The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 27, 2023 - 1:30:41

Wojtyla on fatherhood, part I

Katie van Schaijik, Jul 14, 2015

Looking for inspiration around Father's Day last month, I opened Karol Wojtyla's play Radiation of Fatherhood. I love it's opening line, spoken by the character Adam:

For many years I have lived like a man exiled from my deeper personality yet condemned to probe it.

This is vintage Wojtyla—ruminative, poetical, alive to the mystery of the person, the problem of identity, the task confronting each human being: to become himself. Here he expresses the germ of his personalist view of human life:

The thought constantly returns that I ought to find myself in every man — searching not from without but from within.

 Not from without, but from within.

Everyone carries in himself an unrealized substance called humanity.

How do we "realize" our substance as persons? Through freedom. We don't become who we are by a natural, orderly unfolding of our essence, the way a plant or an animal does. Our destiny is not determined; we have to choose it, repeatedly, and at cost; the stakes are high, and the risks are real. We can fail. We can shipwreck our lives, and we can wound and cripple each other.

This is connected with the painful experience of so many generations.

What makes human life so difficult and perplexing is that we don't belong wholly to the natural world; we have divinity in us. And yet, it is in us only incompletely. We have limitless potential, but limited power. We have needs and yearnings that are impossible to satisfy. We are made for eternity, but exist in time.

For what am I?... I who am transient all the time. With every step — not with every generation now but with every step — my life is breaking off...and constantly begins anew.

He dwells on the pain of loneliness, our dependence on God, and our resentment of that dependence; our longing for love, and our misery when it's not fulfilled, or when it's betrayed. Then this:

After a long time I came to understand that you do not want me to be a father unless I become a child.

At the heart of authentic fatherhood is the serene, humble acceptance of dependence, and then a willingness to endure pain and to give life.

Think, all of you: one must choose to give birth! You have not thought about this. One must choose to give birth even more than to create. 

The self is less involved, less implicated, in creating than in giving birth. In fashioning something, I remain at a certain remove and hold a certain mastery. In giving birth, I have to lay myself down, undergo suffering, and give another prerogative and priority.

But the mystery isn't yet resolved. Rather, it deepens.

It still seems to me that somehow I evade the substance in which I am embedded. Man is not only born but also dies, not only gives life but also inflicts death. To be able to choose, one must first know all. Can I say that I know all? No, I cannot say that... [He is silent for a while}

I have found, though, that I am not “lonely.” I am, much more, “closed.”

Is that not a profound insight? Only someone who searches himself with honesty could attain it. The reason for our isolation from others is less that we are alone than that we are closed. We refuse vulnerability. And it is, mysteriously, precisely only in and through vulnerability that we are capable of giving life rather than inflicting death in our interactions with others.

And all that's in just Part I.