The importance of fatherhood - Twenty third Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

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Today Australia celebrates Father’s Day and it is fitting that at Mass we reflect on the importance of fatherhood in family and social life."

I am sure that you have all seen the ad produced by Dads4kids where the word “Dad” is said by children of all ages and in a variety of situations. I have found it a moving expression of the beauty and dignity of fatherhood. It is aimed at encouraging men to embrace fatherhood, and has the byline, “love your children”.

The fact that the ad is aired on television is because there is a crisis about fatherhood in our society and indeed across the world. There is talk of a “fatherlessness epidemic”. I recently spoke with a father who was part of a Catholic leadership seminar for university graduates in Uganda. He commented that of the hundred or so young men and women attending this conference – and we could say that they are the elite in their country only a handful could say that they came from families with a healthy presence of a father.

Fathers are vital to the healthy growth of children. Good fathers provide a vital element to the wellbeing of children.

Sociological data has shown that children from fatherless homes are more likely to be poor, become involved in drug and alcohol abuse, drop out of school, and suffer from health and emotional problems. Boys are more likely to become involved in crime, and girls are more likely to become pregnant as teens. These statements are verifiable by statistics.

The evidence abounds. For example: Children in grades 7-12 who have lived with at least one biological parent, youth that experienced divorce, separation, or nonunion birth have lower educational outcomes than those who have always lived with both biological parents. It is usually the case that a one parent family unit lacks the presence of the father.

Adolescents living in intact families are less likely to engage in delinquency than their peers living in non-intact families. This outcome was the result of lower parental involvement, supervision, monitoring, and parent-child closeness between intact and non-intact families. The presence of a father has significant influence particularly on the behavior patterns of boys.

Children age 10 to 17 living with two biological or adoptive parents were significantly less likely to experience sexual assault, child maltreatment, other types of major violence, and non-victimization type of adversity, and were less likely to witness violence in their families compared to peers living in single-parent families and stepfamilies.

Family breakdown which often results in the loss of the presence of the father places children at greater risk.
None of this is any surprise to us. However, as we celebrate Father’s Day, it is important that we recognize how important fathers are to the raising of children.

Queensland businessman, a husband and father of four and a long standing friend of mine, Robert Falzon, has written a book entitled “The Father Factor”. He has stated, "Women continue to do an heroic job of raising their sons and daughters but children, particularly boys need a father. They need a strong life-giving, encouraging, affirming, loving, interested and involved dad. Young men want to know if they have what it takes to be a man. A woman no matter how hard she tries cannot bestow manhood. A father can. He is not only a role model for his sons but the one who provides answers to questions that worry young men. Growing up, teenagers worry that maybe they are not lovable, that they don't fit in, that they are not good enough. Fathers are can give their sons self-esteem and confidence in their manhood. But without a father and with low self-esteem, there is a tendency for young men to turn to fantasy, ill-equipped to deal with society or life."

The challenges in Australia are clearly evident. Robert Falzon comments that across Australia 40% of teenagers do not have their biological father in the home. This troubling figure continues to rise with 48% of marriages now ending in divorce. According to latest statistics, non-married partnerships have now overtaken married couples. But these partnerships are less likely to last with 70% of these unions breaking down and resulting in permanent estrangement.

The lack of fathers in sons' as well as daughters' lives not only affects the child as he or she grows up but influences them throughout their lives.  Falzon comments, “A father is a girl's primary male in life and he is the one who can make her feel lovable and valued. He can let her know she is beautiful and special and unique. But when there is no father, her self-esteem takes a massive hit and she frequently develops issues about looks and appearance, eating disorders and then rushes off at age 18 with a person full of testosterone who tells her anything she needs to hear to get what he wants."

We are witnessing the emergence of a number of men’s movements seeking to assist men in their role as fathers. This is a very good thing. I notice at St Mary’s school on the cathedral precinct men coming before school and on a Thursday afternoon to play simple sports with their young primary aged sons and daughters. It is quite a beautiful thing to witness. The desire for loving fatherhood lies in the hearts of men and I see this as the men engage beautifully with the children.

It is this that we celebrate today, Father’s Day - the gift of fatherhood to children.

As we read the Gospels one element often overlooked is that Jesus himself reveals a close and loving relationship with his own Father. He constantly makes reference to his Father – “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (Jn 5:19) He taught his disciples to regard God as their Father. He wanted us to see ourselves as sons and daughters of God. He said that there is in the end only one father, the model of all fatherhood – his Father. Thus when he taught us to pray he gave us a prayer which begins with “Our Father who art in heaven”.

The Gospel today presents a beautiful healing miracle. A deaf and dumb man approaches Jesus. He was brought by some friends. Jesus takes him aside in private, touches the man’s ears and tongue and says, “be opened”. This man lived under the burden of not being about to hear or speak. Healing is in the heart of Jesus. He came to heal bodies, and minds and hearts. Whatever may have been our experience of our own father, Jesus invites us to know true fatherhood, and if there is residual pain from our own experiences Jesus can heal our hearts.

Today let us celebrate fatherhood. Let us be reminded of its critical importance for the raising of children. Let us pray for our fathers. And, fathers, at Mass ask for the grace to be the fathers you want to be and your children need you to be.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Saturday, 5 September 2015