Far less than their father’s job promotion, children will remember how he prioritized their mom and them in the small details that make up the composition of their childhood. It’s not the work of one evening or a trip to Disneyland, but it’s the quiet persevering work of a lifetime.
By Noelle Mering
While we were in the throes of babies and toddlers, pregnancies and postpartums, my husband would often walk through the door after work with groceries, pour me wine, and hold the baby in one arm while he made dinner with the other. I remember some days being too exhausted to reciprocate with much except an ardent feeling and expression of gratitude to him, for him. That image of him still stands in my mind as the image of heroic manliness.
Another good father and husband we know once said that when he arrives home he says to himself, “It’s showtime”. It’s his way of reminding himself that the crux of his day belongs to the moment he returns from work and crosses the threshold into home. Rather than collapse on a sofa with beer and TV and be done for the day, he intended instead to bring his greatest efforts to his home life.
These anecdotes and others like them reverberate in my mind in contemplating what Theology of Home means for men. What they exemplify is a proper ordering of work and home that translates into specific small acts of love which echo throughout the family.
To say that home ought to have primacy over work for men and women is not to say work is unimportant, or that we shouldn’t develop professional skills, or seek to advance careers. A job doesn’t need to be seen strictly as a means to an end; it can be a good in itself insofar as it is ennobling and sanctifying and care should be taken to ensure it be done well. But it is a subordinate good to the good of home. Home isn’t a mere launchpad for a man’s success in the world — rather his success in the world is for the sake of home.
If a man sees his work life as some sort of parallel good, divorced from the good of home, the two disparate goods will tend to become rivalrous, for the family wants from the father what is their due: to have a significance in his eyes greater than that of his career.
It’s not difficult to see how these two goods become inverted. 21st century Americans look to career for so much: an identity, the expression of some core passion, a measure of success and worth, a measure of where we stand in relation to others. It’s a compelling part of life and the cultural stoking of its importance has coincided with the modern attenuation of home life. These ambient messages grease the slide for us all to descend into an exaggerated view of work at the expense of home. Compounding that is the unavoidable fact that jobs often include deadlines and pressure which can understandably (and sometimes justifiably) claim a more immediate urgency than that of home life. All of this creates a tendency to subvert home for work, even without an explicit intention to do so.
But there are good reasons to be wary of such a tendency. When men fail to privilege home above work as expressed in how they live each day, it has a domino effect on the family, and therefore society, in several ways.
Firstly, the husband can grow to see his family as a burden getting in the way of his higher purpose which is his career. He begins to see his principal identity as derived from work, and his primary relationships that of employer and employee. Home then starts to adopt similar characteristics; his family may be subconsciously reduced to the equivalent of employees in his charge.
Secondly, the mother’s mission is trivialized. She begins to sense her own work at home is not their common life’s work but merely her burden to endure in service of a higher mission that is his alone and for which she has not acquiesced. If work is a separate and vying good to home it’s more natural that she begins to want that separate good for herself even at the expense of home life, which now has diminished in value for her as well.
Thirdly, their unity of purpose dissolves. The often tedious work of home is elevating and ennobling when acknowledged by both husband and wife as a taking part in an extolled good, valuable in itself and for the sake of their ultimate end of beatitude. Without this unity of purpose these duties seem merely menial and heavy — and merely menial and heavy work will quickly feel suffocating and oppressive for whomever shoulders it. Resentment calcifies like a tumor as husband and wife become competitors rather than allies.
Finally, there are repercussions for society that might be obvious but are worth spelling out. Sons will learn about manhood and daughters about their worth in the eyes of men in large part based upon what axis a father orients his life. Both will begin to understand God’s love through their father. Far less than their father’s job promotion, children will remember how he prioritized their mom and them in the small details that make up the composition of their childhood. It’s not the work of one evening or a trip to Disneyland, but it’s the quiet persevering work of a lifetime. This work, cheerfully and generously done, will reverberate into society and future generations. The neglect of it will as well.
The stories we tell as a culture about the dynamics between husband and wife matter. When men and women are united in giving preeminence to home the story can be one of families working in concert, with generosity and gratitude exchanged back and forth with a currency that multiplies with each and every exchange. It’s the story of ordinary people living their quiet shared purpose, a purpose that saturates their hearts, and inclines their wills toward God and one another. This love story is transformative and extraordinary precisely because of the seemingly everyday subjects and acts which constitute its operations.
For too long we’ve repeated the cultural lore in movies and media about the domineering and distant man, and the oppressed and under-actualized woman, both wanting to break from the tedium of middle class values. The modern response to this story of dissatisfaction has been that we’ve valued home too much and at too great an expense. What this diagnosis fails to see is that when home feels like a prison it’s not because we’ve given it too much importance but because we’ve given it far too little.