I was talking to a fellow dad over lunch recently about the challenges of raising kids today. After the usual story swapping and a discussion about bad cultural influences, my friend left the table saying, “I need to get back to the office. Next time we get together we should brainstorm a handy checklist for fathers so we won’t forget what we are supposed to be doing!” His statement has stuck with me since our meeting and I decided I can’t wait until the next lunch to explore this topic. The stakes are too high and this generation of children desperately needs fathers to step up to their responsibilities.
I was blessed to grow up with great parents. We didn’t have much, but my parents made sure my sister and I had love, discipline, faith, strong values and a solid work ethic. My mother played a vital role in our family, as all mothers do, but I find as I grow older that I am most like my father. I pass many of the lessons he taught me on to my own children and still look to him for wisdom and advice. Look back on your own upbringing. What role did your father play? Were there other role models? Just as many of us live out the lessons we learned in our youth, our children will someday emulate us. They are always watching and we have to decide if we will be their heroic role models who consistently set the right example or relinquish our fatherly responsibilities to a host of bad societal influences. Which will it be?
As I pondered my friend’s comment about the “checklist for fathers” I made a list of the actions I am working on that I learned from my father and my own experiences as a parent. Just making this list was convicting and challenging for me as I became acutely aware of where I fall short. Yet, reflecting on this list has also inspired me and I try to reflect on these actions during my prayer time each day. I have a long way to go, but I believe living up to the expectations below will keep me headed in the right direction.
Seven Point Checklist for Catholic Dads
- Surrender. We have to surrender on an ongoing basis to Christ for His will to be done in our lives. Guys, we are not in charge…as much as we want to be! St. Ignatius of Loyola once said: “Few souls understand what God would accomplish in them if they were to abandon themselves unreservedly to Him and if they were to allow His grace to mold them accordingly.”
- Be a Man of Prayer. Our children will be much more likely to pray if we do! Work on developing a daily prayer routine with the goal of at least an hour a day devoted to prayer. Sound difficult? Think about how much TV we watch a day. Consider how much time we spend in our cars each day and how much time we devote to exercise. We have more than enough time for prayer if we plan for it, schedule it and commit to it. Pray the Morning Offering or other prayer before you leave home-10 minutes, Rosary in your car or while exercising-20 minutes, Daily Jesuit Examen-15 minutes, Prayer with all meals-5 minutes, Prayer with our children and spouse-10 minutes. Add it up-we just did an hour of prayer.
- Understand our True Vocation. For those of us blessed to be married and have children, we must recognize that helping our families get to Heaven and being good husbands and fathers (and not our business careers) is our real vocation. It is so easy to allow our family to serve our work (my issue many years ago) instead of having our work serve our family…and in turn, our family to serve the Lord.
- Invest our Time. Our children need our time. Put down the smartphone, turn off the TV, cancel the golf outing and let’s spend more time with our kids! In the absence of a father’s time with his family you can bet there are countless bad influences ready to take his place and guide his children in the wrong direction. I paraphrase Scott Hahn who once said that in our modern age the father or mother who is willing to walk out of the office after 40 hours in order to have more time with his/her family is the real hero.
- Be Courageous. Christians are meant to stand out, not blend in. Blending in speaks to conforming and making sacrifices so our faith becomes part of the mainstream…and we need to fight it! We live in difficult, trying times. Families are under attack, our children are at risk, many people are blind to the need to respect and value all life and atheists are one of the fastest growing groups in the world. We have an opportunity to be beacons of light and good examples of Christ’s redeeming love. We will be judged one day on the fruits of our apostolate and hope to hear Jesus say the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
- Practice Detachment. Really ask ourselves if we need “it”, whatever “it” is. Let go of the things that are in the way of our prayer lives, Mass attendance, charitable giving, volunteering, time with our families and certainly our relationships with Christ. “An effective detachment from everything we have and are is necessary if we are to follow Jesus, if we are to open our hearts to our Lord, who is passing by and calls out to us. On the other hand, attachment to earthly things closes our doors to Christ and closes the doors to love and to any possibility of understanding what is most essential in our lives.” – Francis Fernandez, In Conversation with God
- Love our Wives. Dads, we must love and cherish our wives, plain and simple. Our children will learn to love others by how they see Mom and Dad love each other. Say “I love you” to our wives and our children as often as possible. Let’s show our wives respect and cherish the critical role they play in our families. “The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” – Theodore Hesburgh
I have serious concerns about today’s kids and I know without a doubt that strong fathers are part of the solution. Please take a few minutes after you read this post to reflect on how you are doing as a father and a husband. Take the results of this reflection to prayer or Reconciliation and make a commitment to change if necessary. I assure you I will be in the confessional this Saturday!
As Catholic men, we have a responsibility to be strong fathers and husbands, leaders in our parishes, good stewards in the community and humble followers of Christ. Let’s look to the inspiring example of Saint Joseph, patron saint of fathers, workers and the Universal Church for his obedience, humility, selflessness, courage and the love he showed to Mary and Jesus. If we can emulate St. Joseph even a little each day, we will be that much closer to becoming the men and fathers we are called to be.
Randy Hain, Senior Editor for The Integrated Catholic Life™, is the author of The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work which was recently released by Liguori Publications. The Catholic Briefcase is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble online and your local Catholic bookstore.
The Catholic Briefcase was recently voted the Best Catholic Book of 2011 in the About.com Catholicism Reader’s Choice Awards.
Randy Hain’s new book, Along the Way: Lessons for an Authentic Journey of Faith will be released by Liguori Publications in November 2012 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.
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