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Posts Tagged ‘Parenthood’

There is a practice in traditional Hindu weddings where the groom says to his bride, “I am heaven, you are earth;” and the bride responds, “I am earth, you are heaven.”

As I have said before, femininity has traditionally symbolized immanence, while masculinity has symbolized transcendence.  In marriage, the complementarity of the sexes reaches its peak.

Does this awareness of manhood and womanhood carry over into our experience of fatherhood and motherhood?  If so, what does it mean for fatherhood?

Father_and_sonLet’s take the structure of a house as an analogy.  The mother is like the ground portion; she is the upholder, the secure base, the living cradle of the child’s life.

The father is more like the roof; he is the protector, the shelterer, the trustworthy “custodian” of the family.

Linking the roof and the floor are the walls, which we can imagine to be the arms of the mother and the father joined together, enfolding the child in a protective and nurturing embrace.

As I said in my post on motherhood last month:

All human beings are made in the image of God, Who is love itself.  Therefore, all human beings are free agents who, paradoxically, find their true fulfillment only in the sincere gift of themselves to another.  All human beings are called to that kind of love.

But parents live out that love in a special way.

By the total gift of each to the other, a married man and woman are able to generate new life; together, as parents, they make a sincere gift of themselves to their children to see that they are brought up well, that they are well formed as healthy and unique persons, and that they have good lives.  Mothers and fathers are both called to this singular form of love.

In the past several decades, we have put a lot of focus on womanhood.  And there’s certainly nothing the matter with that in and of itself.  But an unfortunate side effect is that manhood has, in many ways, gotten the short shrift.  Consequently, we really don’t have a whole lot in our culture that informs men of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a father.

The long and short of it is that if a mother gives the child a secure base whereby to explore the world, the father is the loving guardian who inspires the child to step beyond his/her comfort zone to explore the world and him/herself.

Training_wheel

Consider the example of learning to ride a bicycle.  Who is it that is typically there to encourage a child to begin riding without training wheels?  Dad.

What kind of support, then, can a child expect from his/her father?  It goes something like this: “I know this is tough.  I know you’re venturing outside the confines of what you’re used to, what you know, what you’re sure of.  But I know you can do it.  You have more potential than you realize.  And if you try your best and fail, don’t be discouraged.  Whatever happens, I will be there to support you all the way.”

In this sense, our dads reflect the Fatherhood of God.  Our Father in Heaven is constantly calling us to become the best-version-of-ourselves (again, to appropriate Matthew Kelly’s phrase).  He is ever provident, seeing to our bodily and spiritual needs.  Yet He gives us free will; he allows us to make mistakes and learn from them.  He invites us to use the gifts He has given us in order to do good in the world and, ultimately, to cooperate in His very work.

Let us celebrate our fathers.  They are among the many gems we wrongly take for granted.

Images from Wikipedia

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Imagine your five-year-old daughter is facing a malignant brain tumor diagnosis.

Peter Kreeft and his wife had that experience about 35-40 years ago.  Kreeft chronicles the experience in “A Close Encounter With the Angel of Death.”

Here is what he had to say about his wife’s display of motherhood during the ordeal:

The next image impressed on my memory is her mother camped out on the floor of her hospital room, not leaving her daughter’s side day or night for weeks, patiently (she is not a patient person) enduring all her grouchiness, fussiness, and cussedness because it might be her last.  Every word, every grouch is infinitely precious.  Not because it is good but because it is hers.

(…)

The mother lion guards her injured cub.  She will not relax her vigil until all is well, though the whole world may sneer and call her unreasonable and overprotective.  That is a judgment on the world, not on her.  For she is enacting a mystery, a ritual that is larger and older than the world.  Not only in her own name does she act, but also as representative for something transcendental, a mystery the human race has always felt and known until these times of uprootedness: Motherhood with a capital M (…) Her vocation speaks with authority — an absolute, and imperative, a divine revelation.”*

Mother

All human beings are made in the image of God, Who is love itself.  Therefore, all human beings are free agents who, paradoxically, find their true fulfillment only in the sincere gift of themselves to another.  All human beings are called to that kind of love.

But parents live out that love in a special way.

By the total gift of each to the other, a married man and woman are able to generate new life; together, as parents, they make a sincere gift of themselves to their children to see that they are brought up well, that they are well formed as healthy and unique persons, and that they have good lives.  Mothers and fathers are both called to this singular form of love.

But mothers live out even that love in a special way.

PregnantWoman

For the first nine months of a child’s existence, he is basically one with his mother.  From the very beginning, she gives him her very body as his first “home.”

Having ushered this new life from the world of the womb into the vastly bigger world outside of the womb, the mother continues to be the child’s base of security as s/he explores his/her world, thus giving him/her the firm support s/he needs in order to develop confidence, to explore, to learn, to grow, to mature, to form relationships, and to discover his/her unique identity.

Therefore, as mother, a woman rightly enjoys a unique and unequaled closeness to, unconditional love for, and investment in the well-being, safety, and happiness of her children.

JohannesPaul2-portraitIn his apostolic letter “Mulieris Dignitatem,” Blessed John Paul II even went so far as to say that “in many ways, (a husband) has to learn his own ‘fatherhood’ from the mother” (emphases his).

He also said this:

Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops in the woman’s womb.  The mother is filled with wonder at this mystery of life, and “understands” with unique intuition what is happening inside her.  (…) This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings — not only towards her own child, but for every human being — which profoundly marks the woman’s personality.  It is commonly thought that women are more capable than men of paying attention to another person, and that motherhood develops this predisposition even more. (emphases his)

Through the vocation of motherhood, women realize in the almost-definitive manner the way in which women reflect the Image of God.  Women — especially mothers — represent for us the heart of God — the closeness of God to His People, the tenderness of the Divine love, God’s constant presence to and concern for His creation.

Nursing_baby

If there are any women reading this right now, let me say this: Even if you are not a biological mother, you are not a jot less of a mother for it.

And even if you are not a mother at all, you share in this dignified vocation.  Reflecting on my experience in the world, I marvel at how women tend to be the least afraid to work with the vulnerable, the most ready to reach out to those in need, the most generous in the giving of their time and talents, and the most likely to work in professions that bring them close to the members of our society that are, for various reasons, most in need.

My concluding remark may sound corny or clichéd, but I don’t care: Let us celebrate our mothers.  We could live a thousand thousand years, and in the end I still don’t think we’d quite fathom how much they truly mean to us … as individuals and as members of the human family.

Happy Mother’s Day, and God bless you to all of the mothers out there.

* For Kreeft’s full personal account, click here: http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/close-encounter.htm

Images obtained from Wikipedia

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