Next to a man’s love for his wife, the other great joy in his life is his love for his children. So says Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa in homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, which was almost a week ago. The title of the homily is “The Joys of Fatherhood.”
Father Cantalamessa, who is the preacher of the Papal Household, reflects on a little remarked-upon aspect of the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, that of the relationship between fathers and their children. He notes that while society and culture seems to speak endlessly of the erotic and romantic relationship between man and woman, it has almost nothing to say about a father’s relationship with his children.
If we serenely and objectively look into the human heart we will find that, in the majority of cases, a good, understanding, and untroubled relationship with his children is, for a mature, adult man, no less important and fulfilling than the relationship between a man and a woman. We know how important this relationship is for both sons and daughters and the tremendous void that is left by its disintegration.
He notes that what is most destructive to a man’s relationship to his children is “authoritarianism, paternalism, rebellion, rejection, lack of communication,” just as there is nothing more destructive to the relationship between a man and a woman than “abuse, exploitation and violence.” Yet men bear suffering in these relationships as much as they originate it.
There are fathers whose most profound suffering in life is being rejected or even despised by their children. And there are children whose most profound and unadmitted suffering is to feel misunderstood, to not be esteemed, to be rejected by their father.
He finishes by echoing then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s words about the crisis of fatherhood being at the root of all major social ills by saying that reconciliation between fathers and children is important to a new evangelization.
Perhaps this is why Satan is expending so much effort making fathers—both spiritual and biological—into objects of suspicion and fear and emasculating them so that their children and their wives no longer respect them.
(By this I’m referring to anecdotes such as the dad having lunch with his daughter in a mall food court being approached by police because an adult man being alone with a child is automatically a cause for suspicion. Or the nurse in the maternity ward waiting for me to leave the room so an in-labor Melanie can be grilled about whether I abuse her.)
Our society has become hostile to dads qua dads. The only good father is the befuddled milk sop who rolls over when his children demand money for the latest gadget and whose highest ambition is to be their pal. It’s a sad substitute for the fatherhood that ignites contempt, not love.