Estote ergo vos perfecti sicut et Pater vester caelestis perfectus est. (Mt 5.48, Vulg.)
Therefore, (y’all) be perfect, just as your heavenly Father also is perfect. (Translation mine)
As many of you who read this know, I am now a father. My wife Laura gave birth to Mary Margaret, our first daughter, on 23 October, 2012. The labor was long and difficult for Laura, and only after a number of tough hours were both she and Mary Margaret safe and healthy. We were able to bring our daughter home the following afternoon.
A number of my friends preceded me in fatherhood, so I have always stood at the threshold of this world, outside looking in. Now, I am looking out from the inside: I have helped to bring our daughter into this world; I have held her in the early hours of the morning while she cried; I have helped Laura to feed her; I have changed her soiled clothes and diapers; I have delighted in her cooing, and many more.
But many of these tasks, the day-to-day of taking care of a newborn baby, can be carried out by anyone who is attentive to the baby’s needs. Laura has been blessed with close friends, as well as mothers, hers and mine, who have visited, brought us meals, helped to change diapers, and hold Mary Margaret, giving Laura an opportunity to take a shower or enjoy a second of respite. These tasks are necessary and good, but doing them does not necessary define what fatherhood is.
Fatherhood runs in my family — I say this pithy bit with a wry smile, since everyone should be able to say this. The fact that you or I are here means that our fathers and mothers lived long enough and healthy enough to come together for intercourse, and then deliver a healthy child into the world. If you look at our family tree, you will know that this series of events multiplies exponentially as you climb the generations : Mary Margaret has two parents, four grandparents, sixteen great-grandparents, et cetera.
Caring for a child’s physical needs is a part of the goods and practices which attend to the proper management of the household, which the Greeks called οἰκονομία [οἶκος, house + νόμος, law], from which we get the English economy.
While I have never been economical in any sense of the word, I have married someone who most certainly is, who lives by the marks of personal prudence and a general lack of ostentation that preclude her from any “the Real Housewives of Raleigh.” This is most notably good, and she not only contributes to the good economy of our household, she is the good economy of our household and of the McCants family. And her ongoing care of this family is imperative to its flourishing in this generation, Mary Margaret’s generation, and the generations to come.
But of all these matters above – of good housekeeping, of changing diapers and feeding our daughter at regimented times of the day along with necessary play sessions, of cooking and cleaning – they are normally or traditionally ascribed to the materfamilias. What of the robust paterfamilias, whose duties and habits go towards the necessary protection of the house?
I will admit to you, reader, that I am a relatively non-confrontational person, and though I would not describe myself as a “passive” anything, the thought of looking over our townhouse with shotgun in tow is not only morally reprehensible to the patterns of life I understand Christianity to claim, the idea of Charlie get your gun is vaudevillian at best.
I do, however, believe that the paterfamilias, in whose protection of the house rests etymologically speaking (the pa in pater/papa/father denotes protection, the ma in mater/mama/mother denotes nourishment), I do believe that I offer to my family in toto and to my new daughter specifically a set of presumptions that will protect her from morally problematic habits that may one day bring her to bad choices and cultivate her into a flourishing human being:
– to protect and advocate for the innocent and disadvantaged;
– to keep one’s promises and to abide in a community or communities of truth, whether in the household, the parish, the school, the athletic team, the orchestra, et al.
– to make no claims towards things, ideas, and matters as “private”; that some things may be held a “personal” but it is only in sharing our gifts which we have received (cf., I Cor 4.7) that we enrich our common lives and so our individual ones;
– to foster practices of prayer and religion: of devotions to Our Blessed Lord and to the Trinity that God is, to the Ever-Virgin Mother of us all, to the Blessed Saints and Martyrs, whose imitation and constant intercession we seek;
– to cultivate the habits of studiousness: of rhetoric, of logic and reasoning, of Latin and Mathematics, of musical, artistic and athletic disciplines; for it is in these well directed practices that she can take on the life of a morally and intelligently rigorous person;
-to seek the quiet, contemplative life even amid one of character or service to family and community;
But most of these goods are some time away from active cultivation. In the mean time, Laura and I ask for your prayers, your charity, and your benevolence in these early weeks and months as we strive to nurture our daughter in her most delicate days.
We need them all.
Antonio Balestra, “The Holy Family” (c.1690)