September 12th 2015

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Arab world must help fix Syria and Libya crises

FAMILY AND SOCIETY They don't want diversity but to impose conformity

CANBERRA OBSERVED Young Nats jump aboard generational juggernaut

TRADE UNIONS Why royal commissioner declined to step down

RESEARCH Spin on the contraceptive pill a bit hard to swallow

LIFE ISSUES Singer escapes Fisher's net in euthanasia debate

HISTORY OF INDONESIA Suharto's "New Order" a period of stability

CULTURE Academic centres turn on Western civilisation

FAMILY LIFE A father's presence in the home: part II

OBITUARY Historian Robert Conquest documented the horrors of Stalinism

PUBLIC HEALTH UN knows: harm reduction does not reduce harm

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Witness to Marriage Day, August 1

CINEMA On the rough road away from loneliness: Last Cab to Darwin

BOOK REVIEW Good science, specious argumentation


The coup against Tony Abbott

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father's presence in the home: part II

by John A. Cuddeback

News Weekly, September 12, 2015

Is the chief intention of the man of the household – the flourishing of relationships, especially spousal and parental – essentially tied to work in the home? This is a central issue about which we should be concerned.

A husband and wife of the

Middle Ages at work on

their cabinetry workshop.

The work of historian Christopher Lasch (Haven in a Heartless World: The Family Besieged) and others points, in any case, to a key lesson from the last two hundred years. History seems to establish a connection between the daily absence of the father and the general weakening of familial relationships.

It behoves us to consider how we might take a practical approach to this conundrum, turning again to ancient wisdom for assistance.

Towards a solution

Economic necessity today will usually require that at least one spouse work outside of the household.

(Allow me to be clear. This has not been a call for men to abandon their jobs outside the home. For the vast majority of us, that will not be possible, and for some, in any case, it would not even be desirable. We must find a way to live according to ancient wisdom in our current environment.)

The virtue of practical wisdom, also called prudence, is the power of discerning the best course of action in the present circumstances – which of course are the only circumstances that actually exist. At the same time, we must bear in mind the complexity of this queen of the moral virtues.

While prudence is about living in concrete, given conditions, it nonetheless determines how to act by judging in terms of ideals. In other words, the prudent man is the one who fearlessly asks how things should be and uses the answer as a real principle in determining how to act now.

I suggest that we take as a starting point that the father whose main “work” is outside the household should realise that he has a handicap that he must overcome: namely, the absence of substantial, daily work in the home. He does not have this obvious and natural context for contact and presence with his spouse and children.

And it should be noted that “working from home” does not necessarily resolve this situation. Many who work from home are engaged in a labour that remains utterly distinct from and foreign to the household in every way other than bodily presence in a home office.

How then might fathers who work remotely seek to resolve this situation?

In the prologue of a minor philosophical work, the Commentary on Boethius’ De Hebdomadibus, Thomas Aquinas gives us a beautiful image that points to what is the heart of a father’s presence in the home. Aquinas quotes the 32nd chapter of the Book of Sirach: “Run ahead into your house and gather yourself there.”

Focus and intention are critical

The focus of this prologue is how to prepare for the contemplation of wisdom by taking full possession of one’s own mind. He uses the text from Sirach to give an analogy to a father in his home. Aquinas interprets the phrase “gather yourself there” as meaning “draw together your whole intention”.

So, just as a father takes complete possession of his home, investing there his whole intention, so the contemplative must take possession of his mind. Aquinas writes: “But it is necessary that we ourselves should be fully present there, concentrating in such a way that our aim is not diverted to other matters.”

This profound analogy rests upon a powerful image: a father, fully present in his own home, present at root by the focus of his intention, an intention not diverted to other matters.

The first and most significant action – one within the power of any father – is to take possession of his household by investing it with his intention and attention. The old saying should perhaps be taken as prescriptive, not descriptive: “Home is where your heart should be”.

Words of Wendell Berry come to mind: “I do not believe that there is anything better to do than to make one’s marriage and household, whether one is a man or a woman” (“Feminism, the Body, and the Machine,” in the book of essays, What Are People For? Counterpoint, 2010).

To be precise, this statement needs qualification, for there are some things a person can do that are better than making one’s household. Nonetheless these striking words point to a wisdom that we need to recover in an age in which so many men, following the lead of society itself, measure themselves by their success in business or other such areas of life.

On the spousal relationship depends all

A critical feature of a man’s presence in the home is that it begins with his presence to his wife. When Aristotle notes that the spousal relationship is the source of the parental relationship, he is not simply referring to the fact of bodily generation. Rather, the character of the spousal relationship is especially determinative of the character of the parental relationship. A central way a man loves and is present to his children, is by loving and being present to his wife. That is the natural order of the fabric of family life.

While investing one’s intention in the household is the key first step, we know that our intentions – we could also say our loves – must be enacted, lived out, incarnated. That which is first of all a presence by intention must not be only a presence by intention. A loving intention brings one’s mental and spiritual energies to bear on the good of those loved, and it does so in concrete and tangible ways.

If, as Aristotle sagely suggested, the chief intention of the husband and father is the flourishing of the personal relationships in the household, we need to ask how that intention should be embodied. Any way that it is embodied will require time.

Yet especially since most of their work today is removed from the household, fathers will need to be creative in finding the time and the avenues of presence. A first avenue to consider is some kind of manual labour, preferably one requiring an art that can be learned and shared by family members. This includes specifically “home arts” such as gardening, cooking and animal husbandry, as well as more general arts such as carpentry, carving, engine mechanics, plumbing and landscaping.

As children grow older, higher arts can be added and studied together, such as reading, writing, and the liberal arts. It is worth noting that while some of these latter arts are at times beyond the capabilities of households, some manual arts are within the competence of all.

Real leisure takes hard work

Also worthy of particular attention is the place of real leisure in the home. Since, as Josef Pieper has pointed out (Leisure the Basis of Culture, Ignatius Press, 2009), good leisure and good work are closely tied through nourishing one another, they should be examined together. Yet here is an area where any father can take the lead, even when his work removes him from the home, by taking initiative in leading the family in rich activities.

It will be arduous. Regular meals together, which should be a mainstay of presence and communion, too often fall by the wayside.

Common custom has replaced real leisure with mass-produced amuse­ment; communication technology tends to intrude into all spaces, making simple “together time” difficult to achieve. We are losing a sense of how to be together in deeper activities, and more and more we turn to some device any time we have a free moment.

But real freedom is in having habits of being together in richer ways – reading, singing, hiking, praying. A father’s leadership here may well make all the difference.

I have suggested that we need to do more to rethink and re-form our family life. The extremely negative environment of a culture of death should prod us to rediscover family and household life in its fullness. Households can still be a vibrant organ, even if the body politic is wasting with disease.

To understand the ideal of true fatherhood—and the contemporary challenges to living that ideal—is already to be halfway to success.

Issues concerning the role and presence of husband and wife in the household need to be considered with nuance, recognising that particular conditions can warrant modifications and adaptations.

Nevertheless, exceptions do not invalidate general rules; indeed often they corroborate them. At the heart of the renewal will be husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, united in the intensity of their intention to focus on relationships in the household and to embody that intention in daily life.

John A. Cuddeback, who holds a PhD in Philosophy from the Catholic University of America, is chairman of the Philosophy Department at Christendom College. His website,, is dedicated to the philosophy of family and household.

A lay Dominican, Professor Cuddeback is also an avid gardener and hunter; he lives with his wife and six children in the Shenandoah Valley.

This article is reprinted by permission from PRINCIPLES, a publication of Christendom College.

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