Fatherhood is True Manhood: The Exceptions
Having established the reality of the norm of fatherhood for men, and for all humankind, it is now time to consider the exceptions. But, really, what sort of exceptions are there? There are, in fact, only two. The rest are not, actually, exceptions.
If a couple is infertile, then clearly, a man will not be able to procreate. (We reject as immoral and unChristian such things as IVF and surrogacy.) This, surely, is an exception to the norm. And yet not even this exception prohibits a man from becoming a father, for he may surely adopt a plurality of children and become father to them, and in so doing he will find himself accomplishing that end for which he is a man.
The other exception we may consider as such is the scenario in which the wife and potential mother will risk significant debilitation or even death from the pregnancy. By risk, of course, I mean more than the normal risks entailed by all mothers, for in our fallen world, no pregnancy is without some risk. Rather, I mean that it is known–because the wife and potential mother has a particular condition or set of conditions–that the risk of significant debilitation and death are much higher and more certain than what is normal. It would be cruel and unmanly for a husband to insist on biological fatherhood in such a scenario. But once again, this does not irrevocably bar him from fatherhood, for adoption can once again remedy that which a fallen world has marred for him.
So, what have we seen? We have seen that the two very real and very painful conditions in which biological fatherhood is denied to a husband, do not, actually provide the sort of exceptionalism which would free him from the obligation and blessing of fatherhood.
But, one is quick to ask, what about the celibate? What about the monastics? What about those who wish to focus on the eschaton and the coming of the Kingdom and renounce marriage for prayer and discipline in community?
First, let us note some things. Most men normally seek marriage and fatherhood. Of those who do not seek fatherhood, many seek marriage. And of those who seek neither fatherhood nor marriage, most seek sexual intercourse. In other words, those men who refuse fatherhood but seek the enjoyment of the marital act are engaging in two active perversions: the perversion of the sexual act away from one of its essential ends in procreation, and the perversion of manhood away from its essential end in fatherhood. They have reduced sexual intercourse to genital stimulation, and manhood to copulation. (I will return to these thoughts and the objections they raise in a moment.) But in all these men here noted, none of them seek monasticism.
Secondly, let us note that monasticism is a special form of renunciation. It is a renunciation of marital and familial ties, it is a renunciation of social and political ties, it is a living death to self in an intensified way. Nor is it simply a renunciation, but it is also an embrace; a tenacious grasping of the eschatological aspects of present Christian existence, the living out of the fully realized Kingdom when none will marry nor be given in marriage, and in which, we are instructed by the fathers, sexual intercourse and procreation will cease. Thus the monastic is not renouncing fatherhood, per se, but this present age. He is not embracing childlessness, per se, but the future Kingdom which is both now and not yet. And further, let us note, monasticism is a charism of grace, a spiritual gift that the Holy Spirit allocates to whom he will. So the invocation of the monastics as childless men does not, in fact, prove an exception to the norm of fatherhood completing true manhood, but reinforces the norm in the most radical of ways, by pointing to its eschatological fulfillment in the Kingdom.
We have noted that Jesus is no exception to the norm of human fatherhood precisely because of his perichoretic union with the Father of all. He is not the Father, but is one with the Father, and in that unity, the Fatherhood of God completes and fulfills his manhood.
No, what I am addressing is that perversion of Christian manhood that our culture promotes, which is primarily that sexually active males can escape the end of their manhood in fatherhood. For a man to enjoy all the benefits of marriage, but to renounce procreation, is a perversion. Let us note that procreation is not the only end of marriage and sexual intercourse. The sanctified pleasure, recreation and love a couple gives and receives in conjugal union is God-honoring. The spiritual and emotional union experienced in the marital act is purposefully designed by the Creator for the stability and permanence of the marital bond and the home built around it. But procreation is not just an incidental consequence of sex. It is as wholly an end, a purpose of sex as is God-honoring pleasure and spiritual and emotional union. The “one flesh” the couple becomes is, in part, the flesh of their child. In all their sexual intercourse, then, the couple must be open to procreation, even if, in one specific moment the other ends of the marital act are sought with more focus and intentionality. Men are meant to be fathers. Women are meant to be mothers. This is the fundamental fact of the Christian understanding of manhood.
But what, it may be asked, about those men who want children but think it wiser to wait for them? What about economic stability in the home and familial provision, the maturity of the marriage, overpopulation, and so forth? All of these share, if I may risk a categorical judgment, a tendency toward salvation by works and a failure, however small, of faith. Do we mistake who it is that really provides for us? Do we really forget that it is not by the provision of our own hands, but by the grace of God’s shining love that all our needs are met? Do we think that the successful parenting of our children really rests on our own ability to be perfect parents? And if we are not ready to parent a child, are we ready for marriage? And do we really think the issue of overpopulation is really anything else but the Pelagian notion that we can do anything about the productivity of the planet (or, conversely, its destruction) through our own efforts? Does He not sustain all things by His Word? Is it not in Him, that all things hold together? And would not the raising of children committed to the Lordship of Christ make permanent changes in the just and equitable allocation of the planet’s resources?
No, again and again we come back to the norm of fatherhood for men, and that it is always already God who sustains us as fatherly men, and completes us as men by making us fathers.