04. The Father

by Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty

Descriptive Title

The Father


Chapter Four of Cardinal Mindszenty's book, The Mother.

Larger Work

The Mother



Publisher & Date

Radio Replies Press, 1949

A father of a family of five children happened to page through my work. When he failed to find this short chapter he reproached me gently with the words: "One chapter is missing, the Father. The whole world should be told in a loud voice: the woman is not only mother, she is also wife and spouse. Otherwise the man becomes merely father to the children of the mother. The nuptial love and affection must not be cancelled by the child. It should rather become more intimate. The wife often gives her heart to the little one, and the husband is passed over. When once the child has arrived, she gives all her love and passion to the child. The man and husband is pushed into the background more and more. So the father becomes hard and strict, while the mother retains her gentleness." Whereupon I answered: "Your reproach is just. On the other hand, it is strange that the father is so seldom mentioned in poetry. Or if he is remembered, it is merely in reference to the mother and child. Art and Poetry have shown themselves rather indifferent to the father."

Poussin and Dore present the deluge in a very dramatic manner in their paintings. All is lost. Palace and temple disappear in the flood. People are pushing their way to the heights. What a picture of grim selfishness is unfolded. Everyone for himself. Everyone wished to save himself. Those in their way are trodden down or pushed back. The father spurns his child, the bridegroom, the bride. But the mother holds her child up with her last ounce of strength to save it, while she is already enveloped by the waves.

Petofi is called the singer of love and not unjustly so. But more beautiful than his song of the lovers, is his song of mother's love. He remembers father occasionally and with great respect, but his finest songs he dedicates to mother. "Much the greatest treasure on earth is mother's love." (Petofi-"Evenings at Home.")

Shall we point out Beethoven's tragedy? His father is a court singer, a man of education, but, at that, a questionable character. The mother is a kitchen and serving maid, with a beautiful soul full of goodness and love for her child.

All of this does not mean that a father cannot love; he loves by his hard labor, in the sweat of his brow. His love can be deep, immeasurably deep, but his love is essentially different from mother's love. It is harder and harsher, perhaps even more unselfish, because more restrained. Mother and child seem to fuse into an inner oneness. A mother cannot live and think and be happy except in union with the heart beat of her child. The father, on the contrary, besides his fatherhood, has a thousand and one important and unimportant matters to attend to. He is absorbed in his work. In the morning before leaving he casts a loving look at his sleeping child in the cradle and hurries off. A smile on his lips, a thought in his heart, and perhaps he determines, "I will work for this child might and main. It shall have an easier time than I had," and he is gone. These are beautiful thoughts and they may bring down a blessing on his work. But work and possessions do not make a man happy interiorly. The father gives the child the necessities of life. It is the mother's task, however, to prepare the child's soul gradually and to make it receptive for all heavenly possibilities. She has the opportunity of bringing home to the child the spiritual possibilities. She has the power to provide the inner goods of life. She is at the side of the child not only to smile and play with it momentarily. She is often up at dawn of day and retires only late at night. When the cradle becomes too small, she takes the child by the hand and helps it walk. Even when the child has grown and has taken flight into the world the mother watches the distant horizon hoping to see traces of her child. Her whole life is given to watching and caring for her child. This begins at the cradle. She listens to be ready in time of need. When once the child opens the chalice of its soul, the mother knows and is ready to fulfill its first desires. The renowned Windhorst has well said: "From the time of Eve, the woman has had greater influence in shaping the world than we, the proud sons of Adam." It is a fact that life separates the father from the child, even if this is in the interest of the child.

In The Background

Christmas Eve is a symbol of the essence of a father's love. The children surround the Christmas tree and they are surfeited with joy. They are lovely in their innocence. The lights from the tree enhance the beauty of mother and seem to make her more lovely. But the father stands in the background. The children kiss their mother, but father is hardly noticed. Yet he purchased the tree, the ornaments and gifts. Such is the fate of father in life.

But we must not imagine that this makes the father bitter or jealous. He knows that the Creator has given him a role different from that of mother. He knows that there is a great deal of truth in the Hungarian proverb: "The three corners of the house belong to the mother, the fourth corner to the father."

This book does not wish to take away from the dignity due to the father. We know that the strong hand of the father is absolutely necessary in the education of the children. But his manner of life is different. His figure is glorified by his unselfishness for the family. He draws the yoke of work in everyday life, he must work in the sweat of his brow. But his calloused hands and the furrows in his brow sing a song not as sweet as the song of mother, yet equally necessary. The father is the pillar sustaining the family, he is their strength, their breadwinner, their defender and knight.

In the eyes of the children he is the ideal of manhood. He seems to them a figure serious and full of majesty. Even though we should want to minimize the dignity of fatherhood, the great witnesses of history would be against us. The Roman poet Horace says that he owes everything to his father.

"Our Father"

The word of God protects the dignity of the father. "The glory of children, are their fathers." When the Sacred Scripture speaks of parents, the father is always given the first place. The Scriptures give us splendid ideals of fathers, starting with the patriarchs and kings down to St. Joseph. The father-and this is a thought that should impress upon him his serious responsibilities-is for the child the picture of Him to whom it must pray. When the mother teaches the child the "Our Father," it unwittingly draws a parallel between his earthly father and his Father in heaven. God sanctified fatherhood, when he made known to us this name through His only Begotten Son, teaching us to say "Our Father." Fatherhood, whether divine or human, proceeds from God. The father has somewhat similar powers. As creator and preserver of the family he plays a truly divine role. He is the representative and agent of God for the family. Divine Providence has placed in his hands the care for their daily bread and their preservation. In this way he is a picture of the heavenly Father who has created all things and nourishes even the sparrow on the housetop. He is also a picture of the Holy Spirit, for it is his task to teach, to comfort and strengthen.

The position of St. Joseph as husband and foster-father gives witness to the dignity of fatherhood. In Bethlehem, Egypt and Nazareth he stands beside Jesus as an image and shadow of the heavenly Father, He could carry, dress and caress, care for and protect Him. He who did not consider it robbery to be equal to God, did not consider it beneath His dignity to be subject to man, his foster-father Joseph. It was his one only task in life, to live always and everywhere for the Child Jesus. Following in his footsteps, the father in the family is a friend of Jesus. To his children he is a picture of the glory of God.

He who like Joseph has fulfilled his sacred service to the family, to him may be applied the words of Holy Writ: "Though their bodies rest a long time in their graves, their memory will not die from generation to generation."

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