Dad, have you ever relied on your wife to help you figure out how to relate to one of your children?
Well, don't feel bad about it. That's exactly what she's supposed to do. Chew on this food for thought this Father's Day.
Most dads try to get into the hearts and minds of their children on their own but find it's not as easy as it looks. Because of their commitments to work and other activities, dads tend to spend less time with their kids than moms do. In addition, during the past several decades, fathers have been losing their place of respect in the family.
This is due, in part, to the increased number of single-parent households — a phenomenon that removes the father from the home more often than not. Even more dangerous is the influence of the media, which turn dads into buffoons who repeatedly screw up and whose only purpose is to be the brunt of jokes. This stacks the deck against dads’ capabilities and motivation to be close to their children.
Along with more time with the kids, another advantage mothers tend to enjoy is a more finely tuned intuition for understanding where the children are “coming from,” emotion-wise, and for communicating on their level. That's why moms are such an important factor in binding dads with their kids: They're the liaisons who bridge the gap.
“The child has to be led to his or her father,” said Father Joseph Kentenich, founder of the Schoenstatt Marian Apostolic Movement, in his book The Family at the Service of Life: Recollection Days for Couples (reprinted by St. Paul's Press in 2000). Father Kentenich died in 1968, but his movement of moral and religious renewal has spread throughout the world.
“As far as the mother is concerned, the father must always remain the focal point,” he continued. “If this is not the case, the mother will soon ally herself with the child in opposition to the father, and that destroys family life. … The river [of love] flowing from God the Father's heart passes through the mother's heart into the child's heart. From there it must flow into the heart of the child's physical father and return to the heart of God the Father.”
Mom needs to place the authority of dad in the foreground, Father Kentenich taught. Dad must always be seen as the head of the family, with mom as the heart and the children at the center. That means mom must uphold the authority of dad while at the same time drawing the children closer to him in love.
On the other hand, Father Kentenich warned, dad must not take advantage of his place as head of the family by becoming demanding and unyielding. Authority must not be equated with tyranny. Dad must become a reflection of God the Father for his children. Mom must become a reflection of the Blessed Mother for her children, leading them to their physical father just as the Blessed Mother leads all of us to our heavenly Father.
“It is the task of the mother to protect the father's authority, even if the father has moral weaknesses and failings,” Father Kentenich wrote. “That describes the Nazareth Family. … St. Joseph was at the center of the Holy Family even though he was less perfect than the Blessed Mother and Jesus.”
Lunch Dates With Dad
For Joe and Judy Yank, following that part of the Holy Family's model means maintaining an ongoing effort to keep communications open between Joe and the kids — Rachel, 15, Gabrielle, 14, and Thomas, 12.
“I talk with Joe every lunch hour to touch base on how the kids are doing,” explains Judy, who home schools her children. “If there's a problem or someone needs some encouragement, they can always talk with Papa at that time.”
Every now and then, Judy and the kids will meet Joe for lunch, even though it's a half-hour drive each way. And, to keep Joe fresh in the hearts and minds of the children, Judy brings Joe up in her conversations with the kids throughout the day.
“We might talk about something funny that Papa did or said, like how he sings a song in a silly way,” she says. “Or we'll say a prayer for him on a rough day.”
Sometimes Judy lets the kids e-mail their dad when they have something they'd like to tell him outside of the lunch hour. Other times Joe will send one of the kids an e-mail when something comes up that he thinks will interest a particular child.
For parents with children attending conventional schools, such as Dick and Paula Magliocco — parents of Brian, 21, Scott, 17, and Lindsay, 14 — keeping dad and kids in touch and pointing toward dad as an authority figure can be more of a challenge. But it certainly is possible, with a bit of creativity.
“When the kids were little, they always seemed to look to me as the ‘big boss,’” Paula says. “I had to think of a way to counter that, and so I started responding to them that, I may be the big boss, but dad's the big, big boss.’ I let them know that, although they had to listen to me and obey, dad had the final say.”
Our Future Together
Before the kids reached the busy teen-age years, the Maglioccos would gather together every night after dinner to read the daily Gospel. Dick would lead a discussion of the readings afterward. Yearly they enthroned the Sacred Heart in their home, celebrating with a procession around the house led by Dick.
Dick leads all the family prayers, Paula explains. He also makes it a point to pray regularly and openly in the family's prayer corner dedicated to the Blessed Mother, which they call a home shrine.
“It's a powerful thing for kids to see their father at prayer,” Paula adds.
When the children were in grade school, Dick coached their soccer teams. About that time, he started the tradition of family ping-pong tournaments. These continue to this day; in fact, they've become a much-anticipated event when the family is reunited at Christmas break.
Once the kids reached high-school age, Dick began taking one of them out for breakfast every Saturday morning. This gives him some one-on-one time with his kids and a chance to catch up on what's going on in their lives.
“I'll keep doing that for as long as I can,” Dick says. “We really enjoy that time together. And, as the kids get older, our conversations become more and more interesting. It's great to be able to relate to your kid on an adult level.”
There is much mom can do to support dad in his role as father and head of the family — not only on Father's Day but every day.
We are all unique; the methods will vary from family to family. But the goal remains the same. We must strive to reflect the Holy Family, with the father at the head, the mother at the heart and the children at the center. As Pope John Paul II has said: “The future of the world and of the Church passes through the family.”
Marge Fenelon writes from Cudahy, Wisconsin.