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Society has been devastated by a crisis in fatherhood. It is a universal problem, not limited to poor communities. It is manifested in fathers not being present and co-responsible in the raising of families and in the active participation in their children’s lives. Mothers have a biological connection, an intimate bond through biology, and 9 months of growth and total dependence in a mother’s womb.
Fathers have no such connection other than the act of co-creating the child. The father connection is unique because a father has to choose to bind with their child. They have to say “I choose you, love you, support you, care enough about you to offer myself as an elder figure to guide, encourage, hold you responsible, forgive and ask forgiveness, to model for you what adult manhood, fatherhood and being a responsible and loving spouse is all about.”
In the affluent and middle-class community, fatherhood has been compromised by the pursuit of wealth and the myth that providing material things without the gift of real presence and involvement in a child’s life is still being a good father. And when you add that some of these current fathers are still pursuing the approval of father figures in their bosses and others, the generational crisis of fatherhood deepens.
In poor communities, fatherhood has been devastated by the war on drugs and the extreme racialization of policing and mass incarceration. The devices used to control the Black community and ‘keep them in their place’ have both political and economic roots in the continuation of legal Jim Crow policies that continue systemic racism in support of the massive economic engine of policing, courts and prisons, coupled with the ongoing and deliberate allowance of the flow of drugs and guns into our communities.
In the Christian tradition, Jesus commonly referred to His relationship with God as “Father.” The Aramaic word Jesus uses is “Abba,” which conveys an intimacy such as when a child might say “daddy.” The root meaning of “Abba Father” is that God loves us so much, to the point of sacrificing His only begotten Son to redeem us from the eternal fatality of sin. He is aware of and cares about our deepest and most sincere concerns. The term carries with it a spirit of closeness. As Christians, we are “chosen” by God. God chooses us and we become adopted sons and daughters through our relationship as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. Like a real father must do, God chooses us. And, as adult children, we have the free decision to accept that chosenness or reject it.
One of the faults of our society is that we are still very patriarchal, a distortion of the true meaning and exercise of fatherhood. Churches and institutions grew out of a patriarchal society that often used maleness as a means of control and dominance to the detriment of women. This continues to this day through systemic patriarchism.
True fathers, real men, reject this patriarchal superiority, instead of recognizing their unique roles and responsibilities as positive male figures who respect the dignity and sanctity of women and children.
As we celebrate fathers this month, we hold in sacred memory all fathers who have passed on, reverencing the gifts they gave us as true fathers in life and faith. We celebrate all fathers who continue to provide love and support for their families, oftentimes overcoming incredible obstacles. We give thanks to all father figures – mentors, coaches, and teachers – who choose to share their unique gifts to lift up our young men and women. And we pray for all fathers who are unable to be present to their children, but long to do so, that they may one day be reunited with their children and spouse as an integral part of the core family unit.
Written by Father Larry Dowling
Edited by Sheena Robertson