The Special Place of Fatherhood

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©Heidi Bratton Photography

My wife and I were at the home of another married couple for dinner.  While a roast finished cooking, we sat around the table talking and eating salad.  When the oven timer rang, the wife turned to her husband and said, “That’s a corn job.”

The husband got up and went to the kitchen.  He pulled the roast out of the oven and carved it.  When he brought it to the table, there was a beautiful roasted beast, but no corn.

“Didn’t you say this was a corn job?” my wife asked.

Our hosts looked at each other and laughed.

“Yes,” the husband said.  “That comes from when we were first married.”

They told us that, like many newly married couples, it took them a little time to work out a division of labor.  About six months after their wedding, when they were still sorting through that process, it was a summer day and they were driving up to the lake.  Produce stands spring up along the country roads in the summer, and they decided to stop at one for some corn.  They pulled over on the side of the road near the stand. 

And there they sat. 

Neither reached for the door, neither made any move to get out and go get the corn.

Minutes passed. 

Still, they waited, each sitting looking straight ahead out the windshield.

“Well,” the husband finally asked, “aren’t you going to get the corn?”

“Aren’t you going to get the corn?” the wife replied.

“In my family, my Mom always got the corn.”

“Well in my family, my Dad always got the corn.”

And so they sat in their car on the side of the road and began hashing out who would get the corn in their family.  While each of them came from a family of origin, they were beginning to realize that “my family” now meant something different:  the new family they had founded together.  And they had to work out for themselves how things operated in this newly constituted family.  In the end, it was determined that, for their family, the husband would get the corn at roadside stands.

“Ever since,” the husband concluded, “we call husband jobs ‘corn jobs.’”

My wife and I could relate.  There is certainly no shortage of work in a family, especially when there are kids.  You need all the dogs pulling the sled to get across the tundra.  Some jobs can be allocated by mutual accord.  For others, training and predilection help the delegation.  If one spouse is an accountant, it makes sense for that person to do the family taxes.  Still other jobs go to one spouse or another as a matter of necessity.  My wife can’t reach the top shelf of our pantry, so that’s where I stash the Twinkies. 

Just kidding, of course.  And I know it’s a small example, but it points to something true:  certain jobs Daddy has to do.  Certain jobs only Daddy can do.  By necessity some things are “corn jobs.”    

I saw this in an unexpected place:  a Bible story I had heard many times before.  With long familiar Bible passages, I find my mind tends to wander.  Not that I don’t pay attention when I hear them, more that my thoughts fall into well worn grooves so that I don’t think as much about the passage.  I’ve heard it before, I’ve heard the homilies, and I already know “the lesson”.  Only now that I’m married and have kids, I’m discovering a lot of new things I never noticed before.   

It was the story of Jesus bringing the synagogue officials daughter to life in Mark’s Gospel.  Mk 5, 21-24, 35-43.  When Jesus arrived, the little girl was dead and a crowd of mourners filled the house.  Of all the people filling the house, the Bible tells us that Jesus “put them all out.”  Mk 5, 40.  Then, “He took along the child’s father and mother and those who were with him [the apostles Peter, James and John] and entered the room where the child was.”  Mk 5, 40.  Jesus took the girl by the hand and restored her to life.  Mk 5, 43.  Jesus then “said that she should be given something to eat.”  Mk 5, 43.

The message I always associated with this passage was the importance of faith, and that message is certainly evident.  But what struck me now was that Jesus called both the mother and father to be present when life was given to the child.  Everyone else was sent out.  Neighbors, friends, relatives, everyone among the mourners, none of them were a substitute for the mother, or the father.  When life is given to a child, it is both the mother and the father who are called, along with the witness of the church in Peter, James and John.  Then once Jesus had given life to the child, He charged them to feed her.  Both the mother and father are given the task of sustaining the child. 

As a father, I saw in this Scripture the importance of the fatherly vocation.  In our modern culture, the depiction of fatherhood sometimes has a sense of disposability about it.  As though the role of the father in the family is ancillary, or even optional.  Jesus shows us otherwise.  Jesus called both the mother and father when life was given to the child, and both the mother and father were charged with feeding – with nurturing and caring for – the life given by God.  The role of the father is not disposable or optional or something that can be delegated to another, as Jesus shows when He calls the father (along with the mother) but sends everyone else out.  In directing that the child be fed, Jesus also shows that the father’s role in the nurture and care of his children is ongoing.         

The church has continued to stress the importance of fathers in the life of their children and families.  Peter was present when Jesus gave life to the child in Mark’s Gospel, and Peter’s successor Blessed John Paul II, John Paul the Great, noted the importance of strong fatherhood in Familiaris Consortio, writing that “where social and cultural conditions so easily encourage a father to be less concerned with his family . . . 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.”

And there is still another dimension to fatherhood.  Scripture also tells of when the Archangel Gabriel came to Zechariah to announce that Zechariah would be the father of John the Baptist.  Gabriel told Zechariah that John “‘will be great in the sight of the Lord’”, Lk 1, 15, because, among other reasons, John would “turn the hearts of fathers toward children’”.  Lk 1, 17. 

Gabriel’s message shows the tremendous gift that has been given to those of us called to the vocation of fatherhood.  It is an opportunity.  An opportunity given to us fathers to do something great in the sight of the Lord.  Fatherhood means corn jobs, for sure.  It is definitely a vocation of service, of denying oneself in favor of others.  And sometimes amid the constant demands of work and diapers, sleepless nights with sick children, or the evolving challenges that come as kids grow older, we can loose sight of the true nature of our fatherly calling.  Fatherhood is a calling from God.  The occasionally overwhelming welter of mundane details that comes along with fatherhood is actually work of divine importance.  Jesus, Gabriel, our Church fathers, and so many other messengers that God sends us – hopefully including the examples of fatherhood we can look to in our own lives – help remind us that the call to fatherhood is a call from God to a special work.  It is a work which is important, unique, and irreplaceable.  It is a work that is “great in the sight of the Lord”. 

Fathers Day is a wonderful time to say thanks to our Dads for all they do.  It’s an occasion to celebrate the fathers in our lives.  But it’s not just a time for others to show thanks to Dad.  It’s also a time for us fathers to remember the special nature of the calling we have received, to consider anew the importance of that work, and to thank God for the opportunity and gift He has given us in the blessings of our wife and children.

(© 2011 Jake Frost — originally published in Celebrate Life)

Jake Frost is the author of Catholic Dad, (Mostly) Funny Stories of Faith, Family and Fatherhood to Encourage and Inspire , also available as a $0.99 e-book on Amazon.  He is a lawyer in hiatus, having temporarily traded depositions for diapers and court rooms for kitchens to care for his pre-school aged children.  He comes from a large family in a small town of the Midwest, and lives near the Mississippi River with his wife and kids.

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