Fatherhood & Responsibility
The essential role of men in standing for a culture of life
Someone once told me, “There’s a worldview driving everything.” The comment was made in the context of a conversation about films and television shows. In the years since I first heard that statement, I’ve found myself taking a much closer look at the viewpoints and belief systems revealed in the various kinds of media that I consume. It turns out that when it comes to media, regardless of the forum, you’ll find someone’s worldview everywhere you look. That helps explain why I’ve found myself deeply contemplating the connection between fatherhood, abortion, and a culture of life versus the culture of death.
A Vision for a Pro-Family World
Recently, the NBC medical drama New Amsterdam decided to explore the reversal of Roe v. Wade by depicting the reactions of various characters to the breaking news. I don’t watch the show, so I wasn’t invested in its take on the subject. But I decided to take a look after seeing a clip from that episode making the rounds on the internet.
It’s essentially a series of emotional reactions that culminates in a shot of the medical staff gathered in front of a hospital television featuring the news coverage of Roe’s reversal. Clearly, each character is overcome with grief and emotion. Most striking, though, were the reactions of two different fathers to the sudden end of Roe’s nearly 50-year legacy in that sequence.
In the first case, a father who has just seen the news is staring at his young daughter. As she plays with her toys, he just stares and weeps. Though it’s unsaid, he is clearly grieved about his daughter growing up in a world without abortion. Similarly, a second man is seen sitting in front of his laptop in such disbelief that he cannot bear to make eye contact when what appears to be his pre-teen daughter enters the room.
I’m still struck by those images. Obviously, they’re fictional portrayals, but I assume they represent both the reactions and fears of many fathers in America. And that is something worth exploring.
Fatherhood and Human Dignity
First, I want to celebrate that these men have taken up the responsibility of fatherhood. We live in a culture that has told people they can have sex without the consequences of attachment and pregnancy. However, that can only be true for men, because a woman who becomes pregnant is physiologically connected to her child.
It is because we have freed men of their obligation as fathers that abortion becomes so attractive for many, but pregnancy and childbirth were never meant to be an individual event. Christians ought to push against the idea that a preborn child’s life is the sole responsibility of the mother and call for a culture where fathers take responsibility for the children they create.
Nevertheless, my initial reaction to that New Amsterdam scene was to ridicule it.
There is no doubt a crushing sense of irony—to say nothing of cognitive dissonance—in seeing these men grieve that their daughters, whom they both love deeply, now unexpectedly find themselves in a position where each girl would be “forced” to become a mother to a son or daughter of her own. In fact, the emotional response each father has on behalf of his own daughter conflicts with the episode’s intended message. Moreover, their reactions actually serve to underscore the concept of human dignity.
These men love these girls. They see them as valuable and worthy of protection. But these facts actually serve to highlight the absurdity on display in that scene. Each man obviously recognizes the inherent value and dignity of human life, of which their daughters are but a microcosm. Yet, illogically, they both conclude it is somehow consistent with that view of the dignity of personhood to insist their daughters should retain the right to destroy the life of another human being. The men weep over their daughters’ “loss” as though abortion bears no connection to the value of another person, when, in reality, such fathers should stand against abortion precisely because they recognize the value and dignity not only of their own children but of all children.
Akin to Injustice?
As I was discussing this scene among friends, a wise Christian woman made an interesting observation. She remarked that many fathers of young daughters probably did respond with some mixture of anger and fear in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe. Given the alarming statistics showing that 1 in 4 women in the United States “have experienced completed or attempted rape,” she pointed out the likelihood that many fathers are motivated by concerned about their daughters’ ability to terminate a pregnancy that was not only unplanned, but the result of a heinous crime. We would do well to compassionately consider how a culture of sexual assault impacts women and those who love them.
As a pro-life evangelical and the father of two young daughters, I care greatly about these issues. I recognize my girls’ dignity and value. I see them as women created in God’s image, possessing intrinsic and inestimable beauty and worth (Gen. 1:27), and I want them to be safe. Yet, in the same way that I am able to recognize their value and dignity, I am also able to recognize the value and dignity of all people, even in the worst of circumstances.
Many Americans today, indeed many fathers, remain convinced that the reversal of Roe was an injustice. They’re wrong. It was never the case that protecting the dignity and freedom of certain people required or justified denying the dignity, freedom, and life of others. Even so, it turns out that not all of their concerns were illegitimate.
To be clear, there is no excuse for the intentional destruction of innocent human life. Elective abortions are never an acceptable remedy, even in light of the most troubling facts. Yet the pro-life position is not calloused toward suffering. We recognize that pregnancy represents a significant hardship for many women. Moreover, we sincerely grieve with women who have suffered violence that resulted in pregnancy. Their suffering is tragic, unjust, and inexcusable.
But what does it say about our culture that so many believe prohibiting elective abortions is akin to injustice? And what lies behind the reaction of grief and fear so prominently featured in NBC’s dramatic portrayal? The answer is that many Americans have fallen prey to the ethos of the culture of death. The fearful and angry reaction of so many men and women, both real and imagined, was fueled by a lie that said abortion was the only solution to an unplanned pregnancy.
So as a concluding thought experiment, let us reverse the scenario. How should fathers who recognize the inherent dignity of all people react to the same news? For starters, instead of weeping or silently looking away in disbelief, such fathers would hug their daughters. Instead of battling emotional turmoil, the men would resolve to renew their commitment to the young women they love. And they would pledge that as these girls’ fathers they would always be there to support them, regardless of the circumstances. Finally, instead of lamenting the demise of the culture of death, these men would have the courage to stand for life and call other men to do the same.
Rooted in the culture of death, the scene from New Amsterdam portrayed a worldview where abortion was a sacrament. But a worldview rooted in a culture of life reflects a reality where all life is sacred. Fathers are called to love, care for, and protect their daughters. But it turns out, there is a worldview driving that too.