Growing up a Protestant, in northern Nigeria, was difficult because it was not easy to know exactly what to believe as a Christian – the homilies depended on the pastor's intuition into the scriptural passage they chose.
Matthew 23.9 – "and call no one your father on earth . . ." – was one of the contentious passages bandied around. The Bible, they argued, forbade the title of "father" to one's biological male parent.
In an African culture which respected elders, not to talk of one's parents was a bitter pill to swallow.
On Father's Day, it behooves us to sing the praises of all fathers, especially the unsung heroes of Christian virtue.
What do I mean?
The full passage of Matthew 23.9 reads: "And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father, the one in heaven."
It is easy to notice, on seeing "for you have one Father, the one in heaven," to remember the Lord's Prayer – "Our Father, who art in heaven. . ." (Matthew 6.9-13).
If we "have one Father, the one in heaven," why do we need to call him Father? We call him "Father" because he is the model of all fatherhoods, for Christ says, "Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6.10).
Human beings are those charged with the responsibility of carrying out God's will one earth, in imitation of what happens in heaven. If there is a Father in heaven, God commands that there be "fathers" on earth to exemplify fatherhood on earth.
"Fatherhood" has been bastardized, no thanks to unexemplary fathers and abusers. Father's Day is the celebration both of the need to realize God's wishes that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and the necessity to credit those fathers, whose lives have mirrored God's fatherhood, in our families and communities.
Those are fathers who barbecue for us through summer, teach us to hunt and fish, drive us to school and back, pay the bills and tuitions, take out mortgages for our homes and give us our first car – yes, those who showed themselves as fathers in word and deed.
In fact, they showed us to the baptismal waters, allayed our fears of first Confession, and encouraged us towards first Communion and Confirmation. These fathers are our heroes.
The fatherhood of God is not limited to heaven alone; we experienced it in his relationship with his Son, Jesus Christ, as per Christ's earthly existence.
The Gospels are replete with instances of Jesus going to a quiet place to pray or communicate with his Father (Mark 1.35); at Christ's baptism and transfiguration, the voice of the Father was heard (Matthew 3.17; 17.5; Mark 9.7; Luke 9.35). When Christ was in difficulties, he called on his Father who hearkened to his Son's voice (Matthew 27.46).
Indeed, Jesus said he was never alone; the Father was always with him (John 8.29; 16.32). What happens when our male parents accompany us to hockey, swimming, soccer and music lessons?
Do we feel the presence of a father? When he is by our bedside in our illness or helps us with our assignments?
God is three in one for a purpose – to be the example and model we need in our earthly journey.
If God is Father because he has a Son, Jesus Christ, our male parents are also fathers because they have sons and daughters.
If God is also creator, so are our male parents because God said to them "increase and multiply and be masters of creation" (Genesis 1.28).
Jesus did not dispute the fatherhood of Abraham for his descendants, the Jews, when he says, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad" (John 8.56).
But Jesus made fatherhood a spiritual model, like father like son, when he said to the Jews: "I say what I have seen in the Father's presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father (God). They answered him, Abraham is our father.
"Jesus said to them, 'If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are indeed doing what your father (Satan) does.' They said to him, 'We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself'" (John 8.38-41).
The fatherhood of God does not negate the fatherhood of male parents, inasmuch as male parents imitate God. Fathers, happy feast day.
Spiritan Father Ayodele Ayeni is a sessional lecturer at Newman Theological College and pastor of Mary Help of Christians (Chinese) Parish in Edmonton.