Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Demise of Fatherhood in the Western World

Andrew J. Peach has a terrific article "On the Demise of Fatherhood" at First Things. He argues that the Enlightenment call to rational self-determination has led to fathers abandoning their posts:

"I would like to propose that the demise of fatherhood is largely the result of a relatively recent and thoroughly unjustifiable faith in rational self-determination. Indeed, nearly all of the culprits that cultural observers have previously identified—contraceptives, abortion, women’s liberation, increased secularity, the usurpation of the functions of the father by the state—can probably best be understood as instances of this more general tendency."

Here is a section near the end that is lyrical and profound:

"Most fathers-to-be suppose that their old ego-centered lives will continue more or less unabated after the child arrives. With the exception of a few more obstacles and demands on their time, their involvement with their children is envisioned as being something manageable and marginal. Nothing like a complete transformation—an abrupt end to their former life—really enters men’s minds.

But then the onslaught begins, and a man begins to realize that these people, his wife and children, are literally and perhaps even intentionally killing his old self. All around him everything is changing, without any signs of ever reverting back to the way they used to be. Into the indefinite future, nearly every hour of his days threatens to be filled with activities that, as a single-person or even a childless husband, he never would have chosen. Due to the continual interruptions of sleep, he is always mildly fatigued; due to long-term financial concerns, he is cautious in spending, forsaking old consumer habits and personal indulgences; he finds his wife equally exhausted and preoccupied with the children; connections with former friends start to slip away; traveling with his children is like traveling third class in Bulgaria, to quote H.L. Mencken; and the changes go on and on. In short, he discovers, in a terrifying realization, what Dostoevsky proclaimed long ago: “[A]ctive love is a harsh and fearful reality compared with love in dreams.” Fatherhood is just not what he bargained for.

Yet, through the exhaustion, financial stress, screaming, and general chaos, there enters in at times, mysteriously and unexpectedly, deep contentment and gratitude. It is not the pleasure or amusement of high school or college but rather the honor and nobility of sacrifice and commitment, like that felt by a soldier. What happens to his children now happens to him; his life, though awhirl with the trivial concerns of children, is more serious than it ever was before. Everything he does, from bringing home a paycheck to painting a bedroom, has a new end and, hence, a greater significance. The joys and sorrows of his children are now his joys and sorrows; the stakes of his life have risen. And if he is faithful to his calling, he might come to find that, against nearly all prior expectations, he never wants to return to the way things used to be."

Many of us who are fathers recognize ourselves in this description. The deep wisdom of the words of Jesus that it is only in losing our lives that we find life are worked out by Peach in his analysis of fatherhood. Being out of control is the only way for a finite creature to be truely happy. Happy Father's Day! Read it all here.

1 comment:

beth @ said...

I love this. Nice pic too :)