In just a couple of generations, our culture has gone from “Father Knows Best” to Dad the Clueless. Every Father’s Day, we say it ain’t so — for one day.
Maybe this year the guideline can be: Let’s hold off on the necktie. The best gift a man’s family can give him is their loving recognition of his rightful, God-ordained leadership role.
A good place to start might be an out-loud reading of Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World).
“In revealing and in reliving on earth the very fatherhood of God, a man is called upon to ensure the harmonious and united development of all the members of the family,” the Holy Father wrote. “He will perform this task by exercising generous responsibility for the life conceived under the heart of the mother, by a more solicitous commitment to education, a task he shares with his wife, by work which is never a cause of division in the family but promotes its unity and stability, and by means of the witness he gives of an adult Christian life which effectively introduces the children into the living experience of Christ and the Church.”
With that key teaching in mind, Father Joe Codori, pastor of St Athanasius Parish in Pittsburgh, Pa., points out that a man is responsible for his family’s physical safety, moral fiber — and spiritual growth.
“A lot of guys have relegated this to their wives, but Christ’s plan was that St. Joseph was the guardian and the protector of the Holy Family, both physical and spiritual,” he explains. “St. Joseph is the head of the Holy Family. Husbands are not to relegate that role to their wives but be that solid rock of spirituality and spiritual formation for their family.”
Father Codari quotes the Rite of Baptism’s individual blessing for fathers who, with mothers, “will be the first teachers of their child in the ways of faith. May they be also the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith by what they say and do, in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
One major way to carry out this challenging set of marching orders, says the priest, is to simply attend Mass — every Sunday without exception and daily when it’s doable. There’s more than just the Church’s directive to back this up: A major European study in the 1990s found that, when fathers attended church and prayed with their children, the majority of those children (up to 75%) attended church regularly as adults.
Steve Bollman, founder of the national apostolate That Man Is You, says fathers need to “let their children see them praying. The image of a father on his knees shows, in an incredibly powerful way, that he acknowledges a head over him. And, if your children never see you praying, then praying night prayers with them won’t carry any weight. You have to be transformed yourself.”
Full Dad Ahead
Mike Aquilina, father of six and author of Love in the Little Things: Tales of Family Life (Servant 2007), adds this dimension: “We have to spend quiet time with God, talking to him about each of our children, about things going on in the family, about what my wife needs from me, about being a better father and better husband.”
At the same time, he advises fathers to cultivate a devotion to their children’s guardian angels, habitually calling upon them whenever the child walks into the room. That way the father, his guardian angel, and his child’s guardian angel are three working together for the child’s salvation, sanctification and well-being.
Peter Fournier, co-founder with wife Catherine of Domestic-Church.com, cites the benefits to be found when a man leads his family in, for example, the Our Father every day. In the first lines of that most familiar of all prayers, the human father is recognizing God’s authority and saying to his kids, “You are under my authority, and I respect the authority I am under and where it comes from.”
For the same reason children need to see their father standing in line for confession, adds Bollman. That way he shows he is accountable.
Father Codari notes that, in the Old Testament, it was common for fathers to give blessings to their children. Where an ordained priest blesses and ministers to his flock, a dad is called to bless his family with his faith and love, helping them grow in holiness.
“Many dads bless their children as they leave the house for school,” says Father Codari. “Imparting the fatherly blessing is something we’ve forgotten in our modern society.”
Fournier, also a father of six, stresses the importance of doing something with your family every day. Prayer is pre-eminent, but it’s equally vital that a man share a meal with his whole bunch on a daily basis — and grace his children by showing his love for their mother.
Doing something nice — a simple thing like bringing your wife a cup of coffee on a Saturday morning, for example — shows tenderness, care, concern and all sorts of things about being a husband and father, says Fournier. The example will not be lost on the children.
Nor will the miss the message, he adds, when Dad sends a reminder to a teen disres pecting Mom: “She’s your mother but she’s my wife. Nobody treats my wife that way.”
Every day fathers need to sacrifice for the purity of their brides, the domestic church, as Christ sacrificed for his bride, explains Bollman. “That’s foundational for a man as the head of the household.”
St. Paul instructs in Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her.”
Fournier paints the picture of a family as a wagon wheel. “The father is the rim, the children the spokes, the mother the center or hub,” he says. “Who’s taking the hard knocks along the road? The father.”
An example of hard-knocks sacrifice can involve TV and its negative influence on the family. Father and mother may agree that it needs to be shut off for the day — or longer — but many times the execution of the decision is left for the mother to carry out.
Wrong approach, Fournier warns. “If the father takes the lead and says, ‘The television goes into the closet for three months now,’ there may be a lot of resistance, but it’s much easier for the father to stand back and say, ‘I’m very sorry you don’t like it. We can talk, but the TV stays in the closet.’”
“A lot of these decisions are hard to make,” concludes Fournier. “The father has to be pay the price, part of which can be constant nagging. He has to be willing to pay the price. But by the time the kids are 25, they’ll tell him: Dad, you did a good job.’”
So will Christ, the head of the Church.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.