In an age that questions, doubts, and undermines first things, there is at least one silver lining. It demands that we look more intently and perhaps even discover some of these ‘first things’ for the first time. Fatherhood stands out among these.

It might have seemed that a conceptual analysis of fatherhood is so obvious as to be foregone. But words of Thomas Aquinas indicate otherwise: “It belongs to a father to produce and to govern.” Simply focusing on the second of this couplet, we have opportunity to recognize why fatherhood always has been and will be supremely challenging both in concept and in practice. To govern. No human reality is at once so necessary and so prone to corruption. And it always starts—where else—in the home.

Aquinas deftly takes us to the center of the human drama by noting that the individual good and the common good are not identical. Since nature assures that people incline to their own individual good, there must be something (or someone!) that looks to and ‘moves toward the common good of the many.’ And so nature provides that there is governing authority in human communities to do precisely that. Aquinas might have simply said, and ‘so nature provides that there are fathers.’ For a father, by his very nature, is a man who looks not to his individual good but to the good of others. (And of course fatherhood intrinsically demands the co-agency of motherhood, which here we will not address.)

This analysis points to what is perhaps the central, all-encompassing, and daily demand of the reality of fatherhood: its very nature is to be other-centered. To be selfish is not just a shortcoming with unfortunate consequences. It is a failure to be what you are—just as to be tyrant is to be no king at all.

In enumerating the awful consequences of tyranny in the body politic, Aquinas gives a chilling picture that applies also to the home of the self-seeking father.

“Thus there can be no safety. Everything is uncertain when there is a departure from justice. Nobody will be able firmly to state, ‘this thing is such and such,’ when it depends upon the will of another, not to say upon his caprice.”

Everything is uncertain. Nobody can make firm statements about how things are. We have here basis for a devastating analysis of what we see all around us today. And it begins—where else—in the home; in the home where there is not the foundation, that solid and irreplaceable rock, that looks not to his own good. But to theirs; to ours. A real father.

Such a philosophical analysis is useless if it devolves into finger pointing. The drama and the challenge of discovering and enacting real fatherhood involves all of us, and probably implicates many of us. A great place to begin is to be grateful for Father’s Day and to take it to heart. Now is the time to rediscover fatherhood, and there is no better way to begin than honoring it.

Aquinas argues that we naturally know that a father is worthy of both reverence and obedience. The notion (and practice!) of obedience highlights that fathers should be governing or directing toward the common good. The ‘common good’ here functionally means the greatest good of those he is serving—serving precisely through his governance. Obedience is essential to human flourishing for the same reason that governance is. They are two sides of one gold coin: each is demanded by and draws us toward the astounding reality of human flourishing.

And then there is reverence. Some find themselves in a position where it is difficult to muster reverence for a father. Surely, many of us fathers are not as deserving of reverence as we might have been. Father’s Day for this reason might well elicit pain.

Even while recognizing and standing in solidarity with such pain, we do well to consider that fatherhood itself, even as an ideal often unreached in its real integrity, is ever worthy of honor and remembrance. Likewise, even faltering efforts at practicing it call for gratitude and honor, and a hope-filled resolve to do whatever we can to promote and support fatherhood, and all those striving to do it. ~ ~ ~

NEW PODCAST EPISODE, #6: Feeling Overwhelmed? Strategies for Attaining Peace. Feeling overwhelmed need not overwhelm us, or our marriage. Join Sofia and me as we discuss yet another burning issue. Listen wherever you get your podcasts, or view on Youtube:

LIFECRAFT DAY AT THE BARN: HUSBANDRY AND WIFERY: RECLAIMING THE PRACTICAL ARTS FOR A FLOURISHING HOUSEHOLD. Join us in the Shenandoah Valley June 29th for talks, fellowship and great food! INFORMATION AND REGISTRATION. Hope to see you there in person!

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