The Challenge of Fatherhood


Studies have demonstrated over and again that children have their best opportunity to thrive when they enjoy the blessing of a mother and a father. This is not to lessen the heroic contribution of many single parents or other family members who step in to assist. It is to say that we can and should still hope that each child might have good and loving parents who reflect God’s gift of creating humanity “male and female.”
The state of our society is such that too many children do not have such blessings. Rates of childhood poverty, depression, violence and suicide are at heartbreaking levels. The pandemic has only intensified the tragedy. The statistics are clear in indicating that this crisis in childhood has accompanied changes in family life. Whereas earlier generations might have seen the effects of divorce, the current environment is something new. The decision to even commit to marriage is in decline. Many children live without a father to protect, guide and encourage. It should be no surprise that the rates of crime committed by juveniles have also risen rapidly.
We need a revival of the sacred character of the sacrament of marriage. We need married couples who embrace their vocation to participate in God’s plan for new life and find the joy of raising and educating their children. And we need good fathers. Children, and society itself, can only thrive when good people strive to keep their commitments to one another.
Too often our commercial culture convinces young men that their masculinity finds its highest expression in adrenaline fueled experience and adventure. The ads never acknowledge that such experiences are only momentarily thrilling. They do not give purpose, meaning or joy to life. It is rather in our commitments and the gift of ourselves for others that we can hope for something more – even something eternal.
Fatherhood is itself a challenge in every age. It requires discipline, self-mastery, hard work, selflessness and virtue. When that challenge is met by a good man, the result changes lives and shapes the world.
Even as good fathers must rise to the challenge of their vocation, they also have a special gift to do some challenging of their own. A good father pushes his child beyond their comfort zone, models courage in the face of risk and draws his child to exceed self-imposed limits. Adversity can in fact build character, but can also do damage to the vulnerable. When a child faces adversity with the challenges and accompaniment of a good father, it is the character and not the damage that results.
As we observe Father’s Day, I want to express my gratitude to you good fathers who remain faithful to their sacred calling. We all need you and your gift of challenging us to be our best selves. Shepherding your own children, many of you serve beyond your family as coaches and volunteers.
May God grant peace to our deceased fathers and wisdom and strength to the living. May we all honor and thank our fathers for their love, strength and commitment. May they ever rise to the challenge of fatherhood.