O God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

March 19 is the feast day of St. Joseph, and although I am somewhat oblivious to a lot of feast days, it’s one that I generally don’t let slip by me. Historically, the feast of St. Joseph recognizes him as a patron to the universal Church, fathers, and carpenters, but in recent years he has expanded to be recognized as the patron of stepfathers, foster fathers, and men who have played fatherly roles in our lives.

I totally get that one. I was raised by my stepfather who later adopted me, with a huge dose of “parental influence” added by my grandfather (who was really my mother’s stepfather.) There are several other men who were a generation older than me who were mentors in my young adulthood, and they are, in my mind, all pieces of a great conglomerate that would make up a single hypothetical entity known as “my dad.” All of them have been “my dad” at some point in my life. I don’t claim any great corners on wisdom, but I know that the wisdom I have is highly attributed to these men. I have felt the love of each of them in a unique way, and none of them had to impart a bit of it to me if they hadn’t wanted to do it.

I see St. Joseph in much the same position. He would have had every right to distance himself from the pregnant Mary. No matter if she was carrying the Incarnation in her womb, in the eyes of the locals, she was “damaged goods.” He could have, in effect, taken her back to the store for a refund. In fact, that was what he was planning to do, albeit quietly, so as not to totally embarrass her family–until the angel appeared to him to explain what was going on.

In short, he didn’t have to rear Jesus. No law held him to it, no court would have forced him to do it. But he understood this was bigger than him, and obediently went along with it.

Although we don’t know much about the details of St. Joseph’s life–in fact we know incredibly little–we can still see what kind of parenting he must have provided. When Jesus speaks of God the Father, “His father in heaven,” he describes a wise and loving, and generous–short of being outright indulgent–father. This father forgives us again and again. He lets us make terrible mistakes and takes us back into his home with open arms. He tries to teach us good life lessons and doesn’t stop trying. He loves us unconditionally.

Now, I don’t think young Jesus had a hot line to the authentic God the Father to know this info. I like to believe he learned it the way ordinary children who have a good father learn their father is a kind and loving man–by watching “good dads behaving like good dads’–and I believe the prime example by which he learned of these things was through Joseph. We learn that St. Joseph was a fair and good-hearted man through the ways Jesus describes God the Father. After all, this was a man who searched for young Jesus for days before discovering him in the temple, and I bet he wasn’t all that thrilled when young Jesus told him he was doing his Father’s business. I bet the first thing St. Joseph thought was, “Boy, I’M your father, and you’re going to find out just how much I am, all the way home, after all I’ve been through looking for you!”

But I am absolutely convinced that Jesus had a wonderful earthly father, because of the glowing tones he uses in describing God. He even calls him Abba, which more or less means “Daddy.”

Psychological research also tells us that people who have had abusive fathers (particularly women who were abused by their fathers) have a really hard time in modern Christianity dealing with “God the Father.” People who had abusive fathers, fathers who could not be trusted, or absent fathers, find it hard to latch onto the notion that we are children of a loving God. These people learned not to trust the male parental unit in a family. If St. Joseph had been that kind of a parent, I don’t believe Jesus would have felt authentic describing God in the terms that he did, and if we know one thing about Jesus, he’s all about authentic.

So in my mind, it tells me all that’s good about “the love of a good dad”–whether it is one’s biological father, one’s stepfather, or anyone who plays a paternal role in the lives of young people. Thanks be to God that these men exist in our lives!