Husband & Wife Articles


Father as Family Philosopher

Every dad needs a philosophy, or “love of wisdom”

By Andrew M. Haines

Unlike most dads, I had the chance to spend a few years in seminary before deciding to get married and have a family. There’s a lot that seminary won’t teach you about being a family man — or even a good husband, for that matter. For example, my 2-year-old is unlikely to appreciate a lecture on the four pillars of intellectual, spiritual, physical and human formation.

On the other hand, the study of priesthood lends much to the study of fatherhood, more generally speaking. All men are called to be leaders of the church — some to be fathers of a parish church, others to be fathers of ecclesia domestica, the domestic church of family life. The program for priestly formation sheds light on what it takes to be a father in the second sense by offering a perspective on what good fatherly formation entails.

If all fathers — as leaders of the (most) local church — are called to raise the hearts and minds of their flock to know, love, and serve God, then dads should know a bit of theology. After all, how can we love, or hand on, what we don’t know? And how can we serve the Lord whose voice we don’t understand? Of course, all fathers needn’t be brilliant theologians on the level of our beloved pope emeritus, Benedict XVI. A little prayer and piety go a long way. However, whatever the depth, some theological insight is necessary at the most basic level of grasping and exercising one’s vocation, especially if that includes leading others to the Source of life and goodness.

The wisdom of the program for priestly formation, then, is that it shows us the Church’s preferred path for forming spiritual fathers capable of knowing and bringing others to Christ. Invariably, while such formation culminates in academic theology, it includes a heavy dose of training in natural reason — philosophy — as an indispensable prerequisite. If the substance of fatherhood today has deteriorated because we’ve forgotten God, it has been allowed to continue to decay because we’ve forgotten to stop and think, as well. Theology is the queen of the sciences, according to the Scholastics. But philosophy is its handmaiden. Where there is natural wisdom and virtue, supernatural wisdom is never far behind.

If a father is priest and theologian of the domestic church, then he must also be the family philosopher. After all, a proper philosophy – which incorporates a realistic view of life in its temporal and eternal aspects – is vital for guiding your family through the thickets of a culture bent on destroying it.

While we likely consider “philosophers” to be somewhat aloof or pedantic types, the fact is that true philosophy has a lot less to do with erudition than good living. Although academic philosophy nowadays consist mostly in heavily abstracted arguments about logic and knowledge, and the (slim) possibility of finding truth, that wasn’t always the case. The Catholic tradition has consistently understood the philosopher to be a wayfarer along the path of spiritual perfection. Thomas Aquinas and friends might have asked questions about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, but such is an unfair characterization of their efforts. They knew very well the importance of natural reason for living a good and virtuous life, and for preparing the soul for a direct encounter with God.

If this is what we mean by “philosopher,” then every good father must take up the task. Good fathers are known for their clear-headedness, justice, courage, and stability, among other things. These attributes are ways of living that point to the Supreme Good in a naturally accessible way; they are practices that require self-knowledge and good judgment, and which exemplify the very meaning of Christian philosophy.

They’re also things that, as I’m coming to learn, even a 2-year-old can appreciate in his father.

Andrew M. Haines is a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America, editor of the journal Ethika Politika, and a professional web developer. He lives in Virginia with his wife, Kathleen, and their two children.