The Supreme Court's recent legal decisions regarding marriage certainly add to the growing list of reasons to be worried that our nation's public culture is careening toward a moral and social cliff.
It's easy to feel distressed.
It's easy to feel helpless.
But there are a lot of wonderfully helpful things we can do. One simple thing we can do every day is to celebrate the amazing gift of fatherhood and motherhood--the direct fruits of marriage.
If we remember the amazing good that fatherhood is, for example, I think that it will help us rediscover the unique good that marriage is.
We just had Father's Day here in the USA. And, coincidentally, Pope Francis said this about fatherhood:
"When a man does not have this desire [to be a father], something is missing in this man. Something is wrong. All of us, to exist, to become complete, in order to mature, we need to feel the joy of fatherhood: even those of us who are celibate. Fatherhood is giving life to others, giving life, giving life..."
I’m blessed with a wonderful father. My Dad (that's my Dad on the far left getting a big kiss from my brother) filled my childhood with experiences of fatherly love. In my earliest years, he’d tuck us (five) little Muirs in bed, pray with us, kiss us on the head, make us feel like we were the most special kids in the world. We just knew he loved us from the way he treated us.
I assumed his fatherly tenderness to us was automatic. Fatherhood seemed so easy for him. It wasn’t until later in life that I learned my Dad’s love as a father didn’t come cheap. My Dad had been a top-rated college basketball referee when I was born. Against his shocked colleagues’ recommendations, at the peak of his career, he quit…so he could be home evenings and weekends. In my young adolescence, when his successful real estate business (“Muir Real Estate Corner”) began to sap time and precious energy from him, he sold it and became a high school teacher, so was home every day at 3 pm for my Mom and siblings.
All of my father’s love and tenderness toward my mom and to us kids was purchased at a price. And it made him a great father.
A Creative Vow. Years later, in the seminary, I came across something by the French Philosopher Gabriel Marcel called “The Creative Vow as the Essence of Fatherhood.” He said that true fatherhood was born from a special “creative vow”: a father becomes a father not mainly through physical paternity, but through a creative promise in which a man vows to love a child in the “fidelity to a hope which transcends all ambition and personal claims.”
In a flash, I saw it: my dad’s amazing fatherhood derived its vitality from his promise to embrace his kids without any reference to his own ambition and personal claims. I saw, in other words, that robust fatherhood is born of a weird creative weakness: dying to ambition, rising to relate to a child in a totally selfless way.
Gabriel Marcel said that this kind of “creative vow” has to be rooted in the eternity of God, because only God can sustain this kind of radical fidelity and love. During early mornings in my high school years, my Dad often returned from somewhere caring milk and donuts. I thought it was just Safeway. Turns out, he was going to daily Mass before hitting the grocery store.
I thought he just really liked donuts. Later I learned he went to daily Mass to receive strength from the “eternity of God” to keep living out the “creative promise” of his fatherhood.
Fatherhood completes a man because it roots him in God, and teaches him to love. I'm so thankful for the amazing gift that marriage--through my parents--gave to me: Fatherhood. My Dad's fatherhood, and now the fatherhood I seek to grow in as a priest.
Nothing else could take the place of what marriage gave to me: the experience of a father's love.