As we celebrate Father's Day, it's a time to thank our dads, to let them know how much they mean to us, and to recognize their irreplaceable role in our lives.
It's not hard to realize that without our dads, we simply wouldn't be here. But of course, fathers play a much deeper role in our lives than that. Studies show the huge impact that a father figure has on the happiness and healthy growth of children. Sadly, the importance of dads is strikingly clear by their absence. Sociologist Luigi Zoja notes that as many as 85% of prison inmates in the United States today grew up without a father.
For fathers who haven't always been present in the lives of their kids, things can be complicated, uncomfortable, or even painful. At the same time, God works miracles. He has the power to bring healing and reconciliation where there is woundedness and distance. Oftentimes, all it takes on our part is the courage to take the first step, admitting where we've gone wrong, and doing what it takes to do better.
In this year that Pope Francis has dedicated to Saint Joseph, it is a beautiful opportunity for us to rediscover the meaning and value of fatherhood in the world today.
Saint Joseph offers us a telling example of the kind of father that God wants most. Of course, Joseph is not Jesus' biological dad. Yet Joseph is nevertheless a real-life reflection of God's fatherhood. This tells us that being a dad is about much more than biology. Even for biological fathers, the birth of their kids is just the beginning of the challenging and wonderful adventure of being a dad.
Joseph reflected God's paternity by being the kind of father that God is with us: present, protective, attentive, involved, humble, strong, caring, trusting, and courageous. Joseph protected Mary and the baby Jesus from the murderous ire of Herod. Joseph raised Jesus as his own son, teaching Jesus his trade and being fully present in Jesus' life. To such an extent that people in the Gospel would describe Jesus as "the son of the carpenter" (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). Indeed, it is fair to say that Jesus learned how to be a man from Joseph. Joseph was Jesus' main role model. Jesus is first and foremost a reflection of His heavenly Father. But He also reflects the traits of his earthly father, Joseph.
We need fathers today who are as important in the lives of their children as Joseph was in the life of Jesus. Kids need dads who play a decisive role in their lives, helping them grow in freedom while also providing strong support that helps them to flourish. Absentee dads can create a void in the lives of their children. God gives us fathers as living reflections of His strong love, supportive presence, and fatherly care. Whether biological, adoptive, or otherwise, we all need father figures whose place in our lives helps us to thrive.
A big thank you to all the dads who day in and day out are there for their kids. We are blessed to have you. Our world needs more men like you.
Julian would be happy to hear from you, with any questions, insights, or suggestions you may have regarding this blog series. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Julian Paparella is a theology student at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Studies in Rome. Born and raised in London, Ontario, he has worked in pastoral ministry in Montreal and Paris, especially with young people. Julian strives to communicate our faith in a way that resonates with everyday life, helping people to better experience God today. He is married to Marion.