Speaking recently to some 7,000 people gathered in the Vatican’s audience hall, Pope Francis reflected on the role and vocation of fathers.
The world today, especially in the West, often appears as a world without fathers, as men are so focused on their jobs or personal fulfilment that they neglect their families. When their lives are all work and no play, men turn their children into “orphans” who lack a father to guide them, show them love and teach them values, Pope Francis said.
They are orphans in a family because their fathers are often absent, but above all because when they are home they don’t act like fathers, they don’t dialogue with their children, they don’t fulfil their role as their children’s educators, they don’t give their children, by way of their example and their words, those principles, values and rules of life that they need like bread.”
Pope Francis recalled how when he served as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he would often ask fathers whether or not they played with their children, if they had the courage of love to ‘waste’ their time with their children. “And their answer was awful, you know. The majority said, ‘Well, I can’t, I have too much work.’”
Christian communities need to be extra attentive to the crisis of fatherhood in society today and how so many young people feel “orphaned” within their own families, the pope said. So many of the problems that children have, some of them serious, stem from them not having a good father figure – a father who is an authoritative, loving guide and role model, he added.
In fact, the more a father needs to work or be away from home, the more important it is that he takes extra care to live up to his duty of providing solid, quality guidance, he said.
Another problem, the pope identified, is that sometimes fathers seem lost or unsure of what role they are supposed to play in the family and “so, being in doubt, they opt out, they withdraw and neglect their responsibilities, perhaps hiding behind a dubious relationship of ‘equal footing’ with their children. While it is true fathers need to accompany their children, they must not forget they must act like a parent, not a best friend because that is not good for the child.”
Dads, a message well worth pondering on.