Fatherhood and the ‘transcendent third’

The philosopher Aristotle argued that the best friendships are grounded in a shared love of the good. In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis built on this idea using the metaphor that, in true friendship, we don’t stand face to face looking at one another, we stand side by side looking at the good.

Fathers know that our job is to love our children as parents rather than friends. But we can’t help but smile when our children tell us, “You’re my best friend!” We can’t help but feel a little sad when, as our children grow from toddlers into teens, their perception of us shifts. Make a surprise visit to school when your child is in the first grade: “Hooray! It’s Dad!” Do the same thing when they are in the seventh grade: “What are you doing here?”

As our children mature, we discover we are not enough for them. This doesn’t mean that they don’t love us, and it doesn’t mean we are bad parents. It means that we need the “transcendent third.”

From the beginning, God intended us to work together with him in raising our children. We can become better parents by learning the faith, receiving the sacraments, forming our conscience and praying regularly. (If you want help with these things, check out the resources at marriagefamilylife.seattlearchdiocese.org/athomewithfaith.)

We need God to help us when our children act out or roll their eyes at us. We also need him to help us recognize when we have done something wrong and need to make things right.

The humility that a relationship with God demands will increase our children’s respect for us. When they see us accept guidance and correction from the Father, they will be more apt to accept guidance and correction from their father. If they see that our relationship with God helps us treat them, our spouse and our own parents with respect, they will naturally be more interested in their own relationship with God.

This means that, when they start to realize our limits as parents, they will have a relationship with a Father who knows no limits. None of this will diminish their love for us. Like the friends who stand side by side looking at the thing they love in Lewis’ metaphor, we are called as parents to stand side by side with our children, drawing their attention, not to us, but to the truth, goodness and beauty of God revealed in our faith and in his creation.

In this way, we can be friends with our children. In this way, we discover what Scripture promises us: “He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Malachi 3:24)

Read the Spanish version of this column.

Northwest Catholic - June 2020

Deacon Eric Paige

Deacon Eric Paige is the Archdiocese of Seattle's executive director for evangelization, formation and discipleship. Contact him at [email protected].

El Diácono Eric Paige es el Director para el Matrimonio, la Vida familiar y Formación en la Arquidiócesis de Seattle. Pueden contactarle en: [email protected]