Jesus left very little wiggle room for his disciples when he said to them: “Fear no one.” He didn’t say, “Fear your enemies.” He also didn’t say, “Fear your friends.” “Fear no one” is what he said, no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it.
Of course, what Jesus was talking about is how easy it is for any of us to allow the fear of others to keep us from professing our faith in public and from leading prayers before meals or at the beginning of meetings. In addition, Jesus was also talking about easy it is for any of us to allow our fear of others to keep us from correcting them about their use of foul language and the foul jokes they tell as well as from telling them how their behavior is compromising their values or, more important yet, their vows. Jesus was also talking about how we allow our fear of others to paralyze us from taking the car keys away from others after they’ve been drinking too much or from admonishing them in an appropriate way about how they’ve made fools of themselves.
Jesus is absolutely correct when he tells his disciples to fear no one, especially when it comes to calling others to accountability about the bad or immoral choices they are making.
But, why is Jesus absolutely correct?
Because if Jesus’ disciples allow themselves to be paralyzed by fear, they will never proclaim the good news of salvation. Then, slowly but surely, the virtue, character, and holiness characterizing those who seek to build a culture of life will ebb and wane as they (and the entire culture) gradually embrace the culture of death. Before long, they will celebrate how easy and fun it is to break the taboos that were sinful only one generation earlier.
The spiritual problem Jesus is pointing out to his disciples, then, isn’t so much fear—after all, fear can inspire courage—but how easy it is to allow fear to debilitate and paralyze us from being courageous, from acting in the way we know how we ought to act, and from being the type of person we know we ought to be. Yes, Jesus is correct. Fear can debilitate and paralyze us as moral agents so that people don’t hear what they need to hear if they are to turn their backs on the culture of death and to embrace the culture of life.
On this Father’s Day, I want to consider a fear of others that is especially debilitating to children, especially teenagers. What is this fear? Well, it’s a fear plaguing many fathers have today, a fear that makes fathers more than anxious. It’s a fear that strikes right to the depths of their souls, a fear that actually debilitates and paralyzes many fathers. This fear is so very simple to see, if you know what it is.
The fear that strikes deep into the souls of many fathers today is the fear of standing up to their children—especially their teenagers—and making them change their attitudes and behaviors so that they reflect those of spiritually mature human beings.
Consider some of these statistics, first, to get a glimpse into how important a father really is to his children and, second, to see what it is that fathers must do for the sake of their children if they are to grow towards spiritual maturity.
Today, 50% of children—and only 20% of inner-city children—live in homes with their biological fathers. The tragic reality reported by The National Fatherhood Initiative is that some 35 million children today live absent or apart from the biological fathers.
The disastrous social consequences of this abdication of paternal responsibility for one’s children are very well-documented. And, although some single parents do bring up relatively well-adjusted children with the assistance of extended families, churches, and schools, there is an irrefutable correlation linking juvenile social deviancy to fatherless homes. The simple truth is that most teenage social problems—e.g., crime, drug abuse, unwed pregnancy and abortion, youth suicide, school dropouts—are the direct consequence of fathers abdicating their paternal responsibility.
According to statistics available from the Center for Disease Control, the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Bureau of the Census, 63% of teen suicides, 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions, 71% of high-school dropouts, 75% of children in chemical-abuse centers, 80% of rapists, 85% of youths in prison, 85% of children who exhibit behavioral disorders including hyperactivity, and 90% of homeless and runaway children are children from—don’t be surprised now—fatherless homes!
Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, a Rutgers sociologist, states: “[The causal link between fatherless children and crime] is so strong that controlling for family configuration erases the relationship between race and crime and between low income and crime.” What’s this research really mean? Simply put: it is a myth that criminals can be profiled by race and low income. If you want to profile criminals, it would be more accurate just to ask whether or not there is a resident father. Using history as a guide, did you know that Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Saddam Hussein all grew up in fatherless homes?
The President of the Institute for American Values, David Blankenhorn, puts it this way:
Children who grow up with their fathers do far better—emotionally, educationally, physically, every way we can measure—than children who do not. This conclusion holds true even when differences of race, class, and income are taken into account. The simple truth is that fathers are irreplaceable in shaping the competence and character of their children….[The absence of fathers] from the family is surely the most socially consequential family trend of our era.
The phenomenon of “absentee fathers” may well be the most socially consequential family trend of our era because, after all, nothing appears to so endanger a child’s reliably receiving authentic paternal love than the divorce and breakup of a family. Twenty years following a divorce, only 25% percent of girls and 32% of boys report being “close” to their fathers. Fifty percent of children living without their fathers have never been inside of their fathers’ homes. In one study, only 27% of children older than four years of age saw their absentee father at least once a week in the past three years and 31% have had no contact whatsoever with their absentee father. Furthermore, data gathered from children of cohabiting parents reveal that these children are closer in their indicators of well-being to the children of single parents than they are to children of two-parent families. Why? The father is resident, isn’t he? Yes, he is. But, the fact is that 75% of cohabitating parents split up before their children are sixteen years old.
Contrast those very sad and troubling statistics with these more uplifting statistics (although I wish the percentage was higher): 70% of children of intact families say they have “close” relationships to their fathers.
Let there be no doubt about it: fatherhood is an irreplaceable institution. In fact, God has designed fatherhood so that every one of His children receive the authentic paternal love, discipline, support, and protection which only a father can give to his children so that they will grow to spiritual maturity.
Believe it or not, a responsible, loving, and married man who is boring and a constant provocation to his eye-rolling teenagers is God’s instrument of salvation. This is the man God has called to save every one of His children from the devastating effects of divorce (the divorce rate in the US has more than doubled between 1965 and 1980) and out-of-wedlock births (which rose 600% in the US between 1960 and 2000).
What is it that a resident father does—because he loves God and fears no one—that makes him boring and a constant provocation yet successful in raising his children to be spiritually mature adults?
I have already hinted at the first thing.
A resident father loves God above all things. As a consequence, the resident father’s lifestyle teaches his children through his example about what it means to be a God-centered human being. The concept of God and the invocation of God’s name (unless it is uttered in vain) is foreign to any child who does not hear it at home. So, the challenge to resident fathers is to be a man of faith and, through your example of life, to provide your children with many vivid memories of what it means to have and to live out one’s faith.
A second thing that resident fathers do that makes him boring and a constant provocation yet successful in raising his children to be spiritually mature adults follows from the first. Resident fathers eliminate anything that is ungodly, profane, and irreverent from the home. This includes television programming and music that transmit ungodly, profane, or irreverent images and messages. But, more importantly, it means that they eliminate all ungodly, profane, and irreverent language, magazines, and books from their lives!
What’s this mean practically speaking?
A resident father’s children should never hear him utter a curse word or use God’s name in vain. They should never see nor know of their father reading pornographic literature or viewing pornography whether on television, on videotapes, or surfing the Internet. Why? When fathers engage in these and other immoral activities, the effect on their sons is to teach them that foul language is acceptable and that women are nothing more than objects for to be used to satisfy their own selfish desires with no responsibility attached. The effect on daughters is to teach them that their true worth is found in being an object of another man’s selfish desire with no responsibility attached.
So, what’s so difficult about including spiritual music as background music at home? What’s so challenging about leading the family in prayer at mealtimes? What’s so awful about studying the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and other study guides available through religious publishers and, then, discussing what you believe, why you believe it, and how it applies to your daily life with your wife and children? Nothing...unless you do not love God above all else!
The third thing that makes a resident father boring and a constant provocation yet successful in raising his children to be spiritually mature adults is that these fathers are dogged in promoting a tangible spirituality in the family’s life.
How does this play out?
If necessary, these fathers will drag their children out of bed and into church on Sunday so that they will see what it means to worship something larger than themselves. How will they see this? The children of these fathers will watch their father on his knees as he worships something greater than himself, namely, God. This sends a very powerful, nonverbal, symbolic message to children...especially teenagers.
These fathers not only attend church but are also involved in parish life, perhaps assisting at Mass as a lector, extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, or usher, or by providing important and necessary services like gardening, painting, serving on the pastoral council, or cleaning the church. Through this dedicated service which makes no sense in a consumer society because “there’s nothing in it for me,” these fathers teach their children by their living example that faith devoid of actions—as the St. James the Apostle teaches—is really not faith at all.
In our society, being a father in this way—the way God has designed fatherhood—is countercultural while being an “absentee father” is considered “trés chique” and “avant garde.” Just last week, for example, a wife who is contemplating what she called “an amicable divorce” said that her children would “in absolutely no way” would be hindered by the absence of their father. “There’s a lot of ways we can provide quality parenting independent of each other,” she insisted.
The data indicate that an absentee father is nothing but a recipe for disaster, not only for his children but also for families and the nation as well. Dr. Edwin Cole calls this lack of effective, functioning fathers the root cause of the nation’s social, economic, and spiritual crises. Dr. Cole notes: “Maturity does not come with age, but with the accepting of responsibility for one’s actions.” Resident fathers teach their children this lesson day in and day out.
“Fear no one,” Jesus said to his disciples.
For resident fathers, this means not living in fear of your children, of what they may say or think about you, or about how they will evaluate you. Because resident fathers love God above all else, they are too busy securing the foundation upon which they will build the virtuous and spiritual character they desire for each of their children within the well-sheltered environment of the home than they are worrying about what their children think about their father. In fact, as resident fathers eliminate anything ungodly, profane, and irreverent from the home and as they promote a tangible spirituality in their family’s life, these fathers know that their children are always watching, taking in the data, and evaluating it.
Sure, especially during the teenage years, the children of resident fathers may complain about how boring and strict their father is. They will also likely gripe about how he constantly provokes them to be more spiritually mature. All the while, a resident father chuckles to himself, knowing that he is doing God’s will. This father understand well what Jesus meant when he told his disciples: “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day.”
So, beyond all of the loud and teary-eyed but self-absorbed rhetoric characterizing the teenage years of children who live in a very materialistic culture that is tempting them to opt for the culture of death, teenage children really do know and love their resident father for being the kind of father God has designed and called this man to be. And, best of all, it can be infallibly predicated that one day his children will see this man as the father of their dreams.
In the mean time, the reward for fulfilling one’s vocation to be a father—as God intends—isn’t like that of a mother.
Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, once wrote: “Motherhood is natural; fatherhood is learned” and the great philosopher Johnny Hart noted in his comic strip “BC”:
I always have trouble on Father's Day, writing my father a card. It seems to me that on Mother's Day, it never is so really hard. Mommies make cookies—and sew your clothes, and tuck you into your bed which sure beats nuzzling-noggie from Dad or a cuff in the back of the head.
No, the reward is simply the privilege of being a resident husband and father who receives the smiles and hugs that emerge every once and a while in the resident father’s close relationship to his wife and children. Sure, he’s not cool. I won’t argue, he’s strict. No doubt about it, you will not be able to change his mind 100% of the time. But, don’t ever forget that this man is absolutely crucial in God’s plan to bring every one of His children to spiritual maturity.
No doubt about it. Every child deserves this man! And every mother wants one for her children!
A brief commercial
Perhaps fatherhood is, in any generation, a very challenging vocation. But, perhaps none more so than this generation. To address this vocation in these challenging times, Pope John Paul II wrote Guardian of the Redeemer: On the Person and Mission of St. Joseph in the Life of Christ and the Church (Redemptoris Custos). In this apostolic exhortation written in 1989, the Pope notes that St. Joseph was a quiet man who has very much to say about being a spouse, fatherhood, and being an evangelist:
Fatherhood presents such challenges to American culture in particular that being a real father is actually a countercultural and subversive activity. The National Fatherhood Initiative is a federally-sponsored project that is intended to assist biological fathers to become real fathers to their children so that every child has the father God intended for each of His children:
Does today’s homily raise any
question(s) that you would like