St. Joseph raised a child who was not his own, setting a standard of caring and acceptance that looks beyond traditional family relationships.
Father’s Day is approaching, and Health & Wellness has cycled through to spirituality at an opportune time. At first I was going to consider the ways that God (whatever his name may be) is or is not a good father. But that would be horribly cynical at a time when there is enough negativity to report. I’d much rather focus on a familiar example from the Bible that illustrates a resoundingly positive relationship. An example that is close to my own heart.
So much so, in fact, this entry is different from the others. Normally this column is written from the perspective of the third person. For this installment, however, it is personally significant to bring the topic into the first person. Please be patient.
I personally am not a Christian. However, that should not be taken to mean that I know nothing about the faith and that I am not able to appreciate its more beautiful and enlightening aspects. Usually I try to avoid focusing on a particular religion when I make my spiritual observations, but here I am not focusing on Christianity so much as on a figure who is a shining example of fatherhood.
St. Joseph was betrothed to St. Mary. Before the union was complete, however, she became pregnant. Whether you believe the ensuing tales about the Immaculate Conception and visitations from angels, the story touches upon something that is outstanding in and of itself, regardless of the external motivations: Joseph takes Mary as his wife.
Joseph protects Mary from people who would have stoned her to death as an adulteress or fornicator. He cares for her and adopts her child, knowing that it isn’t his own. When he fears for their safety, Joseph leads Mary and Jesus into Egypt. Later he brings them back and teaches Jesus a trade. He not only raises Jesus, he gives Jesus a means of supporting himself as a productive adult in his society.
This is what it means to be a patron (from the Latin, pater) or provider: To give the rewards of one’s efforts to someone who would otherwise go without. It is a remarkably generous act, to invest your personal gains into the security and growth of others.
To do this for one’s own family is admirable, though often taken as ordinary (given the state of many families in today’s America, I would argue against that presumption). Fathers who take care of their children are models. Men who become fathers to other people’s children are heroes.
I was adopted when I was six. My dad chose me. He wanted me specifically. This is the personal connection to the Joseph-Jesus relationship I’d mentioned earlier. I know from my own experience how amazing it is when a man opts to provide for a child he didn’t sire.
The subject of alternative families is connected to this story of Joseph as well. I could, based on Jesus’s own family, make arguments as to why “traditional” families don’t emulate Christ’s own. I could reasonably argue that according to the Biblical model, it is better to adopt than to conceive — more selfless, more meaningful.
We as LGBT people were someone’s child. Some of us may hope to one day be LGBT parents, whether by natural birth or by adoption. Regardless of the details of your family relationships, what is most important is recognizing that Joseph’s choosing to raise Jesus is a wonderful example of the ways in which love and acceptance are more important than custom, ritual and tradition.
Giving selflessly without immediate, obvious personal gain is a kindness that comes back in various ways, seen and unseen.
I am so fortunate that my dad has never rejected me or criticized me for my sexuality. Is he perfect? No. But neither am I. Do I call him enough? No. But the phone works both ways. Do I love him? Yes. He taught me to be strong, to fight for what I believe, to work hard, to be honest, to take pride in whatever it is I do.
He taught me that I can only be who I am and that it’s ridiculous to be anyone for anybody other than myself. He passed his own test when he embraced me for being true to myself and owning that I am gay. I am very lucky — many LGBT people do not have that experience with their fathers.
This is the spiritual lesson we might take from fathers, regardless of whether we are close to our own. Good fathers (who give themselves over to being providers, even when they’d rather go fishing or partying with the guys) teach us to give of ourselves. They stumble and falter, and that makes them human.
Forgiveness and acceptance work both ways: Perhaps you are angry at your father. What makes you think he’s not got valid complaints about you? Good fathers protect. They guide. They judge (hopefully not too harshly). More than anything they have to be patient (although we may not remember our fathers as being patient, if we were to ask them I bet they would disagree with our recollections).
Fathers love us enough to invest huge amounts of their resources into experiments that may ultimately fail miserably. And yet, they keep giving.
This Father’s Day, regardless of whether or not you could/would/should speak to your father, I suggest meditating on the spiritual lesson of fathers: Be patient. Be generous. Be strong. Whatever relationship you have/had with your father, focus on how being a good father to yourself and to everyone else is rewarding not only to you, but to our entire community. Be the person you’d want as a father.
Jack Kirven holds an MFA in Dance from UCLA and a national certification in personal fitness training through NASM.
— Q-Notes’ “Health and Wellness” column rotates between physical fitness, spirituality, green living and medical wellness.