In praise of men and fathers

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Last Sunday was Father’s Day in these United States. Years ago, before the advent of cell phones, I read that the day with the highest number of long distance telephone calls was Mother’s Day. The day with the highest number of collect phone calls was Father’s Day.

Once, after a Father’s Day sermon, a man came up to me afterwards and said, on Mother’s Day, you always extol the virtues of mothers and, On Father’s Day, often as not, you tell us fathers how we are not measuring up as men and need to change. It was a fair observation, one of which I was not even aware until that day.

Over time, certainly since the early 1960s, fathers have been treated by sitcoms, comedians, some activist groups, and the varied manifestations of the media as jokes, as buffoons, as people unworthy of respect. Think “Homer Simpson” or almost any other TV dad.

True, a number of men have made it hard on the rest. Those who father children willy-nilly with whomever is available without a care in the world, those who abandon their wives and children for whatever reason, those who are present in the family but absent from their children’s lives, and, of course, physically, mentally, and sexually abusive fathers. For their part, women, who have promiscuous sex without regard to the results contribute to the substantial number of fatherless homes and the degradation of family life.

The feminization of men in our society has greatly contributed to the confusion of what a father, or a man for that matter, looks like. Some men are so confused that they identify themselves as women. A male who behaves as a confident, provider and protector of kith and kin, may face being labeled as one with “toxic masculinity.”

Kansas City Chiefs Kicker Harrison Butker, found himself in a whirlwind of social savagery when he, a devout Catholic, speaking to a Catholic graduation class, at a Catholic university dared to defend, in essence, Catholic teachings, According to a CNN report, “’If it wasn’t clear that the timeless Catholic values are hated by many, it is now,’ Butker said during a speech at the ‘Courage Under Fire’ gala in Nashville….” Butker also found that even the NFL brass distanced themselves from him.

Love him or hate him, the facts are that Butker is married with two children and is the owner of three Superbowl rings. The Georgia native and Georgia Tech graduate also is credited with helping to save the life of a Chiefs teammate who suffered a cardiac arrest. And he holds two Superbowl records. Butker is quoted as having said, “Be unapologetic in your masculinity. Fight against the cultural emasculation of men. Do hard things. Never settle for what is easy.”

Butker’s life is a reminder to a nation that eschews masculinity that there are indeed men out there – millions of them — who work hard, take responsibility, pay their bills on time, take care of their families, are involved in a faith community, and are deeply involved in their children’s lives. There are countless fathers who would, and have, positioned themselves between their families and mortal danger at the risk of their own lives.

To the men are fathers who are irresponsible and who can’t make a decision without consulting social media — yeah, you need to man up. If you are afraid of being seen as too masculine, then you might ask yourself who or of what you are afraid. You don’t have to be a weightlifter, an athlete, or an obnoxious bully or blowhard. You can be a gentle, caring, loving man who is comfortable in his own skin. But you can’t be defined by this current culture that is all too happy to see you turned in to a parody of a male.

To the loving fathers and men who are simply being who they are and identify more with Harrison Butker than they do Homer Simpson, bravo! Other males are likely watching you and learning from your example.

My father was a real man. He quit high school to join the Navy in World War II. Afterward, he finished at the high school he left and went to work. He married my mom and had two sons. He worked at a few jobs he hated and started two businesses, an antique shop and a general store, which ultimately failed. But he kept working, even taking menial jobs such as digging holes for septic tanks to provide for his family. He ultimately took a low paying general labor job for a contractor. He worked nights and weekends to make ends meet.

With great persistence, he sought an electrician’s apprenticeship which he finally secured. Then, in his 30s, he began years of apprenticeship, night school, and required correspondence courses. It seemed it would never be over.

I remember his leaving for work at 7:00 a.m., coming home at 5:00 p.m., eating dinner with the family, and then him studying at his desk (from which I write this column) until midnight and doing it all over again.

Because of his commitment as a husband, a father, and as a man, we became middle class and never again had to worry about the meager resources that had concerned him about food, housing, or clothing. He paid off the house when I was in junior high, and my family was never in debt after that. He was kind, artistic, quiet, and not easily ruffled. But there was no doubt that Bill Epps was a “man’s man.”

So, to him and all those like him, thank you. It’s not easy to be a man in this society that is becoming more like Bizarro World every day. There’s a reason that action heroes in the movies and on TV are so popular. Part of it, I believe, is that people are craving, even needing, to see men who make a difference in a world gone off kilter. Though you may not know it, your children and those you know best, are looking to you. Homer Simpson may be funny as a cartoon. But, in real life, he is just a character to be pitied.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He has been a weekly opinion columnist for The Citizen for over 27 years. He may be contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]