Catholic Dads Gain Good Perspective During COVID

Father’s Day has new meaning amid the pandemic.

Clockwise from left: Scott Hawthorne holds his son, George, soon after his birth in October 2020. Cel Ezeani enjoys spending time with wife Amber and their four children. John Klarmann and his wife, Ariel, are all smiles with their son, Peter James.
Clockwise from left: Scott Hawthorne holds his son, George, soon after his birth in October 2020. Cel Ezeani enjoys spending time with wife Amber and their four children. John Klarmann and his wife, Ariel, are all smiles with their son, Peter James. (photo: Courtesy of the families)

For John Klarmann of Burlington, New Jersey, a quote on his water bottle sums up his experience becoming a father during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Your life is not about you,” the bottle reads.

“I had heard before becoming a dad that when you have a kid, you realize how selfish you are,” said Klarmann, the director of faith formation for Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Maple Shade, New Jersey. “I feel like I got that even faster because of the pandemic.”

While most men can adjust to fatherhood gradually over the course of nine months, Klarmann experienced a “dramatic shift in freedom” in just three hours. John and his wife, Ariel, received a call in January 2020 that Peter James was in need of adoptive parents, and they dropped everything to respond.

Klarmann said the coronavirus intensified the adjustment, as he took extra precautions to protect his wife and newborn son, who were both considered higher risk due to age or additional health concerns.

“My mindset got shifted really quickly to be attentive to [my wife and son’s] needs.”

Bryan Wilburn, director of development at St. Paul’s Newman Center in Fargo, North Dakota, contracted the coronavirus in November 2020 and felt quite ill.

Although the father of four recovered within a week, he did worry that his wife, Maura, or his children — one an infant — would get sick.

“I can be a hypochondriac,” Wilburn quipped. “If I look at it on Web MD, I’m already dying from it.”

In this situation, however, Wilburn said he “never did lose a lot of peace about it.”

Throughout the pandemic, the Catholic faith remained an important part of the Wilburn household, especially dressing up on Sundays for virtual Mass. The couple also placed votive candles by the television and utilized some old steel chairs with kneelers that a church had discarded.

“I ripped those bad boys out [of storage] and put them in the living room,” Wilburn said. “We were still trying to engage as many of the senses as we could.”

For Scott Hawthorne, an aircraft electrician in Bellevue, Nebraska, “not being able to physically go to Mass has been one of the hardest things” about the pandemic. 

Hawthorne just returned from a two-month deployment to Australia with the U.S. Air Force, which required a long quarantine period in preparation for himself, his wife, Sarah, and their 8-month-old son, George. He also bemoaned the inability for out-of-state family to visit and spend time with George.

“Thankfully, FaceTime exists, so that can fill the gap in the meantime,” he said, “but it’s just not the same.”

For Cel Ezeani, a physician and researcher in Attleboro, Massachusetts, the changes to his daily schedule imposed by the pandemic have increased his commitment to prayer and growing in relationship with the Lord.

Before the lockdown, Ezeani spent several hours a day commuting to work using public transportation. He said he intentionally spent some of that time in prayer, but the environment wasn’t ideal.

“It’s not the same thing as being by yourself,” he said. “People are moving around [on the train].”

Since working from home, Ezeani said he continues to rise early in the morning but enjoys the opportunity to pray in silence before his children wake up.

“I don’t have excuses this time around,” he said. 

“I’m not saying it’s always perfect, but I know the time is carved out for me to actually pray.”

Ezeani said he has also enjoyed an increased availability to spend time with his wife, Amber, and their four children.

“Now I’m done with work at 5 o’clock, and I just go upstairs,” he said. “I’m not coming all stressed from work, and I have energy to spare.”

Curtis Martin, founder and CEO of Fellowship of Catholic University Students, said the gift of unprecedented free time during the pandemic provided both a challenge and a blessing in his life. 

As a father of nine children, several of whom participated in digital education from their home in Westminster, Colorado, Martin felt it his duty “to make sure they’re not falling into the habit of wasting enormous amounts of time.”

On the flip side, Martin said the pandemic forced him to take an “honest look” at his own life and evaluate how he had been spending time.

“A recipe is not just a bunch of good ingredients,” he said. “They have to be in the right proportion and in the right order.”

When he was “forced to reset” due to COVID-related cancellations, Martin realized that his life had incrementally become busier over the years.

He likened his experience to a time he and his wife, Michaelann, chose to fast from television. After the fast, Martin recalled feeling surprised at the lack of moral character in most shows. 

Taking some time away “gave me a new baseline,” he said.

Martin said he is working to harness this concept in his time-management efforts going forward.

“How do I apply an ever-more demanding filter to what I personally say Yes to?” Martin asked. 

“I want to get back to 80% of where I was before COVID and redirect that energy back into my family.

“This is a more human way to live.”

Kimberly Jansen writes from Omaha, Nebraska.