Let’s move on to take a positive look at things now, by attempting to remind ourselves in a few words what a gift true fatherhood can be for the person who encounters it and experiences it.
The father helps his child find his or her true identity. In the Bible, the father gives the child its name. The name is not just a label, a word to be called by, but it represents a deep identity, the mission of the person.
The father confirms the child’s identity, assuring them that they have the right to exist, the right to be whoever they are. “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11). He allows the child to realize the deep truth of his or her being. Feeling welcomed and fully loved, the son or daughter perceives that they have the right to live according to their proper identity, the freedom to be themselves, to develop the skills and aptitudes possessed according to their unique vocation. I can have my own limits and frailty and sometimes make mistakes, but that doesn’t take from me the right to be who I am and to exist according to my own personality. I am not someone extra in the world, and I do not feel guilty for existing. I can heal from this feeling that is so common today, the feeling of being an extraneous thing in the world, or feeling like existence is just pure chance.
Some say that this welcoming love of the child is first the province of mothers. Of course, a mother’s role is very important. Nonetheless, I think we can dare to put it this way: it’s more natural for a mother to welcome a child, whereas for a father it’s less natural (maybe even difficult, sometimes), because for fathers it is more of a decision, a choice. The fact that it’s a choice (and not merely by operation of nature) makes it all the more important that the words of a father welcome and validate the existence and proper identity of the child, recognizing it as his own son or daughter, which is something that gives the child an identity and certain rights under civil law.
The father—importantly though not exclusively—plays a role in mediating between the child and the world, in helping the child to find security and interior freedom and to advance through life with confidence. I think that this core of interior security, necessary for any person to feel free, is made up of a double certitude: the certitude of being loved and the certitude of being able to love. The loving presence of a father helps me acquire the certitude that I am loved with an unconditional love, a love that I cannot lose, a love on which I can always count, whatever may happen. But this doesn’t suffice. To acquire the true interior security I need, I must also know that I can love. It’s not sufficient to receive love; one must also give it. In spite of my limits and imperfections, I am sure of being able to love and of being capable of a disinterested love. I am capable of learning to love, of doing good around me, of giving my life lovingly for others. I can be a gift to others. This second certainty is as necessary as the first.
The presence of a father—his attitude, his care, his words (which don’t have to be numerous)—can contribute immensely to engendering this double certitude in the child, whether a spiritual or natural one.