Acton Institute Powerblog

How fatherhood leads to flourishing

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Changing the conversation about the value of settling down and pursuing a meaningful family can illuminate hard questions. Sacrificing one’s personal desires for a wife and children is a crucial step on the path to human flourishing. […]

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America reigns supreme in the number of single parent households. Every June, we gather with our friends and family to celebrate Father’s Day, yet one in four of children do not have a father. It’s a sobering statistic that deserves attention.

In Kevin Hart’s new Netflix film, Fatherhood, we see the daily struggles of parenting, particularly those faced by single parents. The movie also correctly identifies the important role of a loving father. Another recent film, Collateral Beauty, starring Will Smith, analyzes the grieving process of losing a child but points toward the significance and meaning that fatherhood can provide.

Both films involve suffering, but both point to a deeper meaning in the vocation of fatherhood. Interestingly enough, both films provide a stark contrast to our current culture.

Why are one in four children fatherless? One reason has to do with oxytocin, the bonding chemical shared between people we love. On average, women have significantly higher oxytocin levels than men, directing them into certain behaviors and particular bonds, most notably the contact between mother and child. Chemically, men experience a more minor lasting physical bond with those they love.

But the fatherless issue is not only chemical; it is cultural. The proliferation of contraception and the sexual revolution of the 1970 have eradicated any belief in the significance of sex, pregnancy, and fatherhood. As a result, men see sexual conquest as a sporadic endeavor and never settle down to raise children.

Statistically, culturally, and chemically speaking, fathers are at a disadvantage in terms of loving attachment. Fatherless homes have devastating ripple effects across society. Lacking a father leads to a child being four times more likely to live in poverty. Fatherless children are seven times more likely to be involved in teen pregnancy and twice as likely to drop out of high school. If the fatherless sons go on to become absent fathers themselves, the effects repeat and multiply.

Regardless of political or religious affiliation, it is vital we put fathers back with the family. Changing the conversation about the value of settling down and pursuing a meaningful family can illuminate hard questions. Sacrificing one’s personal desires for a wife and children is a crucial step on the path to human flourishing.

Unfortunately, many men often can have promiscuous sex lives and leave the “baby mommas” in their wake with no responsibility to their children. Self-indulgence in a man’s sex life is a twisted form of their desire for meaning and intimacy. This brings to mind Lord Acton’s ideas on what one ought to do. In the Roman Question, Lord Acton asserts that the “Catholic notion (as opposed to the modern notion), defining liberty not as the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought, denies that general interests can supersede individual rights.”

Our rights, correctly ordered, can eliminate selfish desire and lead to flourishing not only for the father, but also among the children he raises. A husband and wife, united in order to raise children, foster a matrimonial bond that transcends individual rights.

Americans are obsessed with rights to defend their individual autonomy; the role of the father, however, puts aside personal desires for the sake of duties. For ten thousand years our ancestors found meaning in something that is very tangible: the family.

Christians have the ultimate example in our heavenly Father. Not only does the Bible instruct humanity to be fruitful and multiply, but the act of fathering points to the greater Father in heaven. 2 Corinthians 6:18 says, “And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” Men can learn a lot about the nature of fatherhood through our mighty God in heaven.

What is the advice we can glean as men? How do we return to the family, settle down, and raise children? Show up. Be present. Stay planted. One can find much more meaning and significance in the sacrifice of fatherhood and the pride of the home than in the empty promises of a selfish culture.

Kyle Sweitzer

Kyle Sweitzer is a member of the Acton Institute’s 2021 Emerging Leaders class. He is a junior at Grove City College majoring in Political Science. Kyle grew up in Hudson, Ohio, and focuses on studying issues in criminal justice and with communism. Kyle is also a marketing fellow at the Institute for Faith and Freedom focusing on spreading virtue and promoting Christian values to the next generation.