villageblacksmith1Much has been written about mothers leaving home to enter the workforce. Little attention is given to the prior exodus of fathers from the home: a situation that long ago came to be considered standard, even in traditional households. I have written an article here in which I explore the challenges of a working father’s daily absence, and how he can seek to be more present in his home.
A Father’s Presence in the Home

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John A. Cuddeback is a professor and chairman of the Philosophy Department at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, where he has taught since 1995. He received a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America under the direction of F. Russell Hittinger. He has lectured on various topics including virtue, culture, natural law, friendship, and household. His book Friendship: The Art of Happiness was republished in 2010 as True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness. His writings have appeared in Nova et Vetera, The Thomist, and The Review of Metaphysics, as well as in several volumes published by the American Maritain Association. Though raised in what he calls an ‘archetypical suburb,’ Columbia, Maryland, he and his wife Sofia consider themselves blessed to be raising their six children in the shadow of the Blue Ridge on the banks of the Shenandoah. At the material center of their homesteading projects are heritage breed pigs, which like the pigs of Eumaeus are fattened on acorns, yielding a bacon that too few people ever enjoy. His website dedicated to the philosophy of family and household is baconfromacorns.com.

9 COMMENTS

  1. This is quite simply the most inspiring (and convicting) essays I’ve read in some time. It brings together several strands of thought that urgently need to be recovered, and acted out daily, by those of us who claim to be defenders of a traditional understanding of marriage and family. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for redressing a universal omission. Too often the decision to be a stay-at-home mother means that the father is away working 60+ hours a week; a noble and well-intentioned sacrifice on both sides, but no more “traditional” than any other modern set-up. In addition to many other cultural reforms needed, we need reform of tax codes and barrier to entry so that more family businesses can flourish for the well-being of fathers, mothers, and children together.

  3. Over the first half of the 20th century, the Southern diaspora took some 20 million Southerners, whole families, black and white, from their roots and dispersed them across the industrial Midwest and the far West. In addition to these twenty million, particularly after WWII, there were thousands of Southern males, husbands and fathers, who followed construction and “went North to earn Yankee wages,” while leaving for the duration of “the job,” their wives and children on the homestead down home. My father was one of these men. He was a cement mason for a company which built compressor stations for natural gas being pumped from Texas and Louisiana into the Midwest and the Northeast. Most of his assignments were in New York, Pennsylvania and Minnesota. Sometimes he was gone six months, a few times nearly a year. We stayed on the homestead which daddy said was less a homestead than some mere acreage. He called the place “Poverty Ridge.” We were really on a ridge and had little measured by today’s inflated affluence; yet, we did not know it. My mother never complained that daddy was away although she had plenty of reason to: garden, animals, breakdowns, etc. We got a weekly letter from daddy which was usually read aloud several times. We wrote him weekly. We rarely called because long-distance calls were expensive in those days. His homecoming was a joyous event. When daddy was home, we did everything together: sat as a family in church; worked together; fished together; hunted together. Daddy supplemented our income which he was at home by plumbing, mostly digging field lines for people and putting in sewage tanks. As I got older, I helped him. When the foot valve on the well pump went out, we pulled the well together and replaced the valve. Supper was the sacred time. When daddy was away, no one set at his place. When he was there, he took his seat at the head of the table to say Grace and to lead the conversation. As a little boy, when one of his construction jobs was actually very close to home, I was allowed to get under the table after supper while the stories were being told and pull the cement off his work trousers. I would put it in the cuff of the trousers when trousers had cuffs. Often, while engaged in conversation, he would dip his hand below the table and rub my head while I de-cemented his trousers.

    After a long stay in Pennsylvania, nearly a year, he came home. He told us a story of his leaving. He lived in a rooming house in Mercer, Pennsylvania. When he left the other residents of the rooming house and the owners came out to bid him farewell. He had a 1955 Buick, with a black top and a yellow bottom. He called it “Old Huldy.” As the others watched, he got a seemingly empty Mason Jar out of the trunk, took it to the front of the car, raised the hood, took off the breather cap, opened the jar, and poured its air into the carburetor. The folks, curious and laughing, asked what he was doing. He said that the jar contained Louisiana air and all he had to do was give Old Huldy a whiff and she would take him home. Coming home was always a Leitmotiv in everyone of those letters which we received. In the end, God graced my father and the family with an opportunity for a position right at home. He was present every day after that, the important days of my late teenage life. Toward the end of his life he expressed regret over having been away so much. He said that his father was away from home only part of one night during his childhood years: he was away fighting a forest fire in the west of the parish; but rains came and brought the fire under control. My grandfather walked over the course of the evening and into the night the seventeen miles home. The household had not slept. But about 3 a.m. they heard his boots hit the front porch. All was well. Papa was home. Both my father and my grandfather lie buried less than a mile from that place which was home.

  4. Mr. Peters,
    Your story is beautiful, and very moving. One can feel your love and respect for your father in every sentence. I am very grateful that you have shared this. Thank you.

  5. Men were created to work
    not do homemaking
    men of the past also worked,they did not pretend they were women and ran the home…

    keep trying to domesticate and feminise men
    at your own peril

    why do you think the west is becoming weaker?

    Men in Asia etc work
    it is how they love their families

    not do homemaking as you suggest…
    sad

  6. Charles,
    To suggest that ‘domesticate’ and ‘feminize’ go together is already to accept a post-industrial revolution assumption that a man’s work should be removed from the household. Likewise with your use of the term ‘homemaking.’ But if ‘homemaking’ means forging that noble and complex reality that was the traditional household, then it is certainly something in which both man and woman have a part–even if different but complementary parts. And then to ‘make a home’ is anything but feminising for men. Rather, a good case can be made that the farther you remove a husband and father from the household, the more he tends to lose his manhood. There is much ‘manly’ work that traditionally was very closely associated with the household. And as you note, in such work can men live their love for their families.

  7. First the father, then the school age children, then the mother and by necessity the young children with them. There’s much to say about how modern notions of schooling (especially in contrast and to the near exclusion of children working for the family) are an integral part of the overall family collapse you describe in focusing on the man’s departure, central and overlooked as the man’s departure is.

    On another point, I think you abandon your argument far too quickly in section III. The non-electric Amish live in “present circumstances.” That’s an extreme example, but a man could make a healthy home-based living doing many of the same things the non-electric Amish do without being Amish. I think that alone is enough to disprove your assertion that “economic necessity today will usually require that at least one spouse work outside of the household.” Obviously, the modern world depends on most families having at least one spouse work outside of the household, but that’s no reason for those of us that recognize the father’s value in the home place not to find or develop a home based livelihood as fathers. (Nor must we value the continuance of the modern world as it presently is so highly.) The narrowness of narrow roads is no excuse for taking the broad road.

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