Theologically considering stay-at-home fatherhood

I am a stay-at-home dad of two boys, a 19-month old and an almost 3-month old.  This and this alone places me in the minority of couples with children.  These days, it seems, being a stay-at-home dad is not quite as rare as in the past, but people still throw out the “daddy day care” jokes from time to time.  These, I have no problem with.  The difficulty lies in the underlying sociological and theological accepting or rejecting of this new family model where the mother works and the father stays home.
Daddy and his two boys, one sleeping and the other saying “I don’t know!”

For example, one local church is very welcoming and has an excellent MOPS program – Mothers of Preschoolers.  When it comes to new mothers and mothers of young children, the church is right on top of whats going on.  When it comes to my role…well, things are not so easy.  I’m not one to push myself into a Mothers-only program, and the program really serves a lot of people quite well, so I just let it go.  I do make exceptions—like parking in the “new mom” parking space at the grocery store when my first boy was less than two months old!

In all seriousness, however, this new-found minority of being a stay-at-home dad is worth a theological consideration.

On the one hand, there is the matter of church services and offerings, which I mostly forgive.  Churches minister to their congregations’ needs.  If they are well-staffed and well-run, they minister well in various ways, including childcare, youth groups, adult formation classes, etc.  Otherwise, they offer what they can.  In this sense, churches often minister democratically to whichever groups are the biggest and seem to have the most need.  For example, an effective youth ministry can energize both parents and youth alike, whereas a “new parents” ministry speaks to only a small portion of the congregation.  To equate an individual church staff with a governmental body by demanding equal offerings to every possible group is unrealistic given the monies involved.  In short, churches can be forgiven!

Moving up the food chain to systematic theology, however, more subtleties are involved.  An individual church often makes choices based on the best intentions of the church staff, the pastor, the bishop, and many people in between.  Systematic theology helps to ground these decisions in foundational doctrines of faith wherein all can find solace.  For example, any good youth program will have some sort of community service aspect.  Why?  A solid systematic theologian could tie together the tradition of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, offer examples from Jesus’ life, bring in lines from St. Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, and many others, speak of natural theology and the call to selfless devotion to the good of others as a part of bringing God to humanity….but will likely just say something like, “because Jesus called us to serve the poor.”

But what does being a stay-at-home dad have to do with systematics?  For a short and compelling answer, I turn to liberation theology.  I find liberation theology to be a remarkable and many-faceted tool within theological methodology.  On the one hand, liberation theology has been chastised by official Roman pronouncements for, basically, bringing too much politics into theological thought.  Theology should be about God, these pronouncements read, not about changing a despotic regime.  This is an ongoing debate, and I’m not entering it today.

On the other hand, liberation theology has also come to represent a methodology for discovering a new way to see God from the eyes of an underrepresented portion of society.  For example, a liberation theology for the mentally and/or physically disabled could question why Jesus is always pictured as a perfectly functioning human being?  Why must the images of the crucifixion include Jesus with a perfect set of abs and well-toned arms and legs?  Must we conceive of Jesus as a perfect anatomical person in order to believe that he was (is) God?  What does this mean for our concept of the “image of God”?

Using liberation theology, one might question Jesus’ perfect hair
and well-toned back and arm muscles in this famous Dali painting.

From a mental disabilities point of view, how intelligent do we need Jesus to have been in order for him to be Divine?  We may say that we don’t equate intelligence with the image of God, but more often than not, this is commonly understood.  Are the mentally disabled simply a byproduct of faulty genes or God’s way of giving people opportunities to love?  What about their vision of God?  For example, I have a younger brother with Down Syndrome, now 13 years old, who can’t communicate well but who understands many things about the world.  How does my brother see God?  More specifically, does his vision of Jesus have Down Syndrome?  Is a Jesus with Down Syndrome any more “unreal” than a white Jesus with well-groomed flowing hair and perfect teeth?

Liberation theology pushes the theologian to speak theologically on behalf of the poor, the marginalized, the underrepresented–instead of the professional academics, the intelligent, or even the “average Joe.”  In this manner, one can somewhat speak of a liberative theology of stay-at-home fatherhood.

I cannot speak for all stay-at-home dads, but caring for small children daily does affect my vision of Jesus and the way I talk to God.  I see in Christ what I hope to be: strong but compassionate and tender towards my sons.  I feel the overwhelming concern and care when my boys are sick or in danger, and I can’t wait for them to be old enough to throw a ball around.  In my world, testosterone, football, cooking, and cleaning go hand-in-hand.  Academic achievements must sometimes find a backseat to singing “baa baa black sheep” 100 times on a car trip to the store.  My vision of Christ on the cross is not muscular and tough, but exhausted, full of love, and in pain.  I am ok with Jesus’ final gutteral “loud cry” of Mark 15:37, empathizing with having a lack of words to show the extent of one’s love and compassion for this world.  In my mind, this adds more depth to Jesus’ divinity than any of His miraculous healings.  His healings showed that he was divine–but his loud cry proves that he was also human: something, in my book, often passed over quietly–theologians (and parents of toddlers) must be ready and able to tell their students (or potty-training children) that even Jesus pooped!

So, there you have it, in its rawest form.  I don’t yet fully understand how a more strict definition of gender roles (as found in many Christian theologies) might have to bend in order to incorporate stay-at-home fatherhood, but I’m really ok with that for now.  Theology is often about experience and self-understanding as much as it is analytical reasoning and dense philosophical arguments.  Without faith and all the daily struggles and blessings that entails, theology is just words.