One of our children was born a somewhat peaceful soul. She was peaceful from the moment she was first held at the hospital. She peacefully drank from a bottle. She peacefully slept at night. In the morning she'd stay in her crib peacefully tracing the patterns on her baby quilt with her finger. If I fell asleep on the couch, which I was prone to do, with her by my side in an infant carrier, she would peacefully survey her environment, until I awoke at which point I would find her peacefully staring at me.
This peaceful baby stayed very peaceful — until the day a five-day business trip took her dad away when she was nine-months old. My husband left on a Monday, and with each passing day this child's angst increased until, by the end of the week, it had worked its way into a feverish frenzy.
There is no reasoning with 9-month old babies. They don't understand why daddy left or that he will be back. For all our baby knew, he was gone, and could be gone forever, and nothing I said or did could bring to her a stitch of comfort. This baby was in grief. There was a raw edge about everything she did: how she slept, how she ate and how she played. And she grew only more and more disturbed with each passing day — until the day her daddy came home.
And once he came home, it was as if her body heaved a heavy sigh and returned to normal. I might have dismissed all this as coincidence, except that my husband would need to take other trips before the year would end, and with each trip, this child always went through the same grieving all over again. I came to call it daddy grief.
Babies need fathers in their lives, and so do families. There are many families who have been blessed with strong fathers who have stood, against all odds, for righteousness. But in some ways, the importance of fatherhood seems to have gone out of style in America. With over a third of all American children being raised in fatherless families, one can't help but wonder just how many folks are walking around in some state of father grief. How many angry feminists declaring, "I don't need a man to have a child" are really in an agitated state of father grief?
Many families grieve for fathers who have been taken away by separation, divorce, incarceration, and the plethora of addictions now attacking modern man from gambling to pornography. But it is not just the families who are grieving. The country itself longs for more dignified father figures in leadership: for more congressmen, judges, mayors, presidents of countries and of corporations who will uphold moral values, and take actions that are more than popular or profitable, but actions that are just. We long for more Godly father figures to occupy positions as principals and teachers and instill Godly virtues in our children and our schools. And the Church is grieving, too. There is a desire in our hearts for more orthodox spiritual fathers — more priests and Bishops who will guide us on the narrow, sometimes difficult and painful, path that leads to holiness and heaven.
We grieve for Godly father figures when they are absent in our lives in part because we are called to fulfill Christ's command to move on the path toward spiritual perfection (So be perfect just as your Heavenly Father in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:48). Moving on this path toward spiritual perfection is made easier when we have a Godly father figure on the road to point the way. The man of integrity walks securely says Proverbs 10:9. If we have a man of integrity to walk with us, it helps us to walk securely too.
No matter where our earthly fathers are, no matter what the fatherly figures in our lives do (or do not do) to help us grow in holiness, we can all look to our Holy Father in Rome, study his teachings and listen to his words. He is a great gift from our Heavenly Father to us. We can call upon Saint Joseph. We can ask for his guidance, his protection and his intercession. And we can pray for the fathers and fatherly figures in our lives.
But most importantly, each of us must know and believe (because it is true) that we have a Heavenly Father who loves us with an everlasting love. (Jeremiah 31:3) Ultimately, we are called to connect with Him, because it is from Him that we were once created and to Him we must one day return. When we have no peace, how often does our agitation stem from having turned away from God, and broken our relationship with Him through our own sin? In trust we can turn to our Heavenly Father, in trust we can reach for our Heavenly Father's hand, and in trust we can follow His merciful will and hopeful plans for our lives. For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)
When we take our Heavenly Father's hand and let Him lead, when we let our Heavenly Father back into our lives and our hearts, we will find — like our 9-month old daughter did upon her daddy's return — that the peace we desire will come back as well. It is only then that the grieving for daddy will stop; only then that our hearts will start healing; only then that peace will begin to reign-not just in our hearts, but in our homes, in our churches and in the world as well. Like little children, we can cry "Abba, Father!" (Romans 8:15) And like a good daddy, when we "cry for help… He will say: Here I am!" (Isaiah 58:9)