“It is difficult for the father of a family not to regard as a personal enemy the author of a bad book that brings corruption into the hearts of his children.” -Louis de Bonald
Less than two years ago, I met my oldest son for the first time. Since then, I’ve also met his younger brother and in the future, I hope to meet his younger brothers and sisters, however many of them there may be.
Until the day I was able to see my oldest son for the first time, I did not think myself ready for being a father. I was convinced that fatherhood was something that was years down the road (despite being in my mid-twenties). It quickly became obvious that a lot of this misconception was rooted in my own immaturity. It turns out that becoming a father forces an adolescent boy to become a man, and it illuminates the selfishness and childishness that were easy to hide before being forced to take care of every need and want of a helpless human being.
I say all of this as a preamble. I am not an “expert” in any meaningful sense about fatherhood when compared to men who have been fathers for twenty or thirty times longer than I have. It was only recently that I began to think about any of this stuff. Despite my lack of experience, I think I’ve discovered a few of the things that give fatherhood purpose.
First, fatherhood forces men to realize how selfish they are. This has already been mentioned, but I want to emphasize that this is a positive thing, and something for which it is difficult to think of an equally powerful substitute. Certainly the Apostle Paul, as he spoke of forgoing marriage and fatherhood to focus on God, had in mind that Christian men – whether they were married with children or not – would die to themselves and their own selfishness. And while there are unmarried or childless Christian men today who pursue this with success as God provides other methods, I can’t help but think that many men (of which I was one until recently) are more selfish than they know, and have no mirror to see it.
Second, fatherhood forces men to give up their selfishness to a degree. Knowing you are selfish is required to fixing the problem, but fatherhood goes further than conferring knowledge. Seeing your child sick or injured or hungry or frightened is enough to make you reorder your priorities, but it goes further than this. Until I had children, I went to work every day with the sensation that I was acquiring money so my wife and I could enjoy ourselves now and in the future. Once we started having children, my concern became with their well-being. It didn’t happen all at once, but within the past two years, I’ve started taking work much more seriously and have pursued side-work and overtime (things I hated in the past) just to find the extra money to provide for my children. Given the abysmal results of America’s public schools and the hellish indoctrination that flows down from the Department of Education, I want my children to attend private schools or be home-schooled. Fun careers doing hobbies part-time aren’t an option anymore.
Lastly – and maybe most importantly – fathers shoulder the innumerable horrors of the world so that their children can have innocent wonder and, by having wonder, come to know God. War, disease, natural disaster, human evil, demonic forces, and sin abound in a world which children enter with a certain innocence that they lose as they get older. All people – children included – are part of a fallen race, but children begin untainted by the extreme evil outside of themselves. This is what we mean when we talk about “losing one’s innocence”. It isn’t that someone suddenly begins to do wrong (my toddler can be a master at selfishness and disobedience, especially when tired). It’s that children naturally have an innocent wonder at the world around them. They see things without the taint of the rest of the world corrupting their thoughts and tempting them. They are civilians who eventually need to enter spiritual combat, but who are not ready to do so.
The world hates children. It destroys them through abortion, it corrupts them through media and increasingly through public education, and it tries to break apart families through divorce. At root, it seems clear that the world hates children because children are innocent, and it causes even those with dead consciences to feel guilt and shame to see an innocent child.
As a father, it is my job to shield my children from the world. I know that someday they’ll be old enough to teach and to train, and eventually even to go out into the world on their own. But until that day actually comes, I want them to be able to have innocent awe and wonder at the good things in the world, and by through this, know that this world has a good and awesome God intuitively.
All of these things combine to form one cohesive whole: Fatherhood is sacred. It is God’s method to conform fathers to the likeness of Christ as they, to their own children, act as stewards of His own divine fatherhood. The relationship – not exclusively, but uniquely – makes Christians out of men and makes God real to their children.
These are my thoughts on fatherhood’s purposes, at least.