". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13

Commentary

Fatherhood Is Progress

June 16, 2024

As Americans, we love the idea of “progress.” It evokes the American spirit of ingenuity, of constantly striving to “form a more perfect union.” Our national ideals tell us that the fundamental freedoms we have in our Constitution will providentially guide us in continual progress toward a stronger and freer country.

In the current era we find ourselves in, however, some of the idealistic sheen of “progress” has seemingly worn off. Part of this has to do with how the term now likely brings to mind left-wing politics, no thanks to Hillary Clinton’s constant use of it over the years. The term has become so synonymous with the Left, in fact, that somewhere along the line, Democrats adopted “progressive” as both an adjective for their policies and as an alternative noun for themselves.

As to cultural “progress” in America, it seems to largely revolve around the innovations that technology has wrought, which mostly appear to be designed for the purpose of avoiding suffering through convenience and continual distraction. We have now progressed to the point of not having to bother with stepping foot outside our homes in order to acquire food, clothing, soap, or any number of necessities — all that is required are a few taps on our phones to have them delivered directly to our doorstep. In addition, boredom can be tamped down by endlessly streaming movies, shows, videos, music, podcasts, and pornography — only a mere screen tap away.

But we also see this phenomenon in far more fundamental matters. Many in our culture contend that we have progressed into a society that can freely dispense with the need to get married or have children. After all, we have progressed to the point that men and women can equally lead unencumbered lives fulfilled by their jobs, possessions, hobbies, and friendships, and can even dally in unattached romance with the help of contraception and abortion.

Statistics confirm that large swaths of Americans appear to see this phenomenon as true progress. In April, the CDC reported that America’s fertility rate has reached yet another historic low with a 3% decline from 2022, with the rate “consistently decreas[ing] by 2% annually” from 2014 to 2020. Meanwhile, marriage rates have also reached historic lows and are expected to continue to fall for the foreseeable future.

But at a Catholic men’s conference that I attended some months ago, the word “progress” took on a whole new meaning that I had never before considered. During a talk centered on the reality of suffering, the speaker made a startling statement: “Suffering is progress.”

He went on to elaborate on the example that Christ gave us in the gospels, of patiently suffering His disciples’ foolishness, the derision of the Pharisees and the crowds, the agony in the Garden, and ultimately the unimaginable torture of the passion and the cross. All of this, paradoxically, was progress — progress toward the redemption of all mankind from our sins.

Christ thus gives us a template for what we are called to do in life: progress toward holiness, which will lead us to everlasting life with Him in Paradise. This calling, however, is a tall and uncomfortable order, because it inevitably involves suffering. Jesus says this explicitly: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).

“Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” This statement of Christ’s has always struck me. It’s a paradox that gets to the heart of what we are called to: love. Jesus is saying that we must sacrifice ourselves for the good of others. The great theologian Thomas Aquinas succinctly defined love in his seminal 13th century work “Summa Theologica”: “To love is to will the good of another.” It is in doing this that we will find true progress toward virtue and ultimate fulfilment in life.

It seems to me that this true sense of progress is what our culture has largely lost. While the root causes of historically low birth and marriage rates are many, I would argue that a primary cause is an unwillingness of men to step forward and accept their God-given roles as husbands and fathers. And it’s no secret why this is occurring. Young men grow up in a culture drowning in the expectation for instant gratification and no commitments via pornography and hookups. “Manosphere” influencers like Andrew Tate (who has garnered 12 billion views on TikTok) tell men that “there is zero statistical advantage” to getting married.

The tragedy here is multi-faceted. From a purely social science perspective, the Tate way of thinking is flat-out false. On average, married men earn more money, have more sex, are healthier, and report greater happiness than single men.

But the problem goes much deeper than this. In order to commit themselves to a vow of lifelong marriage and fatherhood, men must overcome the impulse to shy away from difficult things, things they know deep down will lead to the loss of some independence and will likely involve suffering. Things like marriage and fatherhood.

Let’s be honest. Marriage and fatherhood are hard. There’s the loss of sleep due to babies refusing to be consoled at 3 a.m. There’s the changing of a putrid diaper right after eating dinner. There’s the flu that incrementally knocks down the entire family one by one. There’s the sacrificing of personal time for hobbies and passions in the service of child care. There are the grocery bills the size of car loans. There’s the stress of dealing with defiant teenagers and the worry over peer influences.

But the reality is that most men are called to be husbands and fathers. God instituted this foundational reality from the very beginning: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24); “And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it’” (Genesis 1:28).

I believe that God created this reality for a very specific reason: Fatherhood bestows on men the framework for self-sacrifice. Our Heavenly Father perfectly understands how difficult self-sacrifice can be — His own Son experienced it to the utmost. So God, in a sense, made self-sacrifice instinctual by fashioning fatherhood as a primary vehicle in which to practice it. He built into the very nature of man an innate desire to commit to a woman and raise children with her. Our modern culture tries desperately to distort and distract from this truth, but it will always remain.

The beauty of fatherhood is that it instills in men an unmistakable sense of mission and purpose, which speak to the masculine soul in a particularly profound way. And the rewards are too many to properly catalogue here, but a few that come to mind are the indescribable thrill of seeing your newborn’s face for the first time, the utter joy of witnessing the first steps of a one-year-old, the delight and satisfaction in witnessing your child surpass your own skills and abilities, the heart-melting experience of hearing your child say, “I love you.”

This Father’s Day, let’s redouble our efforts as believers to boldly proclaim what true progress looks like. Self-sacrifice is progress. Vowing to stay true to one woman for life is progress. Welcoming new life into your life is progress. Leading and discipling the next generation of Americans is progress. Indeed, fatherhood is progress.

Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.