Rather than being mere sperm donors, men can transform fatherhood into a spiritual act when they embrace their roles as supporters and caregivers.
Taming the Wild
Historian Will Durant began one of his books by saying that the story of civilization is the story of the domestication of man. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when I first read that. The truth of his statement pierced my armor. “Of course,” I thought to myself. “All forms of spirituality are aimed at taming the wild elements in man that make him one of the most dangerous animals on Earth. Instinctually, we are greedy, violent, and sexually aggressive. For families, tribes, cities, and larger groups to survive and thrive, the wild must be tamed.”
On This, the Wisdom Traditions Agree
Another religious historian and scholar, Huston Smith, pointed out that all the wisdom traditions have restrictions at their core. He concluded that if any human civilization existed without rules and restrictions, it had left no remnants. In short, his conclusion is that taming the wild is an important first step on the spiritual journey, but… it is only the first step.
After studying the world’s religions from thirty thousand feet—which is essential to the interspiritual approach—I think that M. Scott Peck came close to encapsulating all of their essences when he defined love as an act of giving money, time and energy to help another person grow. His definition centers on unselfishness, especially when you consider that the willingness to give something valuable to you to help another person grow is an act of altruism, which many consider the pinnacle of spiritual practice.
The Spirituality of Fatherhood
Put together, these two values of (i) restricting the wild and (ii) acting unselfishly to help another person grow can constitute a spiritual practice if approached with that mindset. Fatherhood provides a perfect framework to practice both. Let me prove my point with two opposites of those values.
- Historically, we know that broken families often result from men’s inability to tame the wild, whether that expresses itself as adultery, violence, or both.
- And not every father approaches caretaking as a form of spirituality. Instead of giving freely with love, they sometimes fall into the trap of viewing their sacrifices as burdens that have stripped them of life and liberty.
Fatherhood is a Choice
Ultimately, men choose whether or not fatherhood is a spiritual act by choosing their attitude toward the role. The good news is that they can always choose a new attitude because an attitude is not set in stone. Spiritual epiphanies prove this point. People realize something they had not realized before and change their behavior as a result.
Fatherhood Is Also an Opportunity
Furthermore, everything in life gives us an opportunity to flex our spiritual muscles—show compassion and love in the face of anger and resentment, choose peace even when those around us act with hostility, and choose joyful sacrifice when something has begun to feel like a burden.
Every father has spiritual opportunities if they ask themselves the right questions, such as: How can the role of being a father make me a better spiritual practitioner? How can I use it as an opportunity to bring out the best in myself?
Again, the opportunity is there; fathers have to take it.
I’ve been a father for the past twenty years. It is not easy. I’ve had days when it feels more like a burden than a spiritual opportunity. I will likely have more of them in the future. However, because I choose to focus more on the spiritual opportunities that come along with fatherhood—such as loving without the expectation of anything in return, setting aside my desires for the good of others, acting lovingly even when I am tired and grumpy, wanting the best for my children, and so much more—I feel like fatherhood has become an essential part of my spiritual journey. Without it, I would be a lesser man.
Many Ways to Express
Some in our society have juxtaposed the father who works seventy hours a week to support his family and rarely sees them as a result with the father who stays at home with his children to help them with their everyday lives, wanting to proclaim that one is better than the other. And yet, both represent the spiritual acts of fatherhood in different ways. Both are equally valuable. There are many ways to be a good father and grow spiritually as a result.
Happy Father’s Day,
Author and Mindfulness Teacher
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Recommended books by GB:
- Monk of All Faiths: Inspired by The Prophet (fiction)
- Spiritual in My Own Way (memoir)
- Co-Human Harmony: Using Our Shared Humanity to Bridge Divides (nonfiction)
- Experifaith: At the Heart of Every Religion (nonfiction)
- Premature Holiness: Five Weeks at the Ashram (novel)
- The Meditating Psychiatrist Who Tried to Kill Himself (novel)