The Analogy of Fatherhood

Editor’s note: Today we welcome Joe Wetterling to the New Evangelizers blogging team!

I love analogies. If you aren’t familiar with them (or have blocked them out of your memory ever since the SATs), here is the idea: an analogy compares two things that are similar in some details. Analogies help you understand a new thing or idea by considering what you already know about something similar.

While no analogy is perfect (I’m reminded of the only line I recall from the movie Nuns on the Run: “God is like a clover: small, green, and split three ways.”), a good one can make a presentation or argument more understandable and more memorable. It can make a lesson more personal and, as a result, more affective.

One analogy in particular has had a very powerful effect on my life in the past few years.

Every day, millions of Catholics and other Christians call God “our Father”. We do it so frequently that I suspect many of us let the word slip by without a conscious thought. It can be difficult to think about, though.

What do we really mean when we call God “Father”?  To help us understand some of what it means, we have a very ready analogy – human fatherhood.

God is not just a father, He is the Father. All of us human fathers are fathers because we’re in some way like Him. Human fatherhood is in some way like God’s fatherhood (rather than the other way around).

What can human fatherhood tell us about God?

As a father, I have to say “no” to my son often. He asks for treats all the time – for ice cream or extra TV or to stay up later than usual. I love to give him special treats. I know, though, that he should not have ice cream as often as he asks for it. I have to say no far more often than I can say yes.

Why do I not answer his requests for these seemingly good things? To him, it must be inexplicable. If I can give him those things, why don’t I? I seem incomprehensible at best, cruel at worst. He simply can’t yet understand the reasons behind those constant nos.

When my son was very young, I had to hold him down for his vaccinations. Without his arms and legs held down, he kicked at the doctor and knocked the needles away.  I held him and allowed the doctor to do her work.

I could see it in his eyes: how could I do such a thing? How could a loving father not only allow him to suffer but help make it happen? He doesn’t know about the benefits of the medicine that he’s getting.

He doesn’t see the long-term picture like I do.

Rather than save him from that pain, I must endure his fighting and anger at me because I’m a loving father.

My son has thrown his toys and written on the walls. As a father, I have responded differently to those acts when he was a month old, and a year old, and five. They were no less wrong at one month old than at five years, so why would I respond differently? What’s changed over time is not the rightness or wrongness but his readiness to learn.

As a patient father, I tolerate certain bad behavior that he’s not yet able to understand or overcome.

Likewise, now that my son is in school, I have started teaching him, but I cannot teach him everything. I can hardly wait to discuss great books or teach him algebra. There are science experiments and Shakespeare coming up for us.

Before I can teach him the Bard, I have to help teach him to read. Before I can teach algebra, I have to teach addition.

Algebra is true today, and it is useful (really, I mean it!), so why not teach it?  He is simply not ready.

As an understanding father, I leave that truth untaught for now, and I will reveal it slowly as he is ready.

All of these things are true of fatherhood because they are true, also, of God the Father. He revealed so much to us in that one word, so much more than we can easily understand. Of course, as a good father, He patiently teaches us even about Himself – and He helps us teach others in turn.

Copyright © 2012, Joe Wetterling

Joe Wetterling

Joe Wetterling

Joe Wetterling is a professional educator, homeschooling dad, and writer. He's appeared at national conferences, both secular and religious, speaking on education, technology, and philosophy. Joe writes online for New Evangelizers, as well as his own blogs. He's taught in the Holy Apostles MOOC program and currently teaches Natural Theology at the new Dominican Institute. He's a member of the Militia Immaculata and current President of the Catholic Writers Guild. Learn more about him at

2 responses to “The Analogy of Fatherhood”

  1. […] me my author photo looks “classy”.  Heehee.  Every time I see it, it reminds me of Joe Wetterling.  Scroll down to the bottom of his column to see his profile pic. See the […]

  2. […] my first post for New Evangelizers, I wrote the Analogy of Fatherhood – how fatherhood has taught me something about God. In Lumen Fidei, the Holy Father wrote that […]

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