On Christian Fatherhood

Book Review: “Because of Our Fathers: Twenty-Three Catholics Tell How Their Fathers Led Them to Christ”. Tyler Rowley. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 2020. 206 pp. $16.95.

In many respects, and in many places around the world, the Catholic Church is in “ruin”. Therefore, the world she is tasked with shepherding is in ruin, and this cultural breakdown can be attributed to the fathers who have abandoned their sacred duty to educate their children ‘to become members of the Church of Christ’. This neglect leaves children unequipped to grow in virtue, pursue the world’s deepest truths, worship correctly, pursue authentic justice, build healthy families of their own, and face the world in the most meaningful and impactful ways… The world’s biggest problem is the ruin of the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Church’s biggest problem is the ruin of fatherhood. (13)

Rowley, a husband and father himself, addresses his book to all Catholics, but in particular, to the growing number of disaffiliated Catholic men whose absence in the Church’s pews and mission has left a massive gap in forming future Christians. Using the latest demographic research and sociological analysis, Rowley shows how it is the father’s practice of the faith — and not so much the mother’s (despite that being important, too) — which will largely affect the child’s own future practice. Whether or not a child becomes a practicing adult Christian is largely dependent on his or her father. Rowley cites the Council of Europe’s Population Committee in demonstrating that,

“[I]f fathers fall away from or are lax in their commitment to the faith, their children have only a 2 to 3 percent chance of going to the church regularly when they are adults. On the other hand, if dads go to church regularly, no matter how devoted moms are, between 38 and 44 percent of their children will grow up to be regular churchgoers and between 66 and 75 percent will go to church at least occasionally.” (26)

With an introduction as strong as his, one might wonder why Rowley did not simply just write a whole book on fatherhood! That would definitely be a worthy read. But his approach of interviewing twenty-three Catholics across the country, talking to them about their faith and their fathers, had its own strength. After all, fatherhood is not practiced in uniformity to one particular method or aesthetic, but like all culture, is expressed in a multitude of ways. Even with Christian fatherhood, there is a legitimate diversity of approaches. No two fathers are the same, which is why the stories contained in this book are so interesting. Some of the fathers were rich, and others barely got by. Some of the fathers had advanced theological knowledge of Catholicism, while others had a very simple, yet nonetheless authentic faith. Some of the fathers came from a long line of practicing Catholics; others were converts, with little experience of having Christian fathers themselves. It was comforting to read these narratives, because they helped me realize that fatherhood is less of a specific regimen to follow, and more of an embrace of God’s grace in the present moment. None of the fathers presented in this book were perfect, but they were determined and committed to serve the Lord, their spouse, and their children with the same sacrificial love that Christ has for the Church.

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John Monaco

Doctoral student in theology, seeking the true, good, and beautiful.