Each night when it is time for bed, I am the last to ascend the stairs. Before heading to the bedroom, the next to the last thing I do is check to make sure the doors are locked. The last thing I do is double-check that the door are locked. I do this because I am a father and making sure the border between the world and the home is secure is what fathers do.
The parallel between this nightly ritual and the larger idea Rod Dreher is calling the Benedict Option may not be obvious. When Rod talks about the Benedict Option he is talking about a strategic withdrawal from the surrounding culture by those who want to maintain more traditional home and family lives.
Such a retreat translates, in practical terms, to a shoring up of the boundaries between the home and the progressively coarsening cultural that surrounds it. Sounds like a job for fathers.
Unfortunately, many are not available. The number of fatherless families has grown consistently for nearly the last half decade. It’s no surprise to anyone that the increase in fatherlessness is highly correlated to the whole host of social ills that have also skyrocketed in the same period.
The point about the Benedict Option is this: homes without fathers are going to be more susceptible to the corrupting force of a disintegrating culture. Homes and families that are most able to protect themselves from these influences will be those where the father is present, active and vigilant.
It’s easy to think that the chief cause of our cultural collapse has been increasing individualism, the triumph of the sexual revolution, or rampant consumerism, and all these play a part. But, the single most damaging development in our culture in practical, real-life terms has been the disappearance of fathers and the growth of a general cultural outlook that sees us as, at best, irrelevant and, at worst, dangerous.
A culture in which fathers are both honored and held accountable to their duties is not a culture that requires a Benedict Option response. A culture in which fathers are dismissed and trivialized is a culture people want to escape. At this point, simply being a father who takes an active role in the home is a Benedict Option move.
Fathers are especially crucial to any real-life Benedict Option for a couple of reasons. First, someone has to protect and provide in order for the family to have a place to retreat. If somebody is going to homeschool, somebody has to earn a paycheck. Somebody has to check the locks at night. Somebody has to survey the landscape and look out for potential threats, and in liberal, post-Christian culture, there are many of them.
Can’t mothers do these things alone?
Yes and no. Certainly, mothers can lock doors and bring home paychecks. But, there’s more to fathering than that. In order to explore what more there is, we must invoke the now controversial idea that men and women are different.
This difference is the second reason fathers are so important when considering the Benedict Option. The father is important because he is a man and men have unique gifts to offer. Families without a man are going to have a more difficult time withdrawing from the culture without the gifts only a man can bring.
When there is no father in the home, however much a mother seeks to protect her children from the ravages of a punishing culture, she has already lost her ability to to protect them from the central scourge of that culture: fatherlessness. Just by being present, a man protects those he loves from harm.
Men also play a unique role in the family because they bring the necessary masculine qualities required to stand against the cultural onslaught. A mature father will establish standards. A mature father will inculcate timeless, and now countercultural, values in his children. He will enforce rules based on those values. Doing all this requires the kind of strength most characteristic of the masculine psyche. Wives and mothers may be able to do all this to some degree, but few find it gratifying the way a good man will.
When a father teaches his son to stay away from porn, that’s the Benedict Option. When he sacrifices his material wants to allow his children a full-time parent at home, that’s the Benedict Option. When he looks at the outfit his daughter plans to wear on a date and says, even if Momma thought it was okay, “Oh, hell no!”, that’s the Benedict Option.
Here’s the important thing. Much has been said about the philosophical and sociological implications of the Benedict Option. People have argued about it and will continue to. A lot of this speculative reflection has great value. At some point, though, someone has to bring the discussion down to the question of he we ought to live, of what the Benedict Option looks like in day to day life. When we do that, don’t be surprised to find that more often than not, the Benedict Option is just what fathers do.
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