How to Avoid Nihilism

Issue No. 14 | May 27, 2022

Friends, Americans, Countrymen:

Feeling sick but Covid negative (as we currently are)? Good luck getting any sympathy. You’re just another one of the uncredentialed ill. It’s worse if you’re a man, as we have a reputation for exaggerating the suffering of the common cold. And yet some scientists posit that so-called “man flu” might be a real thing. Testosterone turns out to be immunosuppressive.  One theory as to what makes this trade-off  worth it is that, evolutionarily speaking, aggressive behavior and the ability to compete are more valuable to men than resistance to infection. In fact, worse symptoms could be just the signal men need to avoid conflict until they are at full capacity.   


Man‘s nature also makes him more susceptible to certain diseases of the spirit. A woman, however she may feel about it, cannot easily forget that she has been designed to create and nurture life. A man‘s purpose is not so clear. Without proper channeling, his aggression and ambition can become destructive. In the most extreme cases his enemy becomes existence itself.


We’ve become all too familiar with the horrors nihilism can produce. If we have any hope of defeating it, it is with meaning; the kind of deep meaning, grounded in love, that it is a father’s duty and privilege to impart. This bond is central to the health of our society, but we’ve let it fray for far too many. If men have the obligation to fight monsters, they also play a crucial role in preventing their creation.    


Being a good father starts with simply being around your kids. You don’t have to do anything particularly elaborate or self-consciously “meaningful” (the concept of “quality time” was made up by guilty Boomer yuppies); the best memories usually involve moments that seemed completely unremarkable as they happened. 


Some of our best memories are of playing catch, both with our father and now with our increasingly baseball-mad 8-year-old. It’s simple, fun, and even meditative, and all you need is a ball and good pair of baseball gloves. Although America‘s pastime has long since become a global obsession, we’re happy to report that a number of companies still manufacture quality mitts right here in the USA. Some of the best come from the Texas-based Nokona, which has equipped seasoned pros, little leaguers, and hopeful dads with durable ballgloves since 1934.


You don’t need to have children to have a fatherly impact on someone; nor do you need to limit your influence to your own offspring. Scouting, coaching, tutoring, as well as mentoring programs such as Big Brothers of America all present opportunities to share your skills and experience. 


When Rob Kenney started uploading videos on such mundane subjects as how to write a check and how to shave two years ago, he expected mostly to amuse himself and his two grown children. He ended up with viral fame and more than four million subscribers, many of whom, like Kenney himself, grew up without a father. So make some videos, launch a podcast, or start a Substack. And don’t underestimate what you have to offer; you may be surprised at the number of people out there desperate for your guidance and expertise. 


Fathers and sons have always been a dependable source of cinematic drama, from Darth Vader confronting Luke Skywalker with his true inheritance to Michael Corleone’s conflicted feelings about joining the family business. 


2002 film The Son,” directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, avoids the larger-than-life power struggles and operatic emotions that usually come with the territory. Instead it maintains an almost claustrophobic focus on the taciturn and inexpressive Olivier Gourmet, who plays an isolated carpentry teacher quietly grappling with a crisis that could destroy him. Before you know it, the movie’s painstaking, slow accumulation of everyday moments builds to something overwhelmingly moving and profound.


For a Christian, God is a Father. So too are the priests who carry out God’s work on Earth. Theirs is a vocation that, like biological fatherhood, can require great sacrifice. Father Rick Frechette could certainly have chosen a more comfortable life. In his almost 35 years in Haiti, he has seen misery that few Americans can imagine. (Although this harrowing and vivid account written in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake will give you an idea.)  


First arriving to work in a hospice for mothers dying of AIDS, the Connecticut-born Frechette went on to establish an orphanage. When he realized how badly his new home lacked doctors, he returned to America to get a medical degree, then came back to Haiti to oversee a pediatric hospital. In 2010 he helped found the St. Luke Foundation, a Haitian organization that provides healthcare and education to the poorest of the poor. 


Despite all the people the Foundation has helped, the temptation to despair is always present. For a long time, much of Frechette’s ministry was simply to provide the nameless dead crowding the streets and morgues with a dignified burial: “Sometimes with horrible things, you really feel there is nothing you can do. Nothing. You’re just useless. But over time, you start seeing that to do the right thing no matter what has tremendous power.” This is the power of leading by example; you might also call it the power of fatherhood. So it’s fitting that many of the Haitians who today help Frechette – and who will continue his work when he is gone – began their lives as his children, saved from indifference by the orphanage he started.  

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