“It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father.” (Pope St. John XXIII)
I often feel completely lost and befuddled as a Catholic father in today’s world.
How do I set the right example?
How do I help my sons grow up with a strong Catholic faith?
How do I prepare them for a culture that often teaches and rewards actions counter to what we believe and how we should live?
One of my frequent daily prayers after I thank Jesus for my wife and children is to ask for help in living up to my vocation as a husband and father. Do you ever feel this way?
During my prayer time, I often reflect on the example of St. Joseph who is the patron saint of fathers and the best role model we can follow. What can I learn from this great saint? I’m not the expert, but it seems that if I follow the example of St. Joseph, I will have my priorities straight with Christ first, family second, and work third. A father who emulates St. Joseph spends quality time with his family, not just time. This man is a role model to his family in living out his Catholic faith and being the light of Christ to others. This father has joy in his heart and is a man of prayer. This Catholic dad honors and loves his wife and lifts up the Sacrament of Marriage in the eyes of his children as something special and sacred.
What sort of maxims might this Catholic father, who tries to emulate St. Joseph, follow to stay on the right path? If we consider what Scripture and the Church teach us, we can look to these four critical principles as our guide.
- Our vocation is to get our families to heaven.
- Our children are always watching us. They will likely model later in life what they learn at home.
- We are made for heaven, not this world. Let’s act accordingly.
- Our children are God’s gift to us. The love and care we show our children is our gift back to Him.
Feeling convicted? Me too.
Guess what dads? Sometimes, you and I simply have to try harder. We have to give our best, even when we don’t feel like it. We have to sacrifice some work time, fun time, down time, and me time for the sake of our families. It would be wise (although scary) for us to realize that our kids watch our every move and they will be like us one day. I pray that is a good thing.
Dads, I encourage all of us to take the four rules listed above to prayer. Let’s not allow our pride to keep us from asking for help. Seek the intercession of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph. Let’s pray for each other, challenge each other, and encourage each other. Let’s live out our vocation to fatherhood with courage and honor, for as Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles said, “It’s a promise to be faithful to the vocation of being a father. Even after a long day of work, even if he’d rather be doing something else—instead he will smile and laugh and take delight in spending time and playing games with his kids. Because that’s what fathers do. They keep their promise to love.”
In the absence of us stepping up to our commitment as fathers, what are the alternatives? What can happen? After reflection and prayer, it seems obvious to me that most fathers likely face the same choices:
We can relinquish our fatherly responsibilities to others. We can allow peers, TV, the Internet, video games, and a godless materialistic culture to raise our children and just hope for the best.
We can live up to our responsibilities and our vocation as fathers. We are called to be holy and our clear vocation is to help our family get to heaven. That is a tall order and requires courage, hard work, difficult choices, and lots of prayer.
How often do we say we want the second choice, but lose focus, get busy, and allow the first option to occur? I am afraid it happens all too often if we are honest with ourselves.
What can we do to make the second option the automatic choice? None of us are perfect, but perhaps we can follow these five basic steps to stay on course.
- Make the most of our time together. My younger son and I have been having great conversations on the way to lacrosse practice and when we throw the football in our front yard. My older son and I take long walks together for our best conversations. The important thing is to maximize every minute with our children as opportunities to share and guide them to good decisions in life. Making family dinner time a priority is one way to help make this happen. Know that efforts to get our attention are often potential cries for help. Our kids need us, but are we available?
- Listen before lecturing. This is difficult for me! The fastest way to have my sons clam up is for me to cut them off with a “coaching moment.” I can coach later, but I need to hear them out first and encourage them to share their thoughts.
- Be great Catholic role models. It doesn’t get more basic than this, but do we realize how often our children are watching our every move? They will love God, be excited about Mass, and have devotion to our Catholic faith if we do. They will likely pray faithfully if we do. They will be more likely to grow up following the agisterium and staying out of the “Catholic cafeteria line” if we do.
- Honor the Sacrament of Marriage. Want to see our children get married and start great families some day? Love our spouses and model the kind of marriage we want them to enjoy. Show open affection, say “I love you,” and make sure the kids know how much we honor and respect the person we have married. We are dooming our kids to a marriage-less future or possible divorce if they grow up in a home where the Sacrament of Marriage is not treasured and valued.
- Tune out popular culture and “detach.” Guess what? If we are obsessed with American Idol, buying junk we don’t need, and trying to keep up with the neighbors, our kids are likely to grow up emulating our behavior. I am beginning to feel that every minute spent in front of the TV or the computer is wasted time and a missed opportunity to interact with the family. This may be the hardest thing on the list, but we can do a better job with our time and focus.
Guys, doesn’t being a better father feel like a wrestling match that never ends? This subject often comes up in my daily prayers as I seek discernment and courage to do the right things. The alternative to my daily struggle is to be apathetic, which will virtually guarantee that my children will grow up drifting without a good foundation of faith, values, and a sense of what is truly important in life. Kids are like clay looking to be formed and developed. In our absence, those who only see our children as consumers or who seek to do them harm will step into the vacuum.
Remember the fourth critical principle?
Children are God’s gift to us. Taking excellent care of His creation is our gift back to Him.
Editor’s Note: Would you like to learn more about Randy Hain’s newest book? Special Children, Blessed Fathers: Encouragement for Fathers of Children with Special Needs (Foreword by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput) is now available in both hardcover and paperback through Amazon.com, EmmausRoad.org and your local Catholic bookstore.
This post is adapted from Randy Hain’s fifth book, Journey to Heaven: A Road Map for Catholic Men (Emmaus Road Publishing) is available through Amazon.com, EmmausRoad.org or found in your local Catholic bookstore.