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Thinking about fatherhood

Maria Shriver in her weekly column “I’ve Been Thinking”, caught my attention.

“Fatherhood has undergone a complete metamorphosis.

… For decades, men have been honored for being providers. I’d like to now see them honored for their caretaking and caregiving as well. It’s time.

I had been heading in another direction for this reflection. Her words started me exploring a entirely different corridor in my mind.

I realized that we have tended to focus on Joseph’s role as Protector and Provider. Happily, Pope Francis asks us to reflect on Joseph as a Tender, Loving Father.

It’s time for us to reflect on Joseph as a tender and loving father.

Joseph as a tender loving father

Joseph is probably the best-known father in our world. Pope Francis points out that “After Mary, the Mother of God, no saint is mentioned more frequently in the papal magisterium than Joseph, her spouse. “

Yet we know so little about him. We only have a few references in the Gospels. He is “the quiet man” in the story of the Incarnation. Much of what we think we know is, in fact, imaginative filling in the blanks.

Traditional paintings portray him as quite old. He is seen as a grandfather in the background at the stable of Bethlehem, a balding man with a flowering staff, or on his deathbed with Jesus at his side and a much younger Mary nearby.

In contrast, much contemporary art shows him to be young and manly. Pope Francis likes the image of Joseph sleeping, trusting in God.

What image comes to mind when you think of St. Joseph?

Imagine Joseph the man

Joseph became much more real to me when, instead of starting with the image Joseph in scripture or art, I started with thinking of Joseph in terms of our experiences of the best of human fatherhood.

I started from the belief that, just as Jesus, Joseph “grew in wisdom, age and grace.” That’s another way of saying “fathers are not born, they are made”. Fathers have to learn much about fathering. Why should that be any different for Joseph.

I began to think of Joseph as he experienced the things that most fathers go through.

Let me prime your pump with some questions. I suspect not only fathers but many mothers and even adult children, will recognize parallels with your experience of fathers.

  • What did Joseph feel when he first heard Jesus call him Daddy?
  • What was it like to play with Jesus?
  • What did it feel like teaching Jesus carpentry?
  • What did Joseph feel when he realized Jesus was not with Mary in the caravan?
  • Were his emotions mixed when he found Jesus teaching in the temple?
  • How much did he appreciate Jesus was “destined for the rise and fall of many” and how that might affect him?”
  • Did he ponder all these things in his heart as Mary did?
  • And, the really big question… How did being the foster father of Jesus change him?

We have no idea when Joseph died. We only certain that he knew the teenage Jesus.

How many more of fatherhood’s stages did he experience between Jesus’ early teens and through his passion and death?


Perhaps God will speak to you, not through sleeping dreams, but in imagining how Joseph grew in wisdom, age and grace.

What can you learn about Joseph from your own experience as a father or  watching your own father pass through the various stages of fatherhood.

Don’t be afraid to imagine things! You might be surprised at what you learn.

Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk

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