The Catholic Thing
Fathers and the Father Print E-mail
By Robert Royal   
Monday, 16 June 2014

Sometime in the past year, I’m not sure how, I became a patriarch. Not one of those ancient-of-days figures with flowing gray hair (I don’t have much gray – good genes more than good behavior). But when your grandchildren, though still young, number more than your children, you’ve passed from mere grandfather to something larger. A rarity these days. I say patriarch.

A patriarch pays attention to many things: because his tribe, barring some catastrophe, far-flung and numerous, will be around for a while. That’s hardly true of most people these days. My own family name – there were dozens of Royals in my generation – was in peril, until my son John Paul had a son in November, Robert III. Maybe little Robert, who will walk this world long after me, helped me recognize my patriarchal state.

This year, the U.S. birth rate hit a record low, even as more people than ever are retiring and dying. In sane times, cultural and political leaders worry about a country in negative population growth – and decline. Instead, women like my elder daughter, Elizabeth, who has three children, get puzzled stares and even comments: “Are all those yours?”

Yes, and they’ll provide your Social Security check and nursing home care, despite all your fretting about the size of their carbon footprint. Or your worries whether your two salaries will cover a nanny and the foreign vacation. Not a word of thanks anywhere for people taking on the responsibility to raise the next generation, which we’re also sticking with a $16 trillion debt, and rising.

A friend of The Catholic Thing sent along this analysis of the travails of working dads. In it, the White House touts the benefits of paid paternity leave or workplace flexibility for fathers. In other words, more state pressure to reconfigure the family. Our friend compares this to the “Julia” cartoon of the 2012 presidential campaign, in which a fictional figure’s whole life is rendered wonderful by various programs created by President Obama – “Julia, meet Julio,” as he puts it.

Schemes like this seem to have emerged from the minds of recent graduates of women’s studies programs at Vassar or Mt. Holyoke who, from their deep well of experience and thought about human nature and the dynamics of families, are hell-bent on making sure Heather has two mommies, even if, in the unfair lottery of life, she’s had the misfortune to be born into a heterosexual household.

Social “science” should not be encouraged, but when the figures about the record birth dearth were released in March, one professor observed that the poor economy was a factor, but bravely added, “it’s related to the role of women in the labor force.”

Our political class and elite culture labor to make girls believe they should have careers exactly like boys. For some, that may be possible. But this presumes that individual careers are more important than families, and that individual achievement will continue, whatever we do to families.

Catholic social teaching and mere sanity have always claimed that the family, not the individual is the basic cell of society. Teaching the opposite has consequences. Birth dearth. Family breakdown. Children born out of wedlock (almost one-third of new births now) and – the statistics, not the moralists, say – greater poverty, crime, drug use, psychological problems, dependency, etc.

       Father and Son by Dave McKean, b. 1963

It goes against the grain of our egalitarian ideology in late-modern democracies, but that way – the way of thinking families malleable and of family members as interchangeable parts – madness lies. If we even continue to exist.

It’s in the nature of things that fathers and mothers are going to play different roles, just as boys and girls play spontaneously with different toys.

“The father of a family,” said the great Charles Péguy, is exposed, by the mere fact of being a father, not only to personal risks in the workplace and society:

He alone has given hostages, wife and child, so that sickness and death can strike him in all his members. The others can take in their sails. He alone is exposed, constrained to expose an enormous spread of canvas, to the storms of the sea. And, whatever the weather, he is bound to sail with all sails set.

The true father – grandfather, patriarch – does not try to avoid this peril, but to embrace it without illusions. He aspires not to “paternity leave” or “flex time,” but to the opportunity to do his duty, though he knows he won’t get much thanks. He may even be criticized for “working too much” – something that would have astonished my parents’ and grandparents’ generation. 

They took their responsibilities – which included properly caring for children – seriously, for a lifetime, and perhaps beyond. During a particularly troubled time in my twenties, I was in the car once, when – I know not how – one of my deceased grandfathers came to me. He was a kindly, but not particularly warm man. And whatever he was trying to communicate, I was not ready to hear. A few years after, my brother, then also agitated, had a similar experience involving him while walking in the woods.

We only talked about these two separate events, by chance, a decade later – and concluded it must have been him, come because he was an unlikely counselor and, therefore, couldn’t be ignored as merely some psychological reaction.

Feminist theologians have been laboring for years to go “beyond God the Father.” But that’s like going beyond the Earth’s atmosphere: beyond lies not greater freedom and richness, but an airless vacuum.

A good father may be rare, rare as a patriarch. But all fathers are good in so far as they are like the true Father, the one who sacrifices himself, who puts himself on the line and doesn’t expect to be anywhere else, who may need to spend long hours away but not only away, who nurtures, not like a mother, but like a man with children, a father.

Robert Royal
 is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is 
The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the Westnow available in paperback from Encounter Books.

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (12)Add Comment
written by Jack,CT, June 16, 2014
Fantastic Read,I feel like you grew up with my Dad as you and
he had the same values,gave me the chills"!

I lost my dad 25 years ago and he was the true leader of
of his family (7 KIDS) and true to RC teaching on the
Family despite our object poverty,true faith.
I so admired that man and i need not tall about the pain of
"Loss", we have all lived and continue to-

But,I read your essay and recalled a couple of dreams I had
with my dad,One was during a very,very hard time fueled by
heavy drugs and booze.I was taken back (In the dream) when
a man in life never had to "Verbalize" anything "YET"
was respected greatly!
In the dream it was the same but he beat the living day
lights out of me!He never said a word but i was well aware
some how it was my life and destruction of it he was
protesting.I remember waking in a cold sweat and I remember
thinking he was so vivid,I had forgotten the lines and the
caverns that had been carved into hid face from Korea and
his ow demons as youth,but I saw them clearly!

years Later after being sober and starting my own family
and livin much like dad ,work,work and more as my wife did
the work of raising our boys I had the other dream!
This time we were i the old truck he had prior to his death

And again I sat looking as he drove.....amazed to see him,
he simply gave me a half smile not a word, yet I heard all
he was saying by his eyes,those sweet baby blue eyes.
I had always admired his "black Irish" look and I am one
who never remembers my dreams but these much like you
Robert and your relative was a"Vision" and I would not
trade it for Anything.
Articles like the one written for todays consumption are
simply great and conjure our memorys well Mr Royal,and
I say Thanks"'

written by Manfred, June 16, 2014
How did our society get here? The Church will explain it was the sexual revolution of the late 1960a. Thoughful Catholics remind us that that revolution occurred AFTER Vat. II when we were all assured that the Church's teachings would change. The real fathers walked out of the Church over the last fifty years in disgust as they did not hear one word of support for their living a non-contraceptive marriage from the hierarchy of the Church. They also took their checkbooks with them with the result that parishes and schools are closing everywhere. The weaker men abandoned their families while many of the stronger turned their support to the few small remnants of Roman Catholicism which they found in the Fraternity of St. Peter, the Institute of Christ the King, and yes, the Society of Pius X and others. There you will find the Catholics with the large families who are being guided by true priests who follow the eternal teachings of the Church and who follow the rubrics of true Mass. You cite your daughter with three children Robert? In our chapel she would be asked to sit with the catechumens (just kidding).
written by grump, June 16, 2014
A fine piece, which could be summed up by the loss of masculinity and the rise of feminism in America. It would seem "Low T" is the nation's biggest problem.
written by Jack,CT, June 16, 2014
@Grump,A female could have been the Author;simply
not fair to say in ur words, "the piece can
be summed by the loss of masculinity"

The fact is fathers day is a day to em-
brace our "softer side",no shame in that,

written by Athanasius, June 16, 2014
I was fortunate to have a father who was a strong role-model, as was my god-father, who lived across the street. Being raised in close proximity to two men who were virtuous, kind, and church-going, but also real men, gave me a great example. I knew who was boss when I was with my father, and that taught me how to be a better person and father.
written by George Sim Johnston, June 16, 2014
Points all well taken. But keep in mind that what Barbara Dafoe Whitehead has called The Girl Project--bringing up girls on the assumption that they will have careers and financial independence before even thinking about marriage and family--was partly a response to the high divorce rate. Women can no longer depend on marriage for permanent financial security--not if their husband may eventually dump them at will.
written by Myshkin, June 16, 2014
Congrats on becoming Patriarch of the Royals! And they say there's no Royal Road ...
written by Jonah, June 16, 2014
With the divorce-industrial complex (judges,lawyers, psychoanalysts, social workers, counsellors etc al) growing ever more powerful and unaccountable, this article is destined to become a period piece. Fathers are so last century. Not sure how long the great unwashed will put up with this lamentable state of affairs.
Oh by the way, if anyone sees my three stolen children, for heaven's sake don't mention my name, otherwise I'll be arbitrarily jailed. It's a divorce regime protection racket, don't you know.
written by buckyinky, June 17, 2014
Thank you for this good article Dr. Royal. You have piqued my interest in Charles Péguy, of whom I was almost entirely unaware until seeing him quoted here. Would you be able to share the source of your quotation of Péguy in the article?
written by Stoney Dallas, June 17, 2014
@George Johnston and Jonah
You bring up important points, and I would add that is was the passage of NO-FAULT DIVORCE laws that helped lead to this situation. From wiki: A paper published in The Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, written by Douglas Allen, on the economics of same-sex marriage, argues that the introduction of no-fault divorce led to a six-fold increase in just two years after a century of rather stable divorce rates. Also, the law increased the rate at which women entered the workforce, increased the number of hours worked in a week, increased the feminization of poverty, and increased the age at which people married. Stephen Baskerville, a political scientist at Howard University, makes the following arguments against no-fault divorce:
-rewards wrongdoers
-reduces the need of marital binding agreement contracts at the public's expense
-helps women take custody of their children at the husbands' expense in many cases where the man has done nothing wrong
written by Robert Royal, June 17, 2014
For Buckyinky: that passage on fathers of families is in Peguy's essay Clio I, and there's a translation of the passage and much of the essay by Alexander Dru in the book "Temporal and Eternal," published by Liberty Fund. There are other anthologies of Peguy translations by Julien and Ann Green, also very much worth reading.
written by buckyinky, June 18, 2014
Thank you!

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