Three Cheers for Fathers

(The Nationalist, 30 March 2007)


Doris Lessing, an English novelist who has written extensively about the role of women in society, said, ‘It has now become socially acceptable to consider men domestically incompetent, useless in the kitchen, hopeless fathers, unreliable breadwinners, and generally a dispensable sector of the human race’. She wasn’t trumpeting that as a success for women. Far from it – she was stating that such attitudes are there, and regretting the fact. I think she’s right. Just think of the number of adverts that depict the man as a helpless idiot outsmarted by the clever woman. Or think of the verdicts of courts in custody cases, where it seems to be assumed as a matter of course that the mother is necessarily a better person to look after the children than the father.

Some years ago, I met a Russian Jew who had converted to Christianity. His son had emigrated to Israel, and become a member of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, representing a party of Russian émigrés. He had also become Minister of Housing, which involved building Jewish settlements on Palestinian land in ways that were exploitative and unjust. I asked the father what he thought of this. I’ll never forget his answer; he said, ‘I don’t like what my son is doing – but he’s still my son’.

On another occasion, I met a young man who had led a wild and irresponsible life, creating a lot of trouble and suffering for others, especially his parents. He’s now in his late twenties, married with four children, lives a model life in his local community, and goes to Mass and the sacraments regularly. I asked him what had brought about the change in his life. He said it was experiencing unconditional love from his own father. He said he knew that, no matter what he did, his father would not stop loving him.

More recently still, I got into conversation with a boy of about ten years of age. He spoke about his mother, brothers, and sisters. When I asked him how he got on with his father, he answered spontaneously and enthusiastically, ‘I love him to bits’. A great answer to hear.

Some years back I was on a pilgrimage to Rome. One day at Mass, in introducing the gospel of the prodigal son (Luke 15.11-32), I asked the congregation, as they listened to the story, to look for an answer to the question, ‘At what stage in the story did the father forgive the son?’ Afterwards, people put forward their answers. There was an elderly man in the group, a father of 13 children, 7 girls and 6 boys, (who said the girls were just as much trouble as the boys) stopped us all in our tracks by saying, ‘The father never forgave the son’. We asked him what he meant, and he answered, ‘The father never forgave the son, because he understood him so well, and loved him so much, that he never took offence in the first place’.

Three cheers for fathers.