A Million Children Growing Up Without Fathers

My Family, with Mary Therese's Godparents, Andy and Norah, on the occasion of her Baptism. I'm not sure why John is making the Vulcan 'live long & prosper' sign there, but anyway...

The BBC here asserts that a new report on family breakdown says that a million UK children are growing up without a father in their lives.

The Centre for Social Justice report says lone parent families are increasing by more than 20,000 a year and will top two million by the next general election.

Some areas are virtual "men deserts" due to the high number of fatherless households, it adds.

This is a shocking trend in our society which can only be furthered by a continued erosion of the building block of our society: marriage. As Sarah Teather recently pointed out,
Once the concept of marriage has become established in social consciousness as an entirely private matter about love and commitment alone, without any link to family, I fear that it will accelerate changes already occurring that makes family life more unstable. (I should add, that I also suspect it will make marriage ultimately seem irrelevant. After all, how long before gay people begin to say, as many straight couples of my own generation have begun to say, "if marriage is just about love, why would I need a piece of paper to prove it?")
The distinct roles of fathers and mothers are vital elements in a child's development. This is not to criticise those whose personal circumstances do not allow, compassion for personal circumstances is the hallmark of Christianity. But that does not mean we cannot assert the ideal. When I first became a father, it was vital to me that I undertook my responsibilities wholeheartedly. I wanted to be the best father I could be. I understood that there would be challenges and difficulties, but, having been abandoned by my own father, and being aware of the hurt and pain that brought into my family, I was determined to be more for my children.

Children are resilient and often able to recover, with love, from extremely adverse situations. However we must acknowledge that it is always preferable to avoid those situations arising in the first place than being left to deal with them retrospectively. Understanding marriage and family, promoting morals and good practice, ensuring that you commit to marriage as the properly understood institution, and going into that state with your eyes open are the keys to success for you, for your children, and ultimately for society; as Blessed John Paul II explained:
All members of the family, each according to his or her own gift, have the grace and responsibility of building, day by day, the communion of persons, making the family "a school of deeper humanity"
Now my two oldest sons are almost men and I am so happy to say that they are my best friends. We talk about everything, we always have. There is a very clear line of authority between us; I do not think it works to have a relationship that blurs the boundaries between friend and father. Rather I am their father and their friend. They must see what it means to be responsible and they must feel that they can rely on me to be so. My sons are intelligent, confident, compassionate young men, who are able to articulate a complex understanding of life (as Mike recently demonstrated with great aplomb). With regards to daughters, I think it is a father who teaches his daughter what a loving relationship should be. It is a father who shows his daughter what affection is, what respect is, what love is. Similarly, it is a father who shows his sons how to treat a woman, just as it is a mother who will inspire her sons to seek out a wife who is confident and loving.

People often ask how we have achieved the rearing of such good boys, especially, perhaps, in the face of such familial tragedy and hardship. Well, here is my secret: I am Catholic. My parenting is informed by the Church. My marriage is formed by mutual agreement on Church teaching. When I married my wife, we both had a good understanding of what it meant to be in a Catholic marriage and we worked together with the same hopes, goals and ideals, in the knowledge that the choice we had made bound us together until death.

What does the Church have to say about fathers? Here is a snippet from the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio on the role of the Christian Family in the Modern World:

Men as Husbands and Fathers
25. Within the conjugal and family communion-community, the man is called upon to live his gift and role as husband and father.
In his wife he sees the fulfillment of God's intention: "It is not good that the man should be alone, I will make him a helper fit for him,"(67) and he makes his own the cry of Adam, the first husband: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh."(68)

Authentic conjugal love presupposes and requires that a man have a profound respect for the equal dignity of his wife: "You are not her master," writes St. Ambrose, "but her husband; she was not given to you to be your slave, but your wife.... Reciprocate her attentiveness to you and be grateful to her for her love." (69) With his wife a man should live "a very special form of personal friendship." (70) As for the Christian, he is called upon to develop a new attitude of love, manifesting towards his wife a charity that is both gentle and strong like that which Christ has for the Church."

Love for his wife as mother of their children and love for the children themselves are for the man the natural way of understanding and fulfilling his own fatherhood. Above all where social and cultural conditions so easily encourage a father to be less concerned with his family or at any rate less involved in the work of education, efforts must be made to restore socially the conviction that the place and task of the father in and for the family is of unique and irreplaceable importance. (72) As experience teaches, the absence of a father causes psychological and moral imbalance and notable difficulties in family relationships, as does, in contrary circumstances, the oppressive presence of a father, especially where there still prevails the phenomenon of "machismo," or a wrong superiority of male prerogatives which humiliates women and inhibits the development of healthy family relationships.

In revealing and in reliving on earth the very fatherhood of God, (73) a man is called upon to ensure the harmonious and united development of all the members of the family: he will perform this task by exercising generous responsibility for the life conceived under the heart of the mother, by a more solicitous commitment to education, a task he shares with his wife, (74) by work which is never a cause of division in the family but promotes its unity and stability, and by means of the witness he gives of an adult Christian life which effectively introduces the children into the living experience of Christ and the Church.

Tying in nicely with Fr. Kevin's homily on Sunday, John Paul II speaks to us, reminding us of the words of Pope Paul VI:

"fathers, do you pray with your children, with the whole domestic community, at least sometimes? Your example of honesty in thought and action, joined to some common prayer, is a lesson for life, an act of worship of singular value. In this way you bring peace to your homes: Pax huic domui. Remember, it is thus that you build up the Church."~ Familiaris Consortio n. 60


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