A New Dad's Guide to Playing God:
Reflections on the Vocation of Fatherhood
Author: James Penrice
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||Each one of us is created in the image and likeness of God. As such, we are all called to act like him -- to be loving, forgiving, compassionate, to stand up for what is right, to actively pursue peace and justice. When we better understand God and our relationship with him, it becomes clear that our lives are to resemble the life of God as much as possible. We are to be his presence to everyone we meet -- we are all called to "play God." While the mandate to "play God" accompanies all human vocations, when it come to being an earthly father, this likeness to God takes on some very profound implications. When God calls a man to be a father, he charges him with the mission to be the one from whom his children will primarily experience the love of their heavenly Father. Being a father means being the arms, eyes, heart and voice ofGod to one's children. These pages were written to help young fathers discover their true identity and to do what it takes to nourish it.|
James Penrice an avid sports fan, graduate of the University of Michigan, former elementary school teacher and presently principal of St. Mary's Grade School in Spring Lake, Michigan, is the author of five Alba House titles: Crossing Home: The Spiritual Lessons of Baseball (1993), Goal to Go: The Spiritual Lessons of Football (1994), If There Is a God, Why Do I Need Braces?: An Adolescent Journey to Adult Faith (1995), God Could Be a Teen (1997), and You Know More Than You Think: Your Intuitive Knowledge of God in the Catholic Tradition (2003).
When an author spends a chapter defending his book's title, he
likely has chosen the wrong title. James Penrice has written a likeable, anecdotal and informative book that fathers -- as
the title suggests, new fathers especially -- will relate to. That is, once they get past the awkward title.
The author opens by pointing out that all people are, in a sense, called to "play God," since we all are made in his image and likeness and must act as he would on earth. Yet halfway through the opening chapter, he backtracks a bit, further explaining: "Perhaps this is the real key to 'playing God' to our children, constantly opening ourselves to God to allow him to use us as his instruments, realizing that by ourselves we can do nothing, but through us he can do everything."
The word "Playing" in the title should be replaced by "Imaging," since that is what Penrice really wants to say, anyway. To say that fathers must "play" God sounds too prideful on the one hand and too playful on the other. Yet, as Penrice makes clear, though fathers have serious responsibilities that can affect the future of their families, they are merely the fallible human images on earth of God the Father in heaven. To fulfill their vocation, fathers do not take God's place, but give God place in their lives. In the process, they must open themselves to his promptings and commandments.
Penrice gets it just right in his second chapter's discussion of husbands and wives, addressing directly the "third rail" passage from St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians (5:22-30): "Wives shoud be subject to their husbands as they are to the Lord."
Following Pope John Paul II's view, Penrice explains that St. Paul is not saying that a man can lord over his wife, who must follow his every whim. Noting that, in the same passage, the apostle commands men to love their wives, "just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her," and that husbands and wives must be "subject to one another," Penrice says that a husband is to serve his wife, giving up his own desires and interests for her sake. Because the two are "one flesh," husband and wife are equal in dignity.
In a chapter headed "Be a Regular Joe," Penrice offers St. Joseph as a model for fathers, extolling his virtues of total devotion, prudence, patience and obedience to God. The author also makes a good argument for the perpetual virginity of Mary, explaining that, when the angel Gabriel told her she would bear a child, she asked how this can be since "I do not know man?" This question makes no sense if Mary and Joseph had planned to engage in normal marital relations, since normally a young woman would be expecting to bear a child soon after marriage. Further, Penrice points out, once Mary's womb was filled and sanctified by the conception of Jesus, true God and true man, it would be totally inappropriate for another merely human child to fill that same womb.
"Like Joseph, you are to listen to God's messages to fulfill his plan for your domestic church," writes Penrice, "and as such to bring about their salvation and build up the broader Body of Christ."
In the final chapter, "They Don't Need Another Hero," the author gives encouragement to all fathers, especially to those who feel ordinary or inadequate. The true test of fatherhood is not in the big, heroic acts, he says, but in the small acts of love and the consistent virtue and selfless service that any man can exercise each day. Any family would be blessed to have such a father. And any father would be blessed to read this book on Father's Day. --Maria Caulfield in National Catholic Register, June 18-24, 2006
"When God calls a man to be a father, God charges him with the mission to be the one from whom his children will primarily experience the love of their heavenly Father; he is the arms, eyes, heart and voice of God to his children. This book helps new fathers discover and nourish their true identity." --Bookshelf in Catholic Digest, February 2005
"James Penrice's A New Dad's Guide to Playing God: Reflections on the Vocation of Fatherhood has the best cover art, and is by far the most earnest of these three tomes (A Faith for Grownups by Robert P. Lockwood, and American Jesus by Stephen Prothero being the other two). He tackles the meaning of his could-be provocative title right off the bat, saying that his vision of "playing God" doesn't include a vengeance-seeking deity also capable of other random, heartless acts. Penrice also takes on such topics as the mother's role in the home (through the dogma of the Immaculate Conception) and Catholic teaching on marriage and baptism in such a way as to be deceptively simple, although skeptics are likely to view his essays on these matters as simplistic. But give him high marks for at least trying. "God continually lays out the expectations that we fail to meet," he writes. "We certainly frustrate God as much as our children frustrate us -- even more so." Amen I say to that!: --Book Reviews in Northwest Indiana Catholic Online, March 2005
"Interestingly, Penrice shares a guiding principle imparted by a mentoring priest. Becoming a father does not happen when one's child is born. Instead, it is something one grows into and strives toward daily. Foremost is the imperative "to consider everything in our lives as an experience of God, and to look for him everywhere and in everything." Penrice stresses it is a father's responsibility to be a conduit of God's love to his children. He goes on to share biblical and personal examples of how to "play God." Penrice opines that Zechariah's muteness is a reminder to fathers to listen more than speak. Intriguingly, part of John the Baptist's mission was to "bring back the hearts of fathers to their children." Perhaps there is a connection. In another example from the New Testament, Penrice offers an instructive look at the prodigal son's father as he responds to both sons. Like God, he allows his younger son the consequences of his choices, yet is joyfully compassionate and forgiving when the son repents. And the father is likewise affirming of the older, obedient son while gently reminding him that "family really is not a family until it is whole." The sense of wholeness underscores the theme of this work. It implores support from the entire church community in the work of parenting. It advises meaningful inclusion of church and personal rituals into family life so that children grow into an understanding of their belonging to the communion of saints. And lastly, the author exhorts us to seek the sacred in the mundane." --Mary Silwance in National Catholic Reporter, November 19, 2004