Joseph in the Stable: The Importance of Fathers

Posted: Jan 02, 2007 12:00 AM
Joseph in the Stable: The Importance of Fathers

Last week, churches around the world marked the birth of Jesus Christ. In celebrating this joyous event, many congregations read the account of Christ's nativity from the Gospel of Matthew. Though most Christmas cards and paintings appropriately emphasize the relationship between mother and child, Matthew's gospel highlights the role of another main character: Christ's earthly father, Joseph. According to Scripture, Joseph was a righteous man who planned to quietly divorce Mary (to save her from public humiliation) when she was found pregnant before their marriage was consummated. Before Joseph could leave, however, an angel of the Lord appeared to him explaining that the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Following the angel's instructions, Joseph took Mary home and raised Jesus as his son.

God, the Heavenly Father, ensured that His Son had a human father. This, of course, was not technically necessary. God could have easily sent Gabriel to Mary before she was engaged to Joseph. Because no human father was involved in the conception of Christ, the character of Joseph may seem superfluous. Yet in God's wisdom, Joseph was there with Mary in the manger. Jesus was obedient to Joseph as a child (Luke 2:51), and, no doubt, learned to be a carpenter by following Joseph's example. Even though Joseph was not Jesus' biological father, God apparently regarded the role of an earthly father sufficiently important that he made provision for His Son to have one. Today, our post-modern culture minimizes the role that fathers play, and, in many instances, has reduced fatherhood to the role of a mere "inseminator".

Recently the Washington Post ran an article entitled " My Father Was an Anonymous Sperm Donor", written by an eighteen year-old girl named Katrina Clark whose mother was artificially inseminated. Miss Clark described how she was angry for many years about the fact that she did not know even minor details about her father. "I was angry at the idea that where donor conception is concerned, everyone focuses on the 'parents'—the adults who can make choices about their own lives," Miss Clark wrote. "The recipient gets sympathy for wanting to have a child. The donor gets a guarantee of anonymity and absolution from any responsibility for the offspring of his 'donation.' As long as these adults are happy, then donor conception is a success, right?"

Clark answers this question with a simple "no." She says that when she was young she would "daydream about a tall, lean man picking me up and swinging me around in the front yard, a manly man melting at a touch from his little girl. I wouldn't have minded if he weren't around all the time, as long as I could have the sweet moments of reuniting with his strong arms and hearty laugh. My daydreams always ended abruptly; I knew I would never have a dad." Miss Clark even describes being jealous of other school children who were raised in broken families because at least they had fathers that they occasionally saw.

Katrina Clark's entire article is well worth careful reading. Her overall point is clear: it is not irrelevant whether or not a child has a father. When a child does not have a father, that child lacks something important. True, sometimes a tragedy occurs that renders a child fatherless. Some fathers die young, others desert their families. Historically in these circumstances the community would step in to help the mother, and provide the child with healthy father figures whenever possible. It was never considered noble to intentionally have a child out of wedlock, regardless of the woman's desire for motherhood. The needs of the child were put first.

Today, many people have false illusions about fatherhood, imagining that it is entirely optional. Some people have had negative experiences with their own fathers, and they therefore assume that their children will do better without a potentially negative male influence. Social scientists do not share these false illusions about fatherhood. In category after category—poverty, health, education, crime, drug use, teen pregnancy—children with fathers are healthier than children who are raised by single parents.

Though the benefit of having a married father and mother are now well known, the incidence of fatherlessness continues to rise. This fact was highlighted in another recent Washington Post article which found that sixty-nine percent of black children are born to single mothers. Many young black men have no role models when it comes to fatherhood because they do not know their own fathers. In some families, many generations of children grow up without any positive male figures in their lives.

This fact is not only a tragedy, it is an injustice. As a society, we should strive to ensure that every child has a mom and a dad. When this does not happen, we should see it as a regrettable failure, not a clever new type of family structure. It is a tragedy when it happens in the inner city because of family breakdown, and it is also a tragedy when it happens in upper class communities where aging women decide to go forward with motherhood even when they have not yet found a husband. It is not that such women do not have what it takes to be a mother—they do. The problem is that they do not have what it takes to be a father. When we, for selfish reasons, try to redefine the norm of two parent families, it is the child who suffers.

God, in his wisdom, did not deprive his Son of a human father. As wonderful as Mary was, God apparently felt that there were some things she could not give her son—things that were important to Jesus' upbringing. Therefore, on Christmas day, the holy family huddled close together in the manger: mother, father and child. It was a good model then, and it's a good one now. We abandon it at our peril—especially at the peril of our children. Join the Conversation!

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