FATHERHOOD: A Sacred Responsibility

Rev Fr George Ehusani



Father’s Day is marked annually on the 3rd Sunday of June in many countries across the world. It is a fitting day not only to celebrate the gift of our fathers and husbands, but also to highlight some of the elements of the unique and sacred vocation of fatherhood. In many religious traditions, God the Almighty Creator is recognised as the Pre-eminent Father. God is the One to whom the title of Father truly belongs in an original and primary sense, because God is the Source, the Creator and the Sustainer of the Universe. Human beings are only called fathers in a derivative, participatory, imitative and secondary sense, since in some way through procreation, human agents do partake in the generative process. From this point of view, the fatherhood vocation is a profound and an inestimable privilege for the adult male species. But this privilege of sharing in the human generative process and being addressed as father, like the Almighty Father, comes with critical responsibilities that cannot be shirked on a wide scale without significant deleterious consequences for the entire society and for multiple generations.

Fatherhood is a profound phenomenon that calls for a great measure of accountability on those who knowingly assume the task, or those who have the task foisted upon them by circumstances. We can describe fatherhood as a function, and not simply a title or a name. The father plays critical, irreplaceable roles that shape the lives of the children. He is the progenitor, the source of identity, and the one who enables the children to have a definite sense of self. He lays the foundation for the children that leaves long lasting impact on future generations. The father is the primary provider, the sustainer, the protector, the guardian, the teacher, and the role model of those who call him father.  He is the emotional anchor and the wellspring of stability for not only the children, but also the wife and others who live with them. The father inspires the children, nurturing their dreams and aspirations, encouraging them to reach for the stars and pursue their passions. He instils confidence and builds self-esteem, paving the way for his children’s success in life.

Fatherhood is characterised by love and tenderness, but also discipline, decisiveness, courage and sacrifice. Fathers ideally possess an innate instinct to prioritise the safety and wellbeing of the members of their families over their own, ensuring that the wife and the children are shielded from the vagaries of life. With their effort to provide for the family, fathers teach their children the value of hard work, responsibility, diligence, integrity and perseverance; and in this way, equipping the children with the required tools to navigate life’s inevitable challenges and disruptive circumstances. The father is the source of stability and the rock-solid shoulder to lean on, amid the chaos, the insecurity, the instability and the uncertainties of life. He is the source of encouragement, reassurance, and hope, at the most difficult times in the life of the family members.  Indeed, fatherhood is a godly enterprise. The fatherhood vocation is an invitation to live out in the concrete circumstances of family life, the human potential for responsibility, commitment, deferred gratification, courage, and sacrificial (selfless) love.

Yet, the number one crisis of the Twenty First Century appears to be the absence of the fatherhood role model. Many young people today are “fatherless,” not because they have no male parent alive, but because their male parent has either been completely absent from their lives, or they have been a source of scandal and trauma, and they are remembered only with pain, regret, and resentment. Thus, often lacking in models of positive masculinity to emulate in their growing years, many young men are today struggling with a variety of character defects that amount to negative masculinity, including the psycho-emotional abuse of their wives, actual physical battering, and remorseless infidelity. Many young men have little or no sense of commitment to their families or responsibility for the children they have brought into the world.

Many children have indeed had their innocent minds defiled and their delicate sensibilities assaulted, as they watched their fathers beat their mothers or heard them vomit venomous invectives on the ones they called their wives. While many young men struggle with what they saw in their formative years, and sometimes they have ended up exhibiting the same traits of negative masculinity in their own marital relationships, many young women on the other hand, have grown up with deep-seated resentment and hateful feelings against the male species in general, on account of what they saw as gross injustices and inequities, or glaring imbalance in power relations between their fathers and their mothers. In many cases what they witnessed as children is the callous and blatant abuse of power and privilege by the menfolk.

The global celebration of Father’s Day this year is a most fitting occasion to remind the men – the fathers, the would-be fathers and the father-figures in our society, to spare a moment to reflect on the enormous privilege and the sacred responsibility that come with fatherhood, and to work in concert with other individuals and groups, towards overcoming the gross anomaly of toxic masculinity that contradicts all the lofty ideals of fatherhood outlined above. Far from being a bully, the husband who often doubles as father, is ideally “one who cultivates, nourishes, tills, and tends” the wife and the children. The male headship of families in our society is not something to be achieved through domination and coercion, but through a high sense of responsibility, commitment, and sacrifice.

Whereas the teachings and live examples of Jesus Christ are very clear on the equal dignity of men and women and the sanctity and inviolability of all persons created in the image and likeness of God, a few texts of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures have sometimes in the past been given such mischievous and self-serving interpretations as to justify some categories of gender-based violence. Yet, a closer examination of such Scriptural texts in the context of Jesus’ overall teaching and his civilisation of love (which is characterised by self-sacrifice, kindness, mercy, forgiveness, peace and non-violence), will show that such callous interpretations have no place in the lives and communities of true followers of Jesus Christ. No category of spousal abuse or gender-based violence can be even remotely associated with followers of Christ.

In fact, experts in Biblical studies today hold that even the allegedly controversial statement of St. Paul in Ephesians Chapter 5 verse 21, that wives should be submissive to their husbands, is (in the context of the entire passage and in the context of the teachings and practical examples of Christ), not an endorsement of any form of misogyny, to be expressed in psychological abuse, wife battering or domestic terrorism. Instead, the husband is admonished to love, cherish, and honour his wife. Verses 25 to 30 of the passage in question goes ahead to admonish husbands to love their wives in the same manner as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her. This is an extremely demanding admonition, because we know what the love of Christ for his Church entailed. He died a brutal death on the cross for the liberation of his beloved. The vocation of the Christian husband and father is one self-sacrifice, where he is constantly prioritising the safety and security, as well as welfare and wellbeing of his wife and children over and above his own comfort and wellbeing.

Finally, recognising that many young men today have not had the good fortune of being raised or mentored by exemplary fatherhood role models, perhaps individuals and organisations who are sufficiently invested in the promotion of positive masculinity for the wholesome development of our society, must begin to take on the project of healing our youths of their traumatic experiences with toxic masculinity while growing up, and forming the boys particularly in the above outlined values and virtues of the ideal father and husband.


* George EHUSANI is a Catholic Reverend Father.