This article was previously published in Sword & Spade magazine.
A father of 10 examines the illusions we can have about big families and “fruitfulness.”
by Charles Rumore
“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it . . .” (Genesis 1:28). This challenging command remains a great grace to my wife and me because it so clearly directs our marriage and directs the work of our vocation. After all, we have ten kids and fit the mold of the “big Catholic family.” The fruit has multiplied. But, let me say, a big family can look like it’s being faithful to this simple command without realizing there’s more to it than procreation. Satan is waging relentless assaults against the sanctity of human life through the atrocities of abortion, contraception, and sterilization. Thankfully the Church’s perennial teaching on these grave sins is still accessible to those who are looking for Truth and are willing to submit their lives to Him. However, when considering the average orthodox man’s outlook on family and fertility, too many faithful Catholic men have failed to link “be fruitful” with “subdue.” These two parts of Genesis 1:28 challenge us as men to acknowledge that we must do more than just sire the next generation—we must also establish Godly order in our families and cultivate our children so that our families will bear good fruit. Having a bunch of kids does not guarantee obedience to the command.
Subduing the earth refers to Adam’s call to be what he is—the man in authority (having dominion) over the earth. The next sentence says as much (“…rule over the fish [etc.]…”) To subdue is the ongoing work of a man in relationship to his family and the world around him. In some ways, this is the hard part. We men very often like to act and react to problems as they arrive, but to have dominion requires significant intentionality and ongoing attention. It doesn’t happen quickly and easily, which is why, perhaps, so many of us struggle with it. Because our hearts and minds are literally distant, we can fail to even notice when the garden needs its Adam. But, Adam’s garden —like his children—are fruitful because of the long-term investment and work of a father, not because of quick fixes.
Tending vs. Mowing
Right in my back yard I’ve seen the difference between ongoing cultivation and its fruitfulness as compared to the desire for quick fixes. Every spring my family plants 3 or 4 small garden, and every July we struggle to give the necessary attention to see them through to a bountiful harvest. We are overcome by the battle against heat, bugs, drought, and weeds and our efforts are rarely brought to completion. We give up. Interestingly, however, it’s not nearly as daunting and is much more satisfying to hop on the riding mower and cut the grass in the yard. The clean lines and ordered appearance deliver immediate visual gratification without all of the hard work of cultivation. More often than not, our garden is left to tend itself, which inevitably ends in failure. This is a fitting example, because tending a garden matures a plant to its full potential by bringing it to fruitfulness, whereas mowing keeps grass in literal adolescence. The quick and easy act of mowing gives a nice appearance, but grass will never bear fruit like a tomato vine.
Oddly enough, I was drawn back into this reality with the birth of my tenth child. There is a four year gap between #9 and #10. During that time, aspects of my fatherhood were affected by endeavors which detracted from the fruitfulness of my marriage. I thank God for the blessing of a son which gently reminded me that my primary responsibility is to myToo many fathers have adopted this same approach with their families, “planting the garden” but ignoring the ongoing and focused work so desperately needed in their home, opting to tend to the more visible, external concerns—the “mowing” that takes the form of trying to purchase problems away or gloss over them. Men possess the capacity, the ability, and the skill set to engage, educate, and lead their families but they choose to direct their energies to self-gratifying pursuits or worldly gain. Disconnected from the home, a father often comes in with loud and sure directives to fix problems he sees, but this misguided engagement is the result of frustration and a desire to set things right quickly —to mow the grass instead of tending the potentially fruitful garden. This disordered approach must stop. We cannot leave the garden of our family to chance. If we do, and it bears any fruit at all, it will certainly be rotten.
“We cannot leave the garden of our family to chance.”
wife and my family. My children are a visible reminder of my vocation and a clear manifestation of God’s will for my life. Without them, I would forget who I really was and what my masculinity is meant to serve.
The consequences of disobedience to our Heavenly Father are enormous, and they are taking a toll on good Catholic men. Our culture suffers greatly when we ignore our vocation to Fatherhood. There is an abundance of blessings bestowed upon men who have many children, but we must take seriously the responsibilities that accompany the gift. Taking advantage of our Father’s bountiful goodness—the blessing of children—without carrying out His command to subdue the Earth puts our masculinity and our souls in real peril. We must fight the temptation to pursue career, status, wealth, and pleasure and then compensate by tidying up the externals for all of our friends to see. Our children deserve the formation of character and virtue that God sees.
The temptations of the world test the father of ten as much as they do for a childless man. But I am called by God to lay down my life for my wife and each child. It is my calling to educate them in the Faith and to model our Father’s love for them. This sacrificial endeavor is the renewal and the fulfillment of my masculinity and my fatherhood, and as I am more intentional I am more of the man I am called to be. I thank God for this reciprocal strengthening. Those of us who have been blessed with the gift of many children must recommit to our vocation as husband and father so that our families may learn to bear fruit in the serenity of Godly order. Sowing seeds is not enough. We need to tend the garden with the love that comes only from a father.