In the past few years, I have witnessed an increasing number of married Catholic friends and acquaintances leave their wives. It’s sickening, heartbreaking and confusing. Obviously, outsiders can never be completely aware of the details; indeed, the couple themselves may not be fully aware of all the causes that led to the sad effect. Many of those in troubled marriages can certainly offer insights, but as someone in a happy marriage of a quarter-century, I feel compelled to offer a few thoughts that might help other men before things get to that sad stage.
Change the trajectory.
Here’s a guess. When a man leaves his wife and children for another woman, it doesn’t suddenly happen one random Tuesday afternoon — it is the result of weeks, months, or even years of slipping away. Leaving home is a process rather than an event. It’s hard to believe that men don’t see and feel, at some point, that they’re on the wrong trajectory before they eventually leave. That trajectory might be watching movies you shouldn’t watch, having companions you shouldn’t have, or being absent when your family needs presence.
But trajectories can be corrected, even immediately. Today, make a good sacramental Confession, go on a walk with your children and take your wife out for a milkshake at Chick-fil-A. Tomorrow, stop by the Eucharistic chapel for five minutes on your way to work, say one Hail Mary well, and leave work early to go home and play video games with your kids.
Oh, and by the way, you’ll be happier than you’ve been in years. Not a bad return for drinking milkshakes and playing video games.
There can be plenty of difficulties in this life, and a change of trajectory will not automatically overcome your struggles. But feeling yourself moving in the right direction is powerfully positive.
Appreciate your life.
A friend of mine used to say, “Any day above ground is a good day.” Perhaps that was his way of saying, “This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Thank God for this day and everything in it.
As Catholic husbands, we need to appreciate our wives more. Remember that verse about “Husbands, love your wives”? Jesus was serious about that. Clearly, some men have trouble loving their wives. But you need to understand something: romantic comedies of the 1980s notwithstanding, love is not accidental; rather, it’s an act of the will. I know, I know, you once felt that weak-kneed feeling toward your wife and it went away. But you can will it back. And here’s a little secret: your fidelity will weaken her knees.
Here’s another secret. I’ve never felt worthy of my wife — not the day of our first date, not the day we were married, not today. That might strike you as sad. It’s not. It’s a radical awareness of how blessed I am by her, and by God through her. For that matter, I’ve never felt deserving of my children. There are nine beautiful souls in this world whom I get to call “My children.” I’m in awe of that honor.
If you’re struggling with seeing how great your life actually is as a husband and father, may I — somewhat less than humbly — suggest two books that I wrote over the past few years about the subject? They are Who’s Got You? and How To Be a Superman Dad in a Kryptonite World, Even When You Can’t Afford A Decent Cape. I thought that Catholic fatherhood was not getting a fair telling, so I wrote a series of short essays that recounted the events in the lives of my family. They may serve to remind you of the happiness and joy of family life.
Choose your heroes wisely.
You can tell a lot about someone by seeing who inspires him. I can almost feel the hate mail pouring in to my combox as I write this, but we Catholic men need to stop emulating cultural and political figures who cheat on their wives. What kind of message does that send to our children? What kind of message does that send to our wives? What kind of message does that send to our peers?
We Catholics used to read Butler’s Lives Of The Saints for inspiration; now we watch political rallies. For lack of a better word, that’s weird. It’s time to go back to Butler. Turn off the television and read about the heroic lives of the saints. Let them inspire you to great fidelity. More than that, become the kind of person who is inspired by the saints. And most of all, keep the Faith.
Let your wife and children see the hero in you.