What is a father? Is he a teacher, loremaster, provider, mentor, guide, role model, the guy who’s “been there,” or just a gene donor? God is our Father, but what does that really mean?
Fatherhood is more than just a genetic contribution to a baby. It’s a role, a vocation, a calling, and a lifelong commitment.
A father is a teacher. Many of my own father’s lessons began with words such as, “When I was a boy … .” His intent, I think, was to illustrate that he had been where we, my brother and I, now were. What we got out of those lessons was rather different than his intent for them, but that’s a tale for another time. Suffice it to say, he missed the mark fairly often.
A father has been there, in both senses: he shows up, and he knows what you’re going through, whether or not he communicates that sentiment well or in an engaging manner. Times change, yes, and individual circumstances vary, but in general, dads get it.
Our Father in Heaven does understand what we are going through, and more effectively than my earthly father did in his attempts to relate to his children.
God honestly knows the pain we experience in infertility, firsthand. We grieve the loss of that child, the one we would have conceived this month, except that didn’t happen. We grieve the loss of that child, the one we couldn’t adopt. We grieve the loss of that child, the one who passed away.
God has also lost children: the ones who turned away and never came back; the ones who refuse to turn to Him; the ones who reject Him.
God knows and understands our pain, grief, and longing.
A father loves.
He loves us without reserve, flaw, or imperfection. After all, God is Love (1 Jn 4:8b), God is perfect, and He tells us in the Gospel through His Son how much more perfect His expressions of love are, and how they exceed those of our earthly fathers. Consider Jesus’ teaching in Luke 11:9-13 and Matthew 7:7-11 about fathers who care for their children and who give them good things. Here, we are reminded that a father naturally wants what is objectively good for his child. It may not square up with what that child wants, as when my brother and I wanted to purchase toys through mail-away catalogues in the 1980s, but Dad preferred to spare us the hard lessons that would bring.
What else does a father do?
Fathers sacrifice for their children. Consider Joseph deciding to travel to Egypt to save the life of Jesus, leaving his home and livelihood, reestablishing his business, and walking over one hundred miles with an infant and wife in tow. God Himself sacrificed His Only Begotten Son to save the human race. My dad did whatever work was available to support us, even taking jobs he didn’t want to put food on the table.
Doting fathers introduce themselves as fathers. My friend’s husband certainly does, starting from the moment their first daughter was born. God does, too, all throughout the Old Testament; for example, in 2 Samuel 7:14, He says, “I will be a father to him.” There are even more of these references in the books of Hebrews and Corinthians.
Fathers teach their children, too. Mine taught me the value of family, of self-sacrifice, and shortly before I lost him, how to cut up a whole chicken. I swallowed my pride the day I asked Dad to teach me to cut up that chicken, and I’m so glad I did, as he passed away unexpectedly a few months later. He was really pleased that I asked him to do that.
Fathers guide, educate, mentor, encourage, provide for, and nurture their children. God exhibits these behaviors throughout salvation history, starting with Adam and Eve. He clothed Adam and Eve, He led Abraham, and He teaches each person gradually, according to our individual capacities.
How can we exhibit these traits, and how can we honor those who have acted as fathers to us?
Delsonora lives in Central Ohio and has been married to the best husband a woman could want for over a quarter century. She has a disability and was adopted as an infant. Delsonora loves pets, crafting, and food, and she thinks that coincidence is often a “divine hint”. Catholic from conception, she’s convinced that the faith is why, despite the prevalence of other options, she was able to be born.