Fatherhood as Modeled by Two Historical Giants

Thanksgiving is a very special holiday. In truth, it’s a “holy-day” for all those who offer their thanks to a benevolent God.

Like all holidays, it can be good or bad, depending on the way it is perceived by each individual, and the unique circumstances in which they find themselves. Most of us are thankful, for example, for our loving families. And, even if we can’t be together at these special times, we draw warmth and strength from their love. Tragically, others have been victimized by those who should have protected them, and “family” in their eyes is not something to be thankful for at all.

I was not a perfect son. I strove to be a better father. And, now that I’m blessed with seven grandchildren, I’m trying to be the best grandfather I can be

Many years ago, shortly after having our first child, I gave myself a Father’s Day gift. (That’s not a typo. I purchased for myself a modest plaque with a priceless message.) It reads: “the greatest gift a man can ever give his children is to love their mother.”

I displayed this proverb in my office through the years, as a reminder to myself and others of this profound truth. It’s easy to love one’s spouse as a newlywed in the hot flush of youth. It’s also easy, I’m learning, to love my wife in the snug and warm autumn of life. For many, however, the trials and tribulations that are a natural part of all relationships appear insurmountable. Between the newlywed and maturelywed days, it’s not all easy. While our hormones still surge and familiarity breeds corrosive contempt, we may take for granted the person we once vowed to cherish above all others.

The desire to be a decent father greatly amplifies the importance of being a devoted husband. Knowing this made my reading of a recent article quite painful. I had known for years that President John F. Kennedy was rather promiscuous. Yet a recent article in The Atlantic reveals just how debauched the man was. The article, if you have the stomach for it, praises the strength of his wife Jackie, and is available online here.

It describes just a few of his disease spawning liaisons, and noted that he often traveled with one of his so-called secretaries, should there be “any trouble scaring up local talent.” One imagines the dirtiness felt by the Secret Service agents tasked with protecting him during his sordid escapades in the White House pool. The saddest tale for me was his deflowering of a sophomore intern from Wheaton “right there on his wife’s bed.” I won’t sully you with any more accounts.

When I read the article, it nearly made me sick. He was a vile husband. I recalled the numerous famous pictures of him playing with his children—the doting father, one would think. Yet, in reality, just because he was such a malignant husband, he was also an appalling father. To mistreat his wife so badly, was to dishonor his children as well.

The image that came to me as I looked again at the pictures of Kennedy’s glorious Camelot brought to mind Jesus’ words about whitewashed sepulchers “which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:26-28, ESV). The verse which follows could be JFK’s epitaph: “So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

A More Godly Alternative

C.S. Lewis experienced neither the normal, nor ideal, form of fatherhood. While he loved and respected his own father, theirs was not a close relationship. And then, at the end of his life, the death of his beloved Joy caused him to transition from the already tentative role of stepfather into the fullest demands of single parenthood. Lewis loved his two sons. He was the best father he knew how to be.

Despite being ill equipped, he did the honorable and right thing—he could do no other. He provided for all the physical needs of his sons, and did his best to meet their emotional needs as well. In Lenten Lands, his son Douglas Gresham describes how painful it was to be at The Kilns following his mother’s passing.

In cowardice and self-pity, I deserted the home and the two men whose company and loving support had for so long been all that had preserved my sanity. When at home from school, I was rarely at home. I know now that I could have done far more than I did to help both Jack and Warnie to bear the burdens which were their lot, but with the blind selfishness which is characteristic of egocentric teen-aged boys, I was too wrapped up in myself to spare time for others.

Strangely, Jack and I had, through these difficult years, become very close, and I think that he understood quite well the reasons for my reluctance to be a part of The Kilns at that time. At first, after Mother’s death, with almost unbelievably naïve complacency, I never doubted that The Kilns and Jack would always be there for as long as I needed them. Then, when it began to dawn on me that there was an increasing likelihood of Jack being snatched away, and with him The Kilns, I reacted by rejecting The Kilns entirely and by not daring to love Jack any more than I already irrevocably did.

For his part, Lewis comprehended just how important understanding fatherhood was. In his tribute George MacDonald: An Anthology, he says this about his mentor:

An almost perfect relationship with his father was the earthly root of all his wisdom. From his own father, he said, he first learned that Fatherhood must be at the core of the universe. He was thus prepared in an unusual way to teach that religion in which the relation of Father and Son is of all relations the most central.

Lewis concurred with MacDonald that “Fatherhood must be at the core of the universe.” And, if this is indeed true, our emulation of it in this life possesses even more importance than I ever imagined.

15 thoughts on “Fatherhood as Modeled by Two Historical Giants

  1. Great Thanksgiving post.
    Lewis’s comment about fatherhood being the core of the universe is insightful.
    Many knew “camelot” was a sham, but it wasn’t proper to say so …but maybe we were all just too polite. Maybe something important for mankind is slipping away.
    If your human father is not a source of truth – and he’s physically here..how can those of developing or little faith ever going to hold fast to the concept of God the Father?
    Always thankful for your thoughts and willingness to pen them

    1. I have known some people, more women than men, whose biological fathers bitterly disappointed them. For a small minority of these, it has inhibited their ability to comprehend God as our loving heavenly Father. In my own case, my father was extremely far removed from the ideal, but I took comfort in the fact that my Father in heaven loved me–and the alienation from my dad may have strengthened my reliance on God. (My relationship with my dad has been getting better and better every since since he quick drinking a couple decades ago. He is a much better father today than he was when I was young.)

      1. Funny how age often improves things ( not just wine!) Never connected until your post the how relationship with father mirror that with God the Father – so thanks for that…never failed to be astounded how complex, well planned, interrelated all life is…wonder if now that sociologists are sounding the alarm that a father’s role in the family is critical for children’s development, it will lead back to the importance of a religion and relationship with God the Father? We’ll see?

  2. From CBS News today:

    C.S. Lewis, writer of the popular children’s novel series The Chronicles of Narnia, is to be commemorated with a stone in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey in London, November 22, 2013.

  3. Excellent post. The part about the newlywed and the maturelywed was striking. It’s that part in-between that’s so testing.
    Pretty sick about JFK. No wonder Jackie was so silent. And everyone was amazed at that. Though a tragic death perhaps in her mind she thought, “It’s finally over.”

    1. Marriage is a wondrous adventure, no matter what stage it’s in. But yes, most of us find the in-between time the most challenging. For one, as my hair has receded and my waist has done the opposite, I’ve found I no longer need to rebuff any flirtatious compliments from women.

    1. That’s a great insight. And by “world” here we clearly mean that which stands in opposition to God. Just look at the results of the demise of fatherhood in cultures and nation where divorce is rampant and illegitimacy has become the norm. It is truly tragic.

  4. “At first, after Mother’s death, with almost unbelievably naïve complacency, I never doubted that The Kilns and Jack would always be there for as long as I needed them. Then, when it began to dawn on me that there was an increasing likelihood of Jack being snatched away, and with him The Kilns, I reacted by rejecting The Kilns entirely and by not daring to love Jack any more than I already irrevocably did.”
    There is so much wrapped up in these sentences. So much of human nature.

  5. I really appreciate the pairing of JFK with C.S. Lewis. I doubt that few would ever think of linking them together, but what you’ve done in this post makes perfect sense.

    On the subject of JFK’s malignant (great use of the word) spousehood and the idyllic pictures of Camelot, I’d add what’s probably obvious: People’s adoration of the Kennedy Camelot years really is a yearning, in disguise, for the infinite that only religion can truly satisfy. Everything else falls short. I’m going to prepare myself and go read that Atlantic piece. thank you.

  6. So amazing. That is a scary thought to know that all the private & public affairs will be revealed once again. In a true light of God’s character & His righteous judgement. Gives me chills even as I think about it. So many ‘great men’ had missed the point. Than you for this post.

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