Dad stuff (or, Why I’ll Never be Steve McQueen)

The Huffington Post religion blog (yeah, I’m an eclectic and broad minded reader ‘n’ stuff) had an article on St. Joseph, upon whom we might look as the patron of care givers. God, no less, gave the guy an unwelcome job with a high degree of difficulty, plenty of room for failure, and minimal social support. But Joseph took it on, and the child entrusted to his provision and protection “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:52).

Joseph eventually disappeared from the narratives of Jesus’ life. There’s no explanation, but life spans were short in those days and it’s most likely that he died. Some opine that he just gave up and bailed, but the references to his character and actions that we do have make that very unlikely.

The HuffPo article presents an intriguing idea,

“Often overlooked is the fact that Joseph embodies a brand of manhood that is alien in our fallen world where power, wealth, social status and even physique are the gold standards for ranking men.”

For a dad, care giving is an experience in powerlessness. You can’t just raise your voice or use your size to get things done. You have to choose words and tone in ways that feel unnatural. You have to finesse situations that cry out for abrupt action. And most of all, you can’t fix the situation.

Some care giving dads make big money and others not so much. That depends on what career you brought into the gig. I’m pretty certain that none of us get richer by being care givers, and some probably lose ground financially through the costs of care and by losing social contacts and hours available to progress professionally.

Social status? Please. Guys have this thing about sperm. “He’s a girl-maker” is a put down of guys who don’t sire sons; you can imagine the implications of contributing DNA that is manifestly defective. And of course there’s the lurking social assumption that your special needs kid is just evidence of your crappy parenting (although that’s more often blamed on moms when it comes to autism, which used to be called “cold mothering syndrome” or something like that).

Physique? You lose time for preparing and even eating healthy food. You grab fast food or whatever you can find that doesn’t require cooking and clean up. You lose time for exercise or when the time is there you’re too tired to use it.

St. Joseph weathered that stuff, accepting a situation that was out of his control, using his artisan skills to provide at least subsistence for his family as they traveled from place to place, bearing the cultural and just-plain-manly mockery about how his young wife got pregnant before he even had a night with her, and keeling over dead before the reason for all the hassles became clear.

Pretty lame on the world’s terms, but maybe the way to look at a different kind of strength. It’s what’s preached in the final scene of one star studded Hollywood Western,

or an urban gangster tale,

If there was ever any chance of me being the gunslinger, or the gangster, or Steve McQueen, or any kind of impressive or attractive man, care giving killed it but good. Yet it’s called out a different kind of strength and victory, into which I’m still growing in middle age.


Found this great site by a care giving dad. Good thoughts and laughs there and via his Facebook page.

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