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, from which you were taken;” (Gen.3: 17-19) Only within this context can one make sense of the friend who remarked that the day his wife earns more money than himself, he’ll quit his job. This is some kind of healthy competition not in some narcissistic male chauvinism or worse still downright misogyny. The man must toil day and night to bring bread home.
It is so easy for those in the Western developed countries to take exception to this rule. Women make more money than men given that the lucrative professions are those for which women have a natural predilection. Hence a recent Pew research center study reports that, “Mothers are the sole primary source of income for a record 40 percent share of all families in the US.” This reversal of roles has tremendous consequences and is the source or potential source of family conflicts. The spikes in divorce rates are not unrelated to this trend. If a man commands respect by virtue of the power of the purse, when the woman holds the purse strings, the man becomes voiceless. There is no doubt that many African women in the US put in very long hours to eke out a living for their families.
On this father’s day, it is appropriate to rediscover the meaning of fatherhood. If we return to the Our Father, we find a clear enunciation of this in the verse: “Give us this day our daily bread…” If we circle back to the etymology of the word, father, we find a hint in the old derivative “feder.” The father is the feeder of the family one may say.
I must hasten to clarify here that there is absolutely nothing wrong with a wife making more money than the husband. The problem is when the man becomes complacent, lazy and even unappreciative. Complementarity must never become vain competition but rather each as equals contributing their very best to build the bonds of unity.
There is an inner connection between fatherhood and the priesthood. It seems fitting to draw a parallel between the two even as the feminists cry foul. In his letter to declaring the year of priests on the 150th anniversary of the death of John Mary Vianney, Pope Benedict XVI remarked that the priesthood is both a gift and a task. One could therefore say, fatherhood is both a gift and a task.
A man only knows he is a father through a woman. Or better still, a man only becomes a father in and through a woman. On this father’s day then, it is imperative for fathers to be grateful to the women through whom the gift of fatherhood is afforded them. Every celebration of father’s day is essentially also a celebration of mother’s day. God “graces” us to participate in His Fatherhood through the woman. We receive the gift of fatherhood through the woman. Hence, there is no father’s day without mother’s day. It is so easy to rush to say thank you to mum. But on this day, it is more than appropriate to show gratitude to the mother of our “fatherhood.”
On this father’s day as we celebrate the gift of fatherhood, we must be eternally grateful to the woman through whom this has been made possible. But even beyond this, in accepting the gift, we must also step up to the task. Fundamental to this task is the fact that we are mere caretakers. As fathers, we are mere stewards. Hence it is worth asking: What kind of a father are you? A father farther and further away from home – an absentee father? Are we provident fathers?
No matter the case: Happy Father’s Day.