The Role of Father as Family Protector

From an interview with James Stenson, The Role of Father as Family Protector, on men’s duties.

It’s important that we see the role of a father’s protection in a broad sense, not just as physical protection from harm.

When we look at the very important ways a man protects his family, we can better understand the dire effects in today’s families caused by the man’s absence — either physical or moral — in family life.

So, what are the different forms of this manly protection?

First of all, a family man devotes his manly powers to protect his wife from anyone who would threaten her. It seems to be a natural instinct among males, to protect the women in their lives — wife, mother, sisters, daughters — from outsiders’ aggression.

For instance, if a man were standing next to his wife in a crowd and some male stranger turned to speak loudly and angrily toward her, the husband would instantly rise in rage to her defense. Adrenaline would rush through his blood, his muscles would tighten and his first impulse would be to rearrange the aggressor’s face.

No self-respecting man would stand by and let anyone treat his wife with disrespect. He would take swift action to defend her.

Related to this physical protection is another aspect of a man’s protectiveness, one that fathers today often fail to understand. A man permits no one to threaten or upset his wife — and this includes their own children.

A hugely important part of a father’s job is to defend his wife against their children’s rudeness, insolent disobedience and impulsive aggression. This protection counts most to his wife when the children are small — under 7 years of age — and later when they enter adolescence. A man will permit no one to disrespect his wife, including — and even especially — at home.

A man also defends his family through what he earns in his work. That is, he doesn’t just provide for his family; he protects them from poverty. He shelters them, takes care of their needs for a roof, food and clothing. While Dad has a job, the family feels secure. Even in a two-income home, it seems, children sense that Dad is the main provider, and therefore the family’s main protector.

Moreover, he protects his children from forces that threaten them here and now: drugs, bullies, criminals, unjust aggressors of all types and potential disasters arising from their inexperience and impulsive mistakes — such as dashing out into traffic or playing with matches. . . .

For instance, if a father glanced out his living room window and spotted a male stranger chatting with his small daughter, coyly beckoning to her, he would swiftly lunge into defensive action. He’d race out the door, stride aggressively toward the stranger, then confront the man and demand to know what he wanted. With muscles taut, he would stand between his daughter and this potential aggressor, physically shielding her from harm.

Another example: When his teen-age daughter is being picked up for a date, a father goes out of his way to size up the young man she’s going out with. He wants to meet him — insists on meeting him — to look him in the eye and intuitively size up his intentions and his worth. A father senses a duty to assess any young male who approaches his daughter. An unspoken message seems to pass between them: “She’s my daughter. Treat her nicely, kid, or else …”

But most of all — and this is crucially important — a father protects his children by strengthening their judgment and will so they can later protect themselves. In the lives of his children, he asserts loving leadership toward responsible, competent adulthood.

It is a father’s mission — the challenge that brings out the best in him — to form in his children the powers and attitudes they will need to succeed in life, to strengthen them so they in turn can later protect themselves and their own loved ones.

So, in his children’s eyes a great father is a lifelong leader and teacher. His protective, empowering lessons about right and wrong live on in the inner lives of his children, long after they’ve left home for good, and indeed long after he has passed to his eternal reward. A great father never stops being a father, for he lives on as a great man in the hearts of his children. . . .

A father strengthens his children’s competence. He forms lifelong healthy attitudes to work, along with serious habits of work. Without a father’s leadership in this arena, his kids can have trouble grasping the connection between effort and results, between standards and achievement.

If he fails here, his children may never outgrow the dominant attitude of childhood — that life is play — and remain stuck in a permanent adolescence.

He teaches respect for rightful authority. He insists that his children respect and obey him and their mother. His wife sets most of the moral tone for the household — what’s right and wrong in family life — and he enforces it.

Being smart and far-seeing, he knows that when children fail to respect their parents, they can later clash with all other forms of rightful authority: teachers, employers, the law, God’s law and their own conscience.

A father teaches his children ethics and gives final form to their lifelong conscience. That is, he shows his sons and daughters how to comport themselves justly and honorably in the world outside the home.

In his children’s eyes, he is an expert on fair dealings and personal integrity in the workplace and community. He shows his kids how their mother’s moral teachings carry over later to life outside the home: telling the truth, keeping one’s word, putting duty first, deferring to others’ rights and feelings. . . .

A father builds healthy self-confidence in children. His presence around the home as a physically strong man leads his children — daughters especially — to feel safe, securely protected and therefore self-confident.

As a father, he corrects and encourages, and he helps his children to learn from their mistakes. In this way, he leads his children to form a realistic sense of their strengths and limitations.

Youngsters who receive this protective fatherly love, along with self-knowledge and experience with problem-solving at home, eventually form a lifelong self-confidence.

A father leads his children to adult-level sound judgment and shrewdness. He helps them to use their brains like responsible adults: to frame questions and answers logically, to think ahead and foresee consequences, to assess people’s character and values, and to know malarkey when they see it.

A father provides an attractive example of responsible masculinity. He acts as a model for his sons’ growth into manhood. And he conveys to his daughters — most often unconsciously — the traits they should look for in judging the character of men their age, especially suitors for marriage.

In countless subtle ways, Dad forms a pattern for manly character in each of his sons and, indirectly, for the kind of man each daughter will someday marry. . . .

Men who live as great husbands and fathers enjoy the lifelong love and deepest respect from their children. They have a unity of life — the welfare of their families — and therefore a peace of mind throughout their lives.

Their powers, their work accomplishments, their friendships with other men all come together to give their life meaning and a profound happiness.

One is tempted to cite the whole thing. Go and read the rest at the link above.

[H/T: Mere Comments]

36 thoughts on “The Role of Father as Family Protector

  1. Tripp:

    Yes and no. Yes, of course, mothers protect and teach responsibility and discipline, and so forth. But–and here’s the key–they do so, and can only do so, as mothers, not as fathers.

    There is a qualitative difference that anyone who has grown up with both parents know, even if they only know it intuitively. Only fathers can father. Mothers and only mothers can mother. If fathers mother they do so as fathers, which is to say, they don’t mother, they father. That fathering is, and should at times be, very tender and warm and soft. But such nurturing is not mothering, it’s fathering.

  2. Tripp:

    Let me also add this thought.

    It seems to me that this equalization and homogenization of parental roles into a single role done by two people results in neither parent’s duties being accomplished. Or rather not being accomplished well, for ultimately neither sex can deny creational biological realities.

    Mothers cannot embody fatherhood for their children, so sons and daughters lose any meaningful context and content for the reality of “father.” They ultimately see fatherhood as just another form of women’s behavior. Which has very little to do with them as (young) men. So the only model young men have for being young men is that of a woman. And so young men without fathers–and we must say, manly fathers, not womanly or predatory ones–only know how to behave either as women or as hyper-men, that is to say, beasts.

    Young men very quickly grow to a point to out-physical their mothers. And if there is no (stronger) man, a father, in the home to take that young boy in hand (literally) and provide him a check–at first an irrational one based on fear, but then later a rational one based on love–then he will be misformed and turn not into a man, but into an ever-adolescent beast, preying on women whom he cannot respect because he has not for some time very much feared them.

    Apart from a strong man, who is clearly the more powerful figure in the home (physically and otherwise), but who exercises that power (physically and otherwise) with sacrifice, respect and restraint, and whom a young boy can learn first to fear and then to love, then there is very little hope that such a young boy will become a man.

  3. Interesting. We are back at it again.

    My father never touched us. My mother would spank etc. When I was 13 spanking etc did nothing so I was “grounded” as a form of punishment. Both parents would do this.

    I never needed the fear of physical interaction of my father to be fathered or punished or loved or any of that. Dad was never physical in that way.

    So, the conflation is there, it exists. I think that if one has to step in to defend a spouse, child etc or discipline physically beyond a certain age, there may be greater problems at work and the “beast” you mention may be present in the child.

    Again, you and I will have to disagree with these guidelines/estimations of parenting roles. I think the conflation is absolutely necessary…and even beneficial to the child in a two-parent home.

  4. Tripp:

    Don’t mistake me. I’m not advocating corporal discipline is the sign of fatherly power and control, or that it is the single threat to which a child can first learn to fear, and thence, if loved, to respect. I know quite manly young men and fathers who–by their own testimony–never needed spanked. I, on the other hand, most certainly did.

    Rather, it takes a man to show a boy the manly way to respect women. Again, surely a mother can show a boy to be respectful, and respectful to women. But she cannot embody what it means for a man to respect women.

    A boy needs a man, a father, to embody all the ways that boys need to live as embodied men. Women cannot do this. They can only talk about it, and model embodied womanhood. But from that, boys only learn how to be women, not men.

    All this, of course, goes in reverse. Boys need mothers, too. Fathers cannot embody womanhood to boys, and it takes an embodied woman for a boy to learn how to live with women as a man.

    I know. Having two sisters prepared me for marriage in ways I never would have guessed.

  5. Then I would say that your choice of examples/post material was poor. I read it a couple of times to make sure I was getting the point, and it seems that the author is only concerned that the father be a physically imposing presense in the house. That is his role. I think he is shortsighted.

    Are physically weak men less fatherly? With this example, yes. With your’s, no.

    I do tend toward a homogenizing of gender roles. We know this. But this post is biased toward larger men who can intimidate their kids into loving them. That frustrates me to no end.

  6. “For instance, if a man were standing next to his wife in a crowd and some male stranger turned to speak loudly and angrily toward her, the husband would instantly rise in rage to her defense. Adrenaline would rush through his blood, his muscles would tighten and his first impulse would be to rearrange the aggressor’s face.

    No self-respecting man would stand by and let anyone treat his wife with disrespect. He would take swift action to defend her.”

    The phrase that gets me is “rise in rage.” Um, yeah, I know about righteous anger and the like, but what about rage? Are Christians allowed to exhibit rage? Are we given permission to sin when enraged. That is akin to the “Better to ask forgiveness than permission” line at some businesses. I am not sure that the Tradition allows for it. What does the tome about the passions say about rage? Does it jive with what this guy is saying. “Rearrange” someone’s face? Really?

    Wow. HE should go see his priest and ask for forvgiveness.

  7. Tripp:

    Man, and all you liberal/progressive folk call us traditionalists “binary”!

    It’s not an either/or scenario. Fathers are physically imposing and threatening–and ought to be for disciplinary reasons–to their young children, especially their sons. And fathers do not necessarily need to resort to physical discipline with every child, including sons.

    I’m not sure why you find this hard to accept unless, I suppose, it’s because you can’t see it from the androgynous presuppositions you bring to the table on this matter.

  8. I do not believe that there are binaries. Thus, I have not accused you of them.

    BTW: What did Jesus say about not even being angry? Which one is it? If in a fit of rage you rearrange someone’s face, I imagine it is called sinfulness in response to sinfulness. Or is your rage and violence then valorous somehow? I have never understood that logic.

    I was never more afraid of one parent over another. They were both frightening until I was tall/old enough to realize that they were people flailing around like the rest of us.

    Otherwise I simply did not want to disappoint them. I never learned anything other than how to work around the rules by being punished for breaking them.

    But that is another story.

  9. First of all, I think you need to reread what the author said.

    He spoke of the “first impulse” to protect–through physical violence. He did not say that it was valorous to act on that, although, I think it safe to assume that if such action were required the author would affirm that it is a father’s duty to sacrifice himself in such protection.

    Secondly: You won’t successfully divorce St. Paul from Jesus. That same Jesus that said turn the other cheek is the same Jesus that, through the Holy Spirit, inspired both the psalmist (4:4) and the Apostle (Eph 4:26) to give divine imprimatur to anger as a virtue.

    In light of that I would go so far as to claim that if a man is not roused to anger, and a first violent impulse, in the protection of his family, especially his womenfolk, he has been poorly trained as a man and/or wholly misunderstands Christian manhood. Whether or not a man is called so to act in specific instances cannot be answered apart from being in them. But surely the possibility must be open. We do not love our families more than our own lives if we do not live (and die if necessary) to protect them.

  10. Okay, we are hearing something very different: Protection and sacrifice vs. protection and violence.

    I do not read the author as saying “Sacrifice yourself by rearranging someone’s face.” No. He simply says that we respond to rage as one possible option. Yes, he suggests others. They are not bad suggestions.

    We are to bring our rage to God. This is what the psalmist says. But we are not to do harm says Christ. We can act in righteous indignation and overturn tables, but we do not harm to anyone else. Those tables were up the next morning, peoples livlihoods back at the game. The only one who suffered was Christ.

    That is the key. Christ hurts no one. He sacrifices no one but himself. Rearranging someone elses facial features suggests that one may not understand sacrifice. If one is to sacrifice, then one is the only to suffer.

    “He would take swift action to defend her” makes sense only if the only person who suffers is the father. In fact, following the paradigm, the father would forgive the agressor in the act of violence done upon him with “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” If, as Paul suggests, the father figure is to be Christlike, then that is how violence is met…with forgiveness and possibly death.

    There seems to be no other option to me. Anything else falls short of Christ and theosis.

  11. Hippocrates says “Do no harm,” but danged if I can’t find an instance of Jesus saying that.

    Also, notice Jesus’ prohibition against retaliation: it is a prohibition against violence in the face of personal insult. It says nothing whatsoever about the natural and normal and God-given impulses of a father for the physical and spiritual protection of his family. If that requires violence, then so be it.

    God sure didn’t shrink from violence, nor, says St. Paul, does the authority established by him. I do not think violence per se is the issue. I see no absolute prohibition in Scripture that specifically abrogates any violent response to injustice or attack.

    Which is precisely why the Church has not spoken definitively against war, or positively for absolute pacificism.

    Once again, the author is not advocating violence–he is simply affirming a normative “first impulse”–but using that first impulse to illustration a fundamental creational reality of fatherhood. A reality to be sure that will sometimes need to result in physical violence, but not one that must be so, nor one that excuses violence for violence’s sake.

    There is, after all, a very holy violence all Christians are to offer: that against the passions. And it is precisely this spiritual warfare that we all are to engage in that sometimes and necessarily spills over into bodily realities.

  12. Oh, just to be clear, I so not think of Paul and Jesus as being against one another…or saying different things. But when you quote Paul’s words and not Christ’s, I want to remind us of Christ’s so we know in which context Paul’s words stand. One refines the other.

  13. You say: “Also, notice Jesus’ prohibition against retaliation: it is a prohibition against violence in the face of personal insult. It says nothing whatsoever about the natural and normal and God-given impulses of a father for the physical and spiritual protection of his family. If that requires violence, then so be it.”

    I have always placed these two in the same general category: the impulse to harm. As it is an impulse, and thus a passion, I “figgert” you’d understand it the same way.

    “Spilling over into bodily realities” makes sense only in that it is accurate. It does not give permission but describes the actions coupled with passion…and we are to overcome passion.

    The impulse to defend and the impulse to harm are different. He says defend but describes harm. That is my point. Had he said something like “Throw yourself in front of a bullet” in lieu of waxing Stalone-ish, I would have managed agreement. But since he did not, all I can see is “It’s all right to hurt someone if you feel like it. You are, after all, protecting your wife.”

    It is never all right to hurt someone, in rage or righteousness. Christ does no such thing. He says do not feel anger. Paul castigates this impulse in himself as sin. He names himself as sinner for these very things…the very challenges he sees facing the church.

    I do not deny that there is a virtuous way to be a father. Of course there is. But if I ever discover myself injuring another in the name of fatherhood, then I will have discovered myself failing to be a father.

  14. “One refines the other.”

    Ah, yes, that’s the sticky wicket, isn’t it? Which refines which, since both arise from God’s outbreathing?

    I think the hermeneutical mistake is to take Jesus’ prohibition against retaliation for personal insult as a general prohibition against all violence. The Church sure hasn’t conclusively said so.

  15. Tripp:

    Not all impulses are passions. Many impulses are God-given, normal and healthy; like, say, the urge to eat and to have sex.

    Indeed, not all Church fathers even claim that the passions are alien to us and always evil. Some fathers describe the passions as distortions of the normal and healthy.

    I would argue the urge to protect one’s family, even to the point of sacrificial violence, is no passion but what God put in us men to fulfill the roles we have precisely as fathers.

  16. You see, this is also what is bothering me.

    What you posted, what the good brother describes, is no different than what I learned in locker rooms and school yards. You defend with violence. If there are other options, then that’s okay, too, but it is virtuous to defend with violence. This is the rule of law at school yards and playgrounds.

    I never knew anything different until I read the Bible. When Jesus meets violence not with violence but with sacrifice, that made sense. When death is a proper “defence” because it brings about resurrection and renewal, that makes sense. That brings light and life. What this brother describes does nothing but underscore that punching is a “good” sollution.

    I am simply not able to hear it. I would defend Trish, and with my life, but not with the life of the attacker.

  17. Right, we agree, the fathers life, self, safety…and the Father would defend the attacker from the same violence…thus the forgiveness of those crucifying at the cross.

    No one should suffer violence except the father.

  18. Well, the attacker pretty well is going to suffer violence if he will not give up his attack on the father’s household.

    To suppose otherwise if fantasy and folly.

    And to suppose we are barred against such holy violence for the sake of our family’s well being is just as insidious, in my view.

    We are not, despite your characterization, talking about a school yard brawl, which is not about defense, except perhaps self-defense. We are talking about the weaker and more helpless needing the defense of those who have been put by God in the position of such protectors. For a man to refuse to take up that protection, even to the violent sacrifice of himself and the exertion of violence upon the attacker, is to refuse, in my opinion, his God-given duty.

  19. Please remember that I spent nine years practicing martial arts. This is not some naiive vision. I have done this. I have protected all, including the attacker, from violence. It can be done. People are tought this all the time.

    It is possible.

  20. Let me clarify:

    I’m rejecting an absolute prohibition against any violence whatsoever. I think this is a mistaken hermeneutic and an irresponsible handling of a father’s God-given duties.

    But I am not supposing that violence must always be the first or even an option. If a father can protect his family without resorting to violence he should, in my view. Protection does not equal violence, though protection does naturally stir God-given impulses in a man and a father.

    On the other hand, if in the particular situation a father sees no recourse but violence, he should be smart and act smart, and use the approporiate violent force.

    And he should do so precisely because he loves his family as himself.

  21. The council of churches has spoken difinitively against war and violence. Both john paul and benedict have spoken difinitively against war and violence. I find it increasingly frustrating that church leaders in the west, have so much trouble speaking or listening to the words of christ. They hold on to Paul to justify their sin. Why? What is to be gained by the violence you harbor in your hearts(catholic not personal) Is it so hard to forgive your father his sin? Spare the rod and all that? Look what became of those children in the old testament?
    Please excuse my outburst as it were, I do so enjoy these posts.

  22. Hi Glen.

    Cliff, where I think you ideas are limited is that you limit the love a father has to his family. You do not love your enemy/neighbor as yourself. You only love your family. That is the problem.

    The family is an integral societal unit. Paul and the church must give it its due attention. But that does not, however, limit the focus of Christian virtue no establish a particular kind of Christian virtue. The family is only one of many structures through which God’s love and mercy can be known.

    You should love the attacker as yourself as well.

  23. Glen:

    I think you are misremembering the the Catholic Church has a very robust doctrine of just war. Perhaps you know of conciliar pronouncements or papal ex cathedra pronouncments that definitively call for absolute pacificism, but I am not aware of any.

    I should also note that Father Douglas Webster has done yeoman’s work uncovering the historical teaching of the Church on war and violence and peace. I am relying on his scholarship when I make the claim that there are no definitive pronouncements from the Church calling for absolute pacifism. Rather pacifism and just war (principle violence) are two strands that run throughout the tapesty of the Church’s teaching.

    Also, I detect in your comments that perhaps unavoidable tendency on matters like these to pit St. Paul over against Jesus. Unless you can see both teachings properly contextualized you say things about St. Paul and the historic teaching of the Church that you likely do not intend.

  24. Tripp:

    I am not limiting the father’s love in the way you suggest. Rather I am prioritizing or ordering such love. If one views all persons (including family) as equally obligating to his love then he cannot but shirk his duty to his own family. St. Paul doesn’t have kind words for those who do not provide for their own household. And yet St. Paul also enjoins us to care for the orphans and widows. Clearly the saint sees an ordering of loves with the family receiving priority.

    We even see this in the decalogue: children are to honor their parents. Well, if the summation of the law is to love our neighbor as ourself, then why not honor everyone equally? Why just our parents? And more to the point, why is such honor given a particular blessing, and loving our neighbor as ourself is not given such a blessing?

    No, this is no limit of love in the way you suggest.

    And good morning right back atcha.

  25. You know, I simply do not detect the prioritizing you do. There are particular modes of love, but not a prioritizing…well, except that if we cannot control ourselves we should at least get married, and if we’s gonna get married there are ways that Christian virtues are present in the family.

    But the virtues do not change nor are people prioritized. It is an all or nothing deal here…yes, a binary of sorts…actually, no. It is a singularity.

    There are societal orders at work, certainly. Romans 12 is another great example. But these social orders are always given the wider context of Christian virtue and the Church.

    We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. The gospel is succinct on this, no?

  26. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the catechism is very specific about the moral undepinnings of “just war doctrine” are not met in any measure in the current conflict nor in the recent memorable past. The doctrine that is most often quoted speaks of DEFENSE…..The most authoritative and up-to-date expression of just war doctrine is found in paragraph 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It says:

    The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

    * the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
    * all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
    * there must be serious prospects of success;
    * the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

    These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine.

    These speak to an often quoted doctrine that does not have any connected documents in the church, but rather is the “scholarship of the, I found what I wanted to find variety”
    And further…”the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral” (John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae 57).
    The piece in luke is interesting to me, I have a different reading of that verse. More in the vain of the NSRV notes from metzger in “The Cannon of the New Testament” where he says the apostles may have to deal with hostilities that they should prepare for using thier own resources.The previous verses about the one who has a purse, or a bag should take it.
    I would very much like to hear your response.
    Thank you for taking any time at all with my questions

  27. I would commend to your reading the vatican library the catechisms text numbered 2306 and 2307 and further thru 2317. These all speak volumes! The church provides for absolution perhaps, but John Paul recently made clear that the church always councils peace. My appologies if this is off topic a bit. I am curious however regarding your thoughts?

  28. Glen:

    While discussing just war doctrine is eminently worthwhile and interesting, it is tangential to this specific post. In that the doctrine allows for the defensive use for violence, it gives implicit approval for the use of violence to a man who is protecting (defending) his family from threats to their safety and well-being.

    Further, based on the implications of just war doctrine, I think it morally appropriate to distinguish between the violence, perhaps even sometimes lethal violence, a father uses in defending his family, and direct and voluntary killing. That is to say, in the act of defense, a father, if he uses lethal violence, is acting involuntarily, under the compulsion of the attacker’s acts. (Aristotle has some pertinent comments in Bks II and III of his Ethics on this.)

  29. I hope that it comes up in a future discussion. I disagree that the “just war doctrine” is a position of the church, rather an ackowledgement IT happens in the world. Merry Christmas!

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