"Big Four" Highlights


What Is a ‘Father for Good’?

It’s more than a baby in your life

By Brian Caulfield, FFG Editor

In the words of the world’s most popular father – our Holy Father Pope Francis:

A father, helps the child “to perceive the limits of life, to be open to the challenges of the wider world, and to see the need for hard work and strenuous effort” (Amoris Laetitia, 175).

Pope Francis has a way of grasping the essence of an issue and putting it in terms we can all understand. This quote, written after the two synods on the family, sums up quite nicely some of the best scholarship on the nature of fatherhood, and resonates with common-sense experience. Well, at least my own experience.

One summer, when I was 8 or 9, we rented a bicycle that was way too big for me. With the best of intentions, my dad plopped me on the seat, held me up as I strained to reach the pedals, gave a push, and off I went down the block, swerving nervously. Good thing there was a fence at the end of the street to break my fall! My mother, with ears set to the precise frequency of the screams of her three boys, was at the window in a flash, yelling at my dad, who stood impervious to any maternal fears or even human reasoning. (This was well before mandatory safety helmets.) Looking back at dad, I saw his proud smile saying, “That’s my boy, he gave it his all,” and knew that I – and the masculine world I was learning to inhabit – would live to see another day.

That was my father. Chances are, with different details, your father was something like that, too. Blame it on hormones, the differences between male and female brains, nature or nurture, Mars and Venus, or a gift of God who made them male and female. The nature of fatherhood is so universal that Pope Francis inscribes it into a document meant for the faithful, across nations, societies and cultures. Fathers are forever, in the words of Pope Francis – helping (or pushing) their kids into the larger world.

God has blessed my wife and me with two boys, ages 15 and 11, and the “Francis dynamic” has been at work in our family. I have been the one (sometimes secretly) to initiate such rites of passage for my sons such as crossing the street on their own, riding the bike with no hands, taking out the booster seat from the car, staying home alone, and carrying heavier (and even heavier) loads.

Yet we may ask today whether Pope Francis’ words about fathers describe more a caricature from the past than a current reality. Later in his exhortation, he talks about “a society without fathers.” So many children do not have consistent contact with their dad, due to divorce, separation, incarceration, or child abandonment. Today, 41 percent of U.S. children are born to a single mother; and upwards of 40 percent of marriages end in divorce. Single motherhood and family breakup have led to millions of children growing up without a father present in their lives.

Yet despite the huge ache of father absence at the heart of our society, there is very little talk about the problem.

There are many reasons for this silence having to do with changing morals and marriage laws. But there is another, more subtle reason for the lack of public discussion and policy on how best to keep fathers, families and children together. Our society treats fathers as expendable. A mother and father together raising their children is ideal – but if anything goes wrong in the mix, the father can be cut out.

We may blame in large part the sexual revolution, extreme feminism and the portrayal of clueless dads in the media. As a result of these, men have retreated in many large and small ways from shaping the culture and making their mark, and our society has suffered without even knowing or asking why.

Ironically, the benefits of fathers to their families are well-documented by very mainstream, secular sources. Children who do not have a father in their lives have much higher rates of:

  • Dropping out of school and delinquency
  • Anti-social behavior
  • Poverty
  • Running afoul of the law
  • Early sexual activity and teen pregnancy

There is a problem, and dad is at the center of the solution.

That solution, I think, can be found in the two meanings of our title Fathers for Good. First, once a man becomes a father, once he generates new life, he is a father for good, there is no giving back that gift. He has a new identity that can never be erased, whether he wants it or not, whether he embraces it or not, whether he lives up to the high calling and responsibilities or not. The fact of life can never be blotted out of reality or memory.

The second meaning is this: Most men – and deep down, all men, want to be a good father. They want, in their heart of hearts, to do the right thing for their child, to be that special man in a child’s life. There is an innate desire, given by God the Father, for all men to be a good father.

So how does Fathers for Good fulfill its goal to help men fulfill their high calling? We encourage, sometimes cajole, at other times cite the startling stats such as above, and always seek to accompany men along the path to a better sense of themselves as fathers.

We welcome wives as equal partners on this path, taking for our own the quote attributed to the late Father Hesburgh, longtime president of Notre Dame:

“The greatest gift a father can give his children is to love their mother.”

Indeed, in this beautiful mess of life and love called the family, we highlight the positive, while never downplaying the many problems and pitfalls inherent in the human condition. We teach what the Catholic Church teaches as the common sense of the ages that will make us happy. We hold up love – self-giving, self-sacrificing love as the very attainable human goal for all marriages and families. And we listen to what our readers have to say.

So let us hear from you as we walk the walk a fatherhood together.