On Being a Husband and Father
Updated: Nov 13, 2018
By Jim Park.
In a culture that has for years portrayed husbands and fathers as buffoons and imbeciles or revealed men as sexual predators (a topic much in the news these recent days), does the headship of a man as father and husband have any relevance? And if so, what model should that headship take?
The culture and our fallen nature present, at least, two different models. The first, the “absent” model, dates back to Adam’s “absence” during Eve’s encounter with the serpent and later before Cain’s murder of his brother Abel. Today, this model is experienced in far too many households, whether that absence is a physical one (see the growing percentage of single parent, usually mother only, homes) or an emotional one (where seeking “fulfillment” can mean excessively long work hours, an overemphasis on sports and exercise, or the viewing of online pornography). A second cultural model is the “authoritarian” one where physical and emotional abuse can take their sad toll. Movies like The Great Santini and The Godfather depict the devastation that a husband and father can wreak on his wife and children, when the authoritarian model is taken to its limits.
Jesus proposes, by His very life and death, a third model. In the Gospel of Mark (Mk. 10:42-45), Jesus speaks to the Apostles of this model:
“You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be the first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
This “servant” model St. Paul takes up in his Letter to the Ephesians, applying it to the relationship between husband and wife:
“For the husband is the head of his wife just as Christ is the head of the Church. … Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.” (Eph. 5:22, 25)
As radical today as it was in Jesus’ and St. Paul’s day, this “servant” model of headship requires the man to be present and attentively aware of his wife’s needs and responsive to those needs when they are right and just. With respect to the father’s relationship with his children, St. Paul encourages fathers to “not provoke your children to anger, but rear them in the discipline and admonition of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4).
But what does the servant model look like in word and action? We husbands have the example of Jesus, Who lived the words He spoke: “... to serve and to give his life for the ransom of many.” Life in the home provides continuing and constant opportunities to live this out. For me, it begins at 5:30am (except on Sundays when it is 6:00am), when I struggle out of bed at the sound of the alarm to go and pray before the rest of the household stirs. In the weakness of my fallen nature, I see the tendency to selfishly absent myself from the needs of the upcoming day, or alternately to seek to “lord it over” my wife and children, I know that only in and through God’s grace, can I even begin to be servant and slave. As St. James writes,
"But if any of you is wanting in wisdom, let him ask it of God, who gives abundantly to all men, and it will be given him. ... For every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights.” (Jas. 1:5,7)
Once the day begins, opportunities abound – from sharing coffee and the day’s plans with my wife, to helping dress, feed, and send off to school my younger daughter, who has special needs; from helping my older homeschooled daughter with her math and science, to deciding if desired books and movies are appropriate for her age and maturity; from sharing evening meals together as a family, to playing board and card games together afterwards; and from helping lead the family rosary to ending the day with quiet time and conversation with my wife.
I do not live the servant model perfectly and not well many days. My wife and children are the mirror that shows how I’m doing and how I’ve done each day. At the close of the day then, I go back to where it started – to prayer. After my examination of conscience, I finish the day by reciting what to me seems a most apropos ending:
“When night comes, and retrospect shows that everything was patchwork and much that one had planned left undone, when so many things rouse shame and regret, then take all as is, lay it in God’s hands, and offer it up to Him. In this way, we will be able to rest in Him, actually to rest and begin the new day like a new life." (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross [Edith Stein])
Jim Park grew up in Springfield, Virginia, one of eight children born to John and Rita Park. He attended Catholic grade school and high school, before heading off to Virginia Tech for college. He graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Geology, and two years later, was awarded a Masters of Science in Structural Geology and Rock Mechanics by Imperial College, in London, England. Jim currently works for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, where he manages environmental reviews. He has been married to the love of his life, Geneva, for 12 years and have two beautiful daughters with them on earth, and one child with God in heaven.