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Fatherhood and standing up to the false male image

From the June 19, 1995 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel


Fatherhood. It's foundational to the well-being of children. We yearn to think of it as an inviolable institution, invulnerable to weakness. This era, however, shouts of just the opposite. In response, fatherhood groups have sprung up across the United States to connect fathers with their children and to strengthen their commitment to family. U.S. News & World Report refers to a new book, Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem, in which author David Blankenhorn is spreading the word that "being a loving father and a good husband is the best part of being a man." See "Honor thy Children," U.S. News & World Report, February 27, 1995 . But what are the underlying spiritual issues? Recently, the Sentinel explored that question with a number of men. In the following interview, Gail Menschel speaks with Christian Scientist Craig Stephens of Marblehead, Massachusetts, a father of three children, ranging in age from five to eleven. In part two of this look at fathering, which will appear in the July 31 Sentinel, other fathers will share the spiritual concepts they have most relied on.

How do you think of your role as father?

Well, with our children, we've tried to be pretty consistent with the idea that I'm their dad, there to help them, but God is their Father-Mother—in the spirit of what the Bible teaches: "It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves" (Ps. 100:3). From a very young age, they understand that. I see my mission as "Dad" to demonstrate in concrete ways the fatherhood and motherhood of God—particularly, to give a sense of the consistency of the Father-Mother and of His immovable power. In fact, we've sometimes found that in situations where there was a need for healing with a child, the essential ingredient in our prayers was the sense that there is only one power and that it is present right now for that child. Our children have always had quick healings when their mom and I have gotten that sense of God's constancy, which dispels parental fear for the child's safety. I see that as something dads can represent.

How can we apply that to society today? There's an escalating number of children living in homes without fathers. And yet you're saying that dads stand for that quality of always being there.

The first step, I think, is to look at the source of fatherhood. For fatherhood to be in decline or in crisis would imply one of two things. Either that man has lost his connection to the Father-Mother God so that he was somehow less than the individualized idea of God. Or that God's fatherhood has somehow diminished. And neither of these is possible.

The fundamental problem is when we start looking to mortal men as the source of fatherhood. Fatherhood in a biological sense is a poor copy of the real Father-Mother God. It's fatherhood seen "through a glass, darkly" (I Cor. 13:12). But when we look back to the real Father, we get a clearer sense that despite the distortions of the mortal scene, what is real and substantial has not changed. The Father-Mother God isn't suffering a crisis, and neither is His image.

Those are very powerful truths. But in dealing with the demands of everyday family life, how can a man demonstrate them?

For a lot of dads, including myself, it's the motherhood aspects of fathering that seem to be the biggest barrier to demonstrating the fatherhood of God. When I think of motherhood, I think of self-sacrifice, constant giving, consistency, finding one's own joy in someone else's good. The opposite of self-sacrifice is selfishness, and that's the thing that a lot of dads struggle with. The reason? That's a mortal belief about the male of the species. That the male is the hunter-gatherer and the female is the nurturer. But again, we need to go back to the issue of who is the true Father-Mother. When you buy into the idea of yourself as a creator, it puts this tremendous burden on you as a dad. When you turn your back on that and say: "My Father-Mother is God; my children's Father-Mother is God; and I naturally reflect all of the qualities of God's fatherhood and motherhood," it makes all the difference. God's work is already done here. Mary Baker Eddy talks of the unity of male and female not as "two wedded individuals, but as two individual natures in one" (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 577).

About selfishness, Mrs. Eddy points out that "selfishness and sensualism are educated in mortal mind by the thoughts ever recurring to one's self, by conversation about the body, and by the expectation of perpetual pleasure or pain from it; and this education is at the expense of spiritual growth" (ibid., p. 260). What's interesting in that statement is the coupling of selfishness with sensualism. Nobody wants to be selfish. Sensualism is the issue, because selfishness is an inescapable part of sensualism.

We can think of sensualism in a couple of ways. One is the obvious, the connection with undisciplined sexuality. But there's another important element of sensuality which is the notion of mammon or the things of the senses—it can be money, the career, the pressure to provide. These pulls can affect both male and female, but the belief is that men are more susceptible to them. That, in general, men are more subject to sensual impulses, more career-driven, more driven by the pressure and even the desire to make money.

So the temptation would be for the male just to accept that these tendencies are inherent in his nature, and then to live them out.

Yes. But you know, Mrs. Eddy's insight about the beliefs of material existence is that they are "a bald imposition" (see Science and Health, p. 99). They aren't true about God's man. So at the heart of the challenges fathers face are false beliefs about males that they have accepted without even being aware of it. A key to being a better father, then, is to eliminate the root of those beliefs and see yourself as not sensual by nature, either in the sense of human sexuality or in the sense of being driven by things outside the home. When men start to realize that what they're dealing with isn't a real part of their true nature, that it's just a human pattern of thought, they can address it. If we don't address these beliefs, we're simply allowing them to be imposed on us. Mrs. Eddy says of the mortal model, "The world is holding it before your gaze continually" (ibid., p. 248). And it's doing so in much more aggressive forms, many of them aimed specifically at males.

Think about this: my end of this telephone interview is taking place in a Los Angeles hotel room, where I'm on a business trip. In nearly every one of the major hotel chains in America that I've been to recently, you get movies on the television—and a substantial number of them are X-rated. Why? One reason is that it's mostly men who travel on business; the movie selection is based on the presumption that men will be attracted by pornography, particularly when they are alone and away from home. And the image those movies are putting forth is of the male as separate from the female, and separate from God. Not as spiritually reflecting the Father-Mother God, but as physically motivated and physically driven—which is selfishness and sensualism.

Fortunately, most of these TVs have a button you can push that shuts off the X-rated movies, in case you have children in the room. Well, I'm a child of God. So the first thing I do is push that button! The basis of that act is the mental act of knowing that I am not a physical, mortal, sensual being. My identity—including my joy and my fulfillment—is already completely established by my Father-Mother God, who made me in His image and maintains me in that image, as a totally spiritual, pure idea. There isn't any sense of completeness and satisfaction (or a need for any) beyond that.

It's through these moment-by-moment practical demonstrations, day by day by week by month by year, that you find yourself losing the false aspects of manhood.

Can you give us an example of how this stand has helped you to be a better father?

Well, I can tell you that, like a lot of dads, I've faced the issue of temper, the belief that the male of the species is more volatile; that's part of being hunter-gatherer and all that. And I would be the last to say that I'm completely healed of this. But through the grace of God I have made a huge amount of progress. I can look back at explosive patterns of thought and speech and action that have mostly disappeared in the eighteen years I've been married. Because I've recognized "That's not Godlike." When I slip up, as most of us do once in a while, the fact that I love God and want to be what He made me to be means I do a better job of quickly telling my wife and children, "I'm sorry, that was a mistake." That is crucial to healing, I feel, because it's an important early step in saying, No, that is not me.

Your experience hints at an answer to the domestic violence that plagues society.

Yes, it's much more difficult for the larger selfishness in a family to take place, like desertion or physical abuse, if one is keeping tight rein over the smaller moments of selfishness. When people end up in deep trouble it's because they didn't know the power that God gives them over selfishness.

And if you do find yourself in deep trouble ...?

I have been there, in a business partnership, when the water seemed like it was going over my head, and the thing that always turned it around was to turn completely to God, to say: "Father, I'm in deep trouble here and I don't know what to do; I'm going to lean on You because I know You will bring me and the people with me through this."

What people don't realize is that just that one act of turning with all your heart to God places you infinitely far from any sense of evil. The fact is, good and evil are never in close proximity, because evil is no more than the false suggestion that good is not there. When an individual turns like that, he has separated himself from the claim of evil. That transforms because it begins to wash away all the mortal characteristics that human belief would impose on him.

It's ultimately so simple ...

That's right. Mrs. Eddy says, "The real man being linked by Science to his Maker, mortals need only turn from sin and lose sight of mortal selfhood to find Christ, the real man and his relation to God, and to recognize the divine sonship" (Science and Health, p. 316). Sonship and fatherhood go hand in hand. The way I think of it is that you can't be a real dad unless you see that you, specifically, are the son of God, His pure idea. That is an absolutely reliable basis for winning your victory over the false sense of fatherhood.

PSALMS

The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment. The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.

Psalms 37:30, 31

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