“Gender equality” is a hot phrase in today’s culture, right up there with “gender identity” and “gender fluidity.” The problem is, equality doesn’t mean to be exactly the same, and your bodily characteristics of male and female don’t change back and forth according to your mood.
I want to take a look at the differences between mothers and fathers today, and honor the contribution of fathers to their families in connection with the upcoming celebration of Father’s Day. But first, we have to go back to the creation account in Genesis and look at how God made us. It says in Gen 1:27 “In the divine image God created them, male and female he made them.” There is no third option, and it shows their partnership and complementarity. God also created man and woman as a body/soul union, which meant that the exterior characteristics of the body reveal the interior nature of our soul.
Since man and woman’s bodies are difference but complimentary, as we see in sexual union, we can see the same thing goes for our roles as mother and father, the fruit of our sexual union. We are different but still equally important in the upbringing of children. As Pope Francis says in his new encyclical Amoris Laetitia:
“Every child has a right to receive love from a mother and a father; both are necessary for a child’s integral and harmonious development. As the Australian Bishops have observed, each of the spouses “contributes in a distinct way to the upbringing of a child. Respecting a child’s dignity means affirming his or her need and natural right to have a mother and a father”. AL 172
A lot of people would like to say that because of the women’s equality movement, and women having jobs in the workplace, that the roles of mother and father are interchangeable. Anyone these days can feed a baby formula or take care of the home, so what different does it make?
We have to go back and look at our bodies to see the difference. First of all, remember equal does not mean interchangeable, it just means both are important. Now, since man and woman are equal, does that mean man can become pregnant and give birth too? No matter what advances in politics or science we have, women are still uniquely given the mission of maternity. They have the womb and the breasts to nurse, and all that is needed to grow and sustain life is given to her in her body. This means that mother is the nurturer of the family, one to sustain growth and show unconditional love. A mother also teaches their children to respect their father.
The father also shows love, first by caring for his wife when she is pregnant with child, and also by helping the children to grow up through proper discipline and encouraging independence to become who God created them to be.
When we were pregnant with out first child, we always thought I would be more of the disciplinarian. I was strong-willed and more by-the-book. My husband was more laid back, so it seemed fitting that I would lay down the law. Then, I gave birth to our baby, held him and nursed him all day long. And with each of our children, I always saw the good in them and wanted to give them a second chance. My husband became the one to lay down the law – not in a fierce authoritarian way, but in the strong, masculine way that says, “Listen to me, because I’m guiding you in the way you should go.” And the children listen. A father also teaches his children to love his mother.
We can see from the Creation story that man was made from the dust of the ground and from God’s breath. His mission was to care for the Garden of Eden, which means to care for “happiness.” His joy is found in his main job, to care for and protect his wife and family. Man has a stronger upper body than women does, which shows his capability for hard work. His job is to initiate the creation of new life, while the mother receives it in her womb.
We have a tendency to see things in the extreme these days. Either a father is a mean dictator or he is absent. Either he is super macho, or not at all. But I know personally a number of fathers out there that are practicing the true definition of authority – guiding their children in the way they should grow. The love is not as tender as a mother, but it’s still just as important. When one of our kids is crying, it’s my first instinct to hold them and cradle them. My husband’s first instinct is to distract them from whatever they were crying about and get them to laugh. Usually, his method is more effective at stopping the crying!
My husband is the one to throw the kids higher, let them wander farther, and try new things. I just imagine the worst-case scenario every time and never want to let our kids do anything. He is an excellent cook in the kitchen and is more particular about how clothes are folded than I am. He is the one to iron in the family, and has a better taste for design than I do. Yet, he is one of the most masculine guys I know because he lays down his life for his family, challenges us outside our comfort zone, and gives us unconditional fatherly love.
As Pope Francis writes, “God sets the father in the family so that by the gifts of his masculinity he can be “close to his wife and share everything, joy and sorrow, hope and hardship. And to be close to his children as they grow – when they play and when they work, when they are carefree and when they are distressed, when they are talkative and when they are silent, when they are daring and when they are afraid, when they stray and when they get back on the right path. . . children need to find a father waiting for them when they return home with their problems. They may try hard not to admit it, not to show it, but they need it”. It is not good for children to lack a father and to grow up before they are ready.” AL 177
So fathers: thank you for your life, your example, and your witness of masculinity. More than anything, thank you for your presence in your family, your love for your wife, and your commitment to your children. Your families need you! You are irreplaceable to your family. We pray for you and for all fathers to be the model of holiness in your family and to society.
Happy Father’s Day!