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From Whom All Fatherhood On Earth Takes Its Name

June 19th, 2022 | 4 min read

By Susannah Black Roberts

Τούτου χάριν κάμπτω τὰ γόνατά μου πρὸς τὸν Πατέρα, τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ, ἐξ οὗ πᾶσα πατριὰ ἐν οὐρανοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς ὀνομάζεται…

Here, in Ephesians, Paul talks about the Patera, the Father, from whom pasa patria, all fatherhood/every father/every family on earth takes its name. A family is a “fatherhood;” obviously a patria in the sense of a fatherland, patriotism in the sense of loyalty and affection for that fatherland is cognate.

I feel that kind of loyalty to my own family, and to my father, which is weird because ideologically he’s not very patriarchal, and anyway he didn’t raise me Christian, even though he was the one who gave me the CS Lewis apologetics to read when I was fifteen, and had read me aloud the Narnias when I was younger.

This isn’t something I take for granted. It’s something that has helped enormously in my own conversion, and it’s scary to think how much power fathers have over their children, for good or ill– and obviously, people whose fathers are terrible can find in God the good father they were missing. But it can also just… be so good and helpful to have one’s own good-ish, imperfect father as a sort of gut-check reference when you are converting.

So because it’s father’s day I am going to write about how this worked in my particular case.

Here are a couple of things about my father:

a) He gets mini-obsessions (with ideas: that the Cathars were right; that there was a pop culture-related psy-op centered around Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills which made the Boomers into a bizarre force in history; with music: Bach, Chuck Berry, the complete oeuvre of Rodgers and Hammerstein; with themes: the conflict between man’s law and God’s law; the fundamental toughness and coolness of Jews despite their reputation for being nerdy; with movies and television: The Dick Van Dyke Show, Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, the Syfy show Resident Alien.)

b) He loves gift-giving. It’s beyond a love language: it’s one of the things that gives him the most pleasure. Christmas/Hannukah were always a huge deal, giftwise.

c) He is a film guy, and is deeply committed to the practice of giving actual physical DVDs to us, even though *gestures* you know, technology.

d) He really does not have and has never had the best memory.

My brother is a film guy too. When he was say fifteen or so, my father gave him, for Christmas, a copy of Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, which was one of the movies that he was presently obsessed with. It’s a very stylized adaptation of Macbeth; the kind of thing that Toby actually was pleased to get, as a budding Film Guy.

Then, next Christmas, Dad gave Toby another DVD of Throne of Blood, having forgotten about the first one. We made fun of him, which was the correct course of action.

Then, for the next couple of years, Dad would wrap copies of Throne of Blood and give them to Toby. This went on for… a while. It still gets brought up every Christmas.

Point is, he truly loves giving gifts, and when he gives them, he then really wants you to watch/read/whatever them, because the thing he REALLY wants to do is for you to get that interest or joy that he got from them, and then talk about them with him. And he knows us well, so he knows where his interests and obsessions and ours will overlap.

When I was converting, I went though this phase where I was worried that enjoying the world — enjoying nature, writing stories, listening to music — was bad, or was of the flesh.

“What father among you,” Jesus says, “if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?”

This is about receiving the Holy Spirit. It’s not about the gifts of nature, of beauty. But it did get me thinking, back when I was brooding about whether I was allowed to feel transported by the beauty of a sunset, whether really letting the goodness of the world hit me was wrong.

God gives us the world. He gives us our senses: all of them. He gives us intellects: our imagination, our reason, our capacity for delight and aesthetic enjoyment. He gives us the gift of dreaming up projects and the gift of being able to get them done, step by step. And if he is anything like my father, he does not want us to leave these gifts in their shrinkwrap, kept safe on a shelf, and un-enjoyed.

Susannah Black Roberts

Susannah Black Roberts is senior editor at Plough. She is a native Manhattanite. She and her husband, the theologian Alastair Roberts, split their time between Manhattan and the West Midlands of the UK.