By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 6/15/12 in The Madera Tribune
A 3-year-old supposedly went with his father to see a litter of kittens. Returning he excitedly told his mother there were two boy kittens and two girl kittens.
“How did you know?” she asked.
“Daddy picked them up and looked underneath,” he said. “I think it’s printed on the bottom.”
What would we do without fathers?
Well, technically we wouldn’t do anything, because we wouldn’t exist at all. But as Father’s Day nears in the U.S. it is natural to think of the impact of our own on our lives.
The statistics in general seem consistent enough.
In 2002, about 8 percent of poor children lived in married-couple families. Without a father at home, child poverty rose to 38 percent (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003). Infant mortality is nearly twice as high for those born of unmarried mothers (National Center for Health Statistics, 2000). Depression is twice as common for single moms as well (Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 2003).
U.S. middle schoolers who don’t live with both genetic parents have four times the risk of an affective disorder (Journal of American Academic Child Adolescent Psychiatry, 2005). Children who don’t grow up with both biological parents use drugs more (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2002), and are more likely to be “delinquents” (Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 2000). Violent crimes by children without both parents at home significantly increased in 39 nations studied (Cross-Cultural Research, 2004).
There are so many studies on this topic that I lack the time and space to mention each of them. In the past decade, research has linked the lack of fathers in the home to greater risks of obesity, abuse, neglect, early menstruation, teen pregnancy, dropping out of school, repeating grades, alcohol use, imprisonment, and more.
But fatherhood doesn’t exist simply to reduce dangers to children. For many monotheistic religions, fatherhood is used to describe God’s loving and authoritative relationship with humanity, so much so that “father” is virtually a universal title for God.
Even so, the intimacy and tenderness of God for us has also been spoken of as reminiscent of motherhood too, at least in Jewish and Christian scriptures.
“The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representative of God for man,” explains paragraph 239 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
“But this experience also tells us that human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of fatherhood and motherhood. We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard: no one is father as God is Father.”
A month ago I shared a claim by Christians and Jews: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Bereishit/Genesis 1:27) This, I wrote, is the source of human dignity for man and woman alike.
But that isn’t all.
It also means that man and woman, when united in love, reveal God more fully than either can do alone.
There’s nothing greater any parent can share with us than divine love.
I’ve almost drowned more than a half dozen times, and never learned to swim properly. I tried to stay in the shallows of swimming pools but sometimes slipped into deeper waters.
Before I passed out while sinking on one occasion, I saw a shadow above me. I must have grabbed it, and my father managed to get us both out of the water without getting pulled down himself. I awoke lying on a poolside chair.
A handful of years ago I described the incident poetically:
Blue water spun around as I stared up / as if the foam and sky did duel that day / only to lose when darkness drank their cup / while in my limbs all fight did drift away.
I did not think of death as I sank down / Instead my thoughts took in this stunning view / — a noisy blue glass swirl bereft of sound / that dimmed too fast as beauties often do.
A shadow passed before my mind did fade / and I reached out to waken in the light / My father's foot had cast a saving shade / For I -- though gone -- held it with sleeper's might.
Years pass and now I drown this time in fears. / They captivate, but God is no less near.