The Renaissance Man: Husband & Dad Style

A Renaissance man, according to Merriam-Webster, is one who has interest and expertise in many areas. The Urban Dictionary mentions that a person described by this term is “talented in all spheres of human endeavor.” Such areas would include language, philosophy, religion, science, sport, art, food, and others. The person who attains noteworthy accomplishment in most or all of these realms, and who could pass on knowledge and wisdom to others, is considered to have attained the ideal.

The most notable historical figure who seems to have attained this ideal (at least in the modern age) is Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci was known in his time as a painter, a botanist, an urban planner, a man of high intellect, and a designer of flying machines. With all of these credits, it is right to place him in the limited company of true renaissance men. Fictional expressions of this ideal in our culture might include Bruce Wayne, the alter-ego of Batman or “The Most Interesting Man in the World” from Dos Equis advertisements.

Beyond the fictional or those from centuries ago, many of us probably know one or more individuals who come close to this target. One friend of mine is a physicist and psychologist by education, a developer of entertainment technology in a previous career, a blogger in his spare time, and a hunter on weekends. Another friend speaks at least four languages, paints, writes poetry, has a black belt in martial arts, and loves to cook for friends. It goes without saying that both friends are connoisseurs of good wine. These are a couple of men I know who are close to hitting the mark of “Renaissance Man,” if they haven’t attained it already.

There is something to be said for attaining the ideal of the Renaissance man sketched above.  It seems that being a polymath allows a person to enjoy “the good life” on many levels. There might be financial benefits, to be sure, but there is at least one benefit that far exceeds the economic. A person who is well-versed in a broad range of subjects can enter into conversation and relationship with almost anyone at any time and on any level. The ability to hold in-depth conversations about lots of topics is far more interesting than talking only about sports, weather, or the latest episode of a popular reality television show.

These things ought to be true within a family and a home as well. The life of a husband and father should be that of a Renaissance man. However, it is true in ways different than one might expect.  It is necessary for husbands to be able to interpret the cryptic and esoteric statements of their wives about household needs and emotional desires. It is also necessary for dads to understand the Gibberish spoken by babies and toddlers so that diapers are changed, juice cups filled at appropriate junctures, and play can happen on swings when children point and grunt. Husbands also need to be versed in the art of combat against critters and bugs to ensure their beloveds’ comfort and happiness. Fathers need to teach children the ways of warriors in sports and in fake wrestling in the living room; also fathers have to teach sons about the fact that said combat doesn’t get used against little sisters.

There’s more.  A father can move closer to Renaissance-man-status by helping to plan and build towers and towns out of the million-and-two-thirds Legos that are strewn throughout the house. Dad can share his artistic talent (even what little he may have) with his daughter by helping her paint a “masterpiece” after breakfast. A father can even “invent” a “flying machine,” made simply from his arms and legs, which will allow his kids to travel at high speeds through the air and land safely on the “runway” of the family couch. When all of the building and painting and traveling is finished, a dad can bring to bear his expertise as a connoisseur of “fine food” by making macaroni-and-cheese and chicken nuggets, or any other favorite children’s dish.

After the father has interacted in such a way with his children, he can transfer these principles to interacting with his wife. A husband must capture and protect time with his wife outside of their roles as parents, away from the children. Perhaps they could go to an art gallery or a play.  He should be able to take her to a restaurant that doesn’t have a kids’ menu, one that serves really good wine. He should be a botanist for her, knowing her favorite flowers. He should also be able to explain to her why he appreciates the gladiators of the gridiron. All the while, he should be able to hold a conversation about (at least) some of the things that interest her. He really should be the most interesting man in the world for this one woman.

It seems abundantly clear: meeting the ideal of the Renaissance man within a family fulfills the adjectives that St. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:8. Life lived in this manner is true, just, pure, lovely, gracious, and excellent. Becoming a Renaissance man for the family is the way that a husband and father imitates Christ to his family. After all, He is the fulfillment of all their desires and they need Him far more than anyone else.

On this Father’s Day weekend, let’s pray that all men find a way to bring this goodness and beauty into their families’ lives.


Derek Rotty is a husband, father, historian, theologian, & Director of Evangelization & Discipleship at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Jackson, TN. His first book, A Life of Conversion: Meeting Christ in the Gospels, is available from Our Sunday Visitor Press. Follow his other ruminations at

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