Sometimes I can almost imagine myself as a great father to my children…then I do something to mess it up. A week ago the boys and I welcomed my wife home from a five-day trip to California where she had been visiting her sister. What started out as my great adventure with the kids at the beginning of her trip turned into exhaustion at the end and I guiltily looked forward to my wife coming home so I could escape to my work and other activities. I had just experienced a great time with my sons (we really did have fun) and now I was looking to flee the scene and go back to activities which aren’t nearly as important. What was my problem?
This isn’t a self-reflective pity party, but a candid acknowledgment of the ongoing challenges I face to provide my sons with the father/role model I believe they deserve. I want them to grow up to be good men and great fathers and I feel like every moment I am with them is a learning opportunity. I want to teach them about our beautiful Catholic faith, what the real world is like, the difference between right and wrong, the importance of values, etc. The list of lessons they need to learn is endless, yet I hate to admit that because of the enormous demands on my time during the day I sometimes look forward to their bedtime so my wife and I can get a break. I know we need time as a couple and I need my free time as well, but I still feel guilty.
I carried these thoughts into the weekend and did a lot of praying. I asked God for help and a path to follow that would help me step up to my responsibilities and for the peace to deal with being a father in these challenging times. Maybe I needed to see role models and examples to help me get closer to the better father I want to be. Well, sometimes God answers prayer very promptly and clearly.
Over the last two days, I have had four powerful reminders of the real meaning of fatherhood. I can’t help but see the hand of God at work in forcing me to slow down long enough to recognize and absorb these lessons:
- On Tuesday afternoon I was driving back from a doctor visit with my oldest son when I decided to call my 73 year old father in Florida. We exchanged idle chitchat for a few minutes until I shared my recent fatherhood dilemma with him. He listened silently, not saying a word until I finished, before offering this sage observation: “Randy, I think you need to give yourself a break. I was never a perfect father and I made my share of mistakes, but I always knew God would find a way to help me and make up for my shortcomings. I also think one of the best things I did for you and your sister was to make sure you knew how much I loved your mom.”
- I reflected on the conversation with my father as we walked into Mass for All Saint’s Day: not perfect…God will help me…love my wife. I began thinking of St. Joseph and his amazing example as a husband and a father. He was a good and simple man who trusted God and took a pregnant Mary as his wife and raised Jesus as his own son as the head of the Holy Family. I have always found peace by asking St. Joseph for his intercession and I did so again on All Saint’s Day. In my own father and in the Patron Saint of Fathers I had rediscovered my role models.
- The next day (yesterday) was a bit traumatic for my family as my oldest son was to have an ear tube placed in his left ear for the eighth time. He has high-functioning autism and he was very anxious about the surgery as we drove to the outpatient surgery center in midtown. The surgery went well and I was relieved to see him as they rolled his bed into the room where I was waiting. I looked down on my first-born and stroked his hair, finding it hard to believe he was 14. The outpouring of love I felt at that moment for my son and his younger brother reminded me of the joys of being a father and of what is important in life. God created these children, gave them to me and my wife and I am truly blessed to be their father.
- After getting my son home for my wife to take care of him, I returned to a pile of work on my desk at the office and plowed through it as fast as possible so I could get home and see how he was doing. As I walked in the door feeling tired, distracted and a little guilty (again), my younger son ran up to me with a poster he had made in school. He said: “Dad, what do you think of my poster? Take a look at the bottom on the left. Do you like it?” The section was called My Hero and he described his hero this way:
He spends a lot of time with me and tells me things.
He plays sports with me and takes me to lacrosse practice.
We pray together.
He wrote his first book this year and I am very proud of him.
I want to write like him some day.
My hero is my dad.
After wiping a few tears away it dawned on me that if we ever want to get a report card on how we are doing, maybe we should ask our children?
Have you or someone you love been through the same fatherhood challenges I have recently experienced? These experiences have taught me that I can’t carry the burden of being a father by myself. I need to be humble and ask for help. I will more frequently seek out the sage advice of my father, the intercession of St. Joseph and most importantly seek the help of our Heavenly Father in prayer. I will make sure the kids know how much I love their mother. If I do these things faithfully, I will more fully experience the blessing and joy of being a father to these wonderful boys.
Randy Hain is the author of “The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work” which will be released by Liguori Publications on December 6th. “The Catholic Briefcase” is available for pre-order on Amazon.
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