orthodox spirituality | Unbalanced Fatherhood

Unbalanced Fatherhood: On the Verge of Absence and Unhealthy Control – Part 1

I believe there is a crisis in the role of the father in the family. I’ve noticed two extremes and a lack of balance. 

Here are examples of some of the words which I’ve been hearing recently: “I agreed with my wife: I work, and she takes care of the house and the kids”; “Father, I work too many hours, I come home and she asks me to spend time with the kids, but I can’t”; and “I told my wife she is the one to take the kids to church, pray, and read the Bible with them”. At the other extreme I hear, “Father, my husband wants to control the kids, he gets involved in every little thing”; “My dad breathes down my neck”; “My dad is too much, I have no privacy”; and “My husband tells me the church thing isn’t for me”.

Let’s establish a few facts regarding fatherhood. First, we look into the relationship between God the Father and the Son to see the nature of love in the Trinity: “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand” (John 3:35); “For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel” (John 5:20); and “I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:27). It’s the love that gives even when the recipient needs nothing, lacks no knowledge, and has no flaw. This is the picture of love that the Scriptures portray to us as the true meaning of fatherhood, to be an example for all of us to follow and by which we ought to live and love. It’s a selfless love, which, if we obtain it, means we will be giving everything to our sons and daughters. It’s a selfless love that overcomes our tiredness so we spend time with our children. It’s the selfless love that pushes us to wake up early on Sunday morning to stand next to our children in church, by which we provide fatherhood, which is not only measured in dollars. In the fullness of love, St. Paul writes, “As you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (1 Th 2:11-12). This is the love that would bring our children to the same words of our Lord: “Not My will, but Yours” (Luke 22:42). This is a natural process and the organic fruit of true Christian love.

According to our Orthodox theology, God the Father is the source, cause, and begetter of the Son, and He from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds. To God the Father all things will be subjected “that God may be all in all” (1 Cor 15:28). So it is with earthly fathers, in whom the whole family should find strength, comfort, assurance, and care. In a family that has a strong father figure with a loving and caring presence, you will find the wife and the children give this same witness – that it’s dad who holds the family together. It’s clear that our sons need a father figure to teach them to be true men. Our Christian conviction stands on “come and see”. Our Orthodox theology is incarnational— where we experience the Son of God incarnate, our Orthodox worship involves our full presence, vision, smell, hearing, touch, and taste. And so it is with our fatherhood to our children. They need to see us, hear us, hug us, and spend as much time as possible with us. Looking into our Orthodox churches, I recently noticed a decline in male leaders outside the clerical ranks and a decline of true active participation with leadership qualities in the life of the parish. I wonder sometimes if this is a result of unbalanced fatherhood in the lives of the children and young youth.
We will pause here until next week. 

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