Michelle Martin

Fatherhood in the time of COVID

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

There’s a Facebook meme going around, one that imagines an American father having a conversation with God.

The man goes on and on about how he’s ready to shoot any intruder, fight any threat, to protect his children.

God reminds him that the threats he needs to fight are mostly germs, as well as physical and emotional malnutrition. To fight them, he need not brandish a gun or issue threats or get into fights. What he must do, God said, is laundry, so his children have clean clothes and linens. Cooking, so they have healthy food to eat. And talking and listening and playing games and reading books. Being present, instead of going off looking for a fight.

On this Father’s Day, as we slowly emerge from stay-at-home orders only to confront a world torn by racism, we need fathers who set the example of how to care for their children — which is, after all, how to care for people: create and maintain a healthy environment, share your wisdom and listen to their insights, make them feel safe and valued and loved.

During this pandemic, the whole working parent thing became more intense, as adults juggled work meetings and phones calls from the same dining room table where our fourth grader learned about quadrilaterals and read “Bridge to Terabithia.” There have been tears, and not just from Teresa.

Now we’re facing a weird hybrid summer, with some people wanting to behave as though everything is normal while we keep working from home and keep Teresa out of day camp, which would have no field trips or swimming, the only two activities that made day camp worth it to her.

Time has warped and stretched and contracted, making this spring both a lost season and an eternity, with only the regularity of school and work and walking the dog to mark the days.

My husband has used the time he’s not spending commuting or socializing to clean out the basement, a Herculean task in a house that his parents moved into more than 40 years ago. We cut down some of the front bushes that were older than that, and painted one bedroom and plan to paint another. 

My husband has been working and grocery shopping and cooking and doing laundry through it all. He’s been cautious as things have opened up and we’ve slowly expanded our quarantine bubble.

I don’t know whether St. Joseph ever cooked or cleaned or did laundry. If he did, I’ve never seen a painting of it. But neither have I seen St. Joseph as a big action hero. He didn’t fight Herod; he took his family away to safety. He didn’t teach the child Jesus to fight, according to tradition. He taught him to build.

If we understand God through fatherhood, shouldn’t we look to the father the church sets up as an example for us in the Holy Family? A father, St. Joseph tells us, is gentle, someone who holds his babies in his arms and teaches his children by his own example.

Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there.



  • fathers day
  • family life
  • covid-19