I’m Your Dad: Pope Francis and the Super Bowl Ads are Right, We Need Fathers
Along with 115 million other people, I watched the Super Bowl Sunday night. It was an extraordinary game which will provide fodder for analysts, pundits and armchair quarterbacks for years to come.
However, one of the things that made this Super Bowl particularly unique – the commercials which accompanied it. There were the usual funny ones. However, I am referring to two commercials in particular. They touched my heart, brought tears to my eyes, and revealed the needy heart of a Nation which is losing its way.
They were two commercials from automobile companies, one by Nissan and the other by Toyota. Both had little to do with the products being advertised. They addressed a social issue of deep and profound relevance in this urgent hour, the irreplaceable role of fathers in the formation of children, the stability of families and the well being of the entire social order.
I found it intriguing that on the Wednesday preceding the game, Pope Francis, affectionately referred to by many as the holy father, gave an address to the faithful gathered in St Peters square on the same topic, fathers, and their unique, indispensable and essential role.
Francis called on fathers to be truly present to their children – and noted the consequences of their absence. He poignantly referred to our age as a “society without fathers” and warned that the “absent father figure in the life of little ones and young people causes gaps and wounds that may even be very serious.”
Next week, Francis will address the beauty of fatherhood. Stay tuned!
I lost my father in 2001. In that same year, my beloved wife also lost her father, my father in law, with whom I also had a wonderful relationship. We refer to that year still, with a heartbreaking sadness, as the year of our two fathers.
As I have grown older, I realize how much I am like my father, both for good and, well, not so good. My expressions, my tone of voice and my temperament, all reflect his influence. I also grow in my respect for him and all of the sacrifices he made for me, my brothers, my sister and my mother.
I still wish I had had more time with him. Trusting in the mercy and love of God, as I plunge more deeply into the heart and of living faith in the Risen Jesus Christ, I know – not just believe – that wish will come to pass. In fact, I eagerly await it.
My father’s favorite song was the Louis Armstrong classic “What a Wonderful World”. Each father’s day since he died, in a melancholy mix of mourning and memories, I listen to that song and shed more than a few tears.
As the years go by, its words and insights open up in their simplicity and wisdom. My father understood that the words spoke to the things that really matter – once everything that pretends to matter is stripped away. As his life unfolded in those later years, when his congestive heart failure seemed to take its greatest toll, he loved the song and the sentiment it expressed even more.
With age, my sense of loss has not dissipated. It has only changed. As I so often tell grieving family members at funerals in my ministry as a Catholic Deacon, the pain of loss on the memory of our deceased loved ones is just another manifestation of the eternal nature of love.
Very soon, my youngest daughter will give birth to our seventh grandson. I wish my Dad were with us to enjoy this precious moment. When my beloved wife and I are with our own children and grandchildren, we tell the stories of our fathers with fondness and ever deepening gratitude.
My father grew in tenderness and compassion as he faced death. It is funny how difficulties and struggle, suffering and strife, seem to be the most effective means of refining us all. He finally died of the heart ailment which had claimed so much of his vigor.
However, with every struggle my father faced, he did not give up. He was a fighter and he did not want to go. In fact, I was at his “death bed” a couple of times, or so we thought it was his death bed. He decided he had more jokes to tell – and more love to give.
It was that fighting spirit which I have particularly grown to admire as the years have passed by. Thank God he passed it on to me. Oh, as a younger man, he perhaps fought some of the wrong battles. I know I certainly did. We all do. But, that does not really matter any longer.
Life just seems to smooth it all out – and time presses us all into love. I see now that it only gave him time to smooth off the rough edges of a hard life and to, well, simplify. So it is doing with me, his son. I hope he is proud.
How my father loved to hear from us as he grew older. Sadly, I regret how little I really called. How I would love to have just one of those conversations today. I still miss him deeply.
I think back on those final years with my father – and I have regrets. Though we can’t get those years back, time is meant become a tutor as its highway stretches out before us. The lessons abound. The memories of the time I did have with him take on new meaning as I walk along the path that he did, raising my family and trying to love in both word and deed.
I cherish the last times we had and I share with my own grown children, and grandchildren, the stories, and his humor. In fact, in what is the most common experience of all, I actually tell his jokes, use his expressions, both facial and verbal and, in so many respects, I have become just like him. When I was in my twenties, it was one of my greatest fears. Now, it has become one of my greatest honors
Our earthly fathers and our relationships with them reflect the great meaning they symbolize in the eternal framework. Our Heavenly Father has given us His very name, His identity. In and through Jesus Christ, His only Son, we have now become “sons (and daughters) in the Son” – through our Baptism of new birth in water and the Spirit.
We are a part of an eternal family, and as the apostle Paul told the Christians in Rome, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, not even death. (Romans 8:38, 39)
As a Catholic Christian, I know that I am still joined to my father and my father in law in the communion which stretches through time and into eternity. Living in the Church is a participation in an eternal communion of love.
At that moment in the Canon of the Mass when we pray for those who have died, I always pray for them both and will do so on Father’s day. As a Deacon, I feel honored to be so close to the Altar when I offer that prayer.
If you still have your father with you, love him openly and affectionately and let him know how important he is to you. The Apostle Paul wrote some stirring words in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus:
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14 – 19)
The Greek word for Father and family, used in the New Testament, are connected. Paul is using them in a sort of play on words to make a profoundly important theological and ontological point. Fathers are the foundation of families, they give them identity and meaning in both life and in death.
The Catholic Catechism says, “The divine fatherhood is the source of human fatherhood; this is the foundation of the honor owed to parents.” (CCC#2214)
The Biblical understanding of naming someone was a far more significant action than many contemporary approaches to choosing names communicate. To name was understood to confer identity and introduce the child into an ongoing relationship. Naming still confers identity and relationship. Understanding the implications of that fact takes a lifetime, and beyond.
The words of this pope and the sentiments expressed in those two commercials challenge us to stop the frenetic pace of life to reflect on what really matters most in our lives. The ones who have “named” us, our fathers, have helped to give us our identity.
They are a gift to be received from the hand of God the Father. We should thank them if they are still with us, and shower them with affection. If not, we should still thank them, honor them, remember them – and continue to learn all we can from the example of their lives as we seek to live our own in love.
We need to realize the essential role of fathers in the life of children, the stability of the family and the health of any truly human society.
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