Developing a Few Good Men
Half a century ago, John Steinbeck wrote this about men: “There aren't many of them in the world, as everyone finds out sooner or later.”
And if real, grown-up men — faithful, responsible, reliable men — were scarce in the early 1950s, the societal forces that have taken their toll on the family in the intervening years have only conspired to further decrease the supply.
John Ream, a former bank executive and one-time U.S. Marine, began the Effective Father Seminar program 20 years ago to help stem the proverbial bleeding.
“Since World War II, men have abdicated their roles and responsibilities within the family,” says Ream, who doesn't shy away from allowing his Catholic faith to animate his mission. “We have gone off and said to ourselves that, if we put the bread on the table and the milk in the ice box, if we make the house payment and the car payment, our job is done. That's what the world would have us think. But that's certainly not the job description you find for ‘father’ in the Bible.”
To encourage the biblical ideal of fatherhood, Ream conducts about 20 seminars a year around the country, mostly on weekends and usually at the behest of parishes and local family-life ministries. His talks have taken him to communities in Maryland, Indiana, Arizona, California, Oregon and his home state of Florida, from where he operates the program.
Ream has developed several seminars, each based on the need to educate and support men willing to assume their proper roles within the family, the workplace and the community — with the emphasis definitely on the family.
The seminars offer everyday tips on how to be a responsive, loving husband, father and grandfather; how to balance leadership and compassion; and how to address such delicate issues as holding children accountable, fostering the faith and helping children stand up to peer pressure.
A key, Ream says, is anticipating issues before they come up. “I tell people, ‘Let's look ahead to the time when Jimmy wants to drive, when little Laura gets to be 14 and wants to date,’” he says. “If you wait till the situations arise, you have missed your opportunity to teach your children what is expected of them. You're backpedaling, and you're not fulfilling your role as your family's leader and guide.”
In one of the seminars, Ream seeks to prepare families for the unthinkable. Fathers are asked to imagine that a daughter of theirs has been raped and that a pregnancy has resulted. Various supposed solutions are discussed, ranging from a hospital procedure that would abort the child to the family caring for the child to offering the child for adoption.
“We let people know what the teaching of the Catholic Church is on the various options and why,” Ream says. “Above all, we try to make the situation come alive for them. These are the kinds of problems families face every day.”
Sizing up Suitors
Pedro Pelaez Jr., the father of three daughters, has attended five Effective Father Seminars, each held at his home parish in South Florida. One experience stands out in his mind.
“When I went to the first seminar, I had one big worry. All of my girls are very beautiful, sweet girls,” he says. “I was thinking, what am I going to do when they start dating? What am I going to do when all these boys start hanging around? And the more I thought, the more turmoil I was in.”
So when Ream unveiled the concept of a father interviewing his daughters’ dates, Pelaez was interested. Ream advises fathers to take their daughters’ escorts aside before the first date and tell them how special and loved the girl is to her family, how the father's role is to protect her and how the father is willing to delegate that protector's role to the young man. He asks the prospect to enter into a commitment to protect the girl physically, emotionally and spiritually, for as long as the young man is in her company.
“When I first introduced the idea of interviewing dates to my oldest daughter, she was 8 or 9,” Pelaez recalls. “And she was fine with it. She said, ‘Dad, that's okay. If a boy can't handle that, then they don't deserve to go out with me.’ But years later, when the actual day came, she was less enthused. But I didn't give her a choice. I told her, ‘No interview, no date.’“
So the interview took place. And it was followed by several more in the intervening years.
“It's been a good thing,” Pelaez says. “My daughters give me feedback, and the boys usually feel good about it. They feel like I'm addressing them man to man, giving them a man's responsibility.”
To Be a Man
Ream, whose book Velvet & Steel outlines many of the principles found in the seminars, recalls the moment his ministry began.
“I was traveling five days a week, three weeks a month, and I happened to be listening to a talk show on a Christian radio station,” he says. “They said the average American father spends less than 15 minutes a week with his children. And I'm not talking about meals here, but time spent eyeball-to-eyeball — doing homework, playing ball, whatever.
“While I was driving, I went over in my mind the previous seven days. I was sure I must have spent at least an hour or two with each of my four kids. But I couldn't come up with any more than about a half an hour total, with all of them. I thought, my goodness! I'm losing my children! The coaches, the teachers, the culture is having more to do with my children's lives than I am.”
“I was being as good a dad as I knew how to be,” he continues. “I wasn't failing consciously, but nobody had ever taught me how to be a father. Nobody took me aside and told me what it means to be a man, what it means to be a husband and a father.”
That's what Ream is trying to do with the Effective Father Ministry: give fathers and grandfathers practical tools they can use to fulfill their roles.
Ream never requests a fee from the parishes he serves. He asks only that they cover his expenses. “This is my way of using some of what I have been given to help other people,” he says.
“My ministry is teaching,” Ream adds. “I try to concentrate on the gifts God has given me, making sure I bring those gifts to my family in the community and time where he's placed me. And I hope I am able to help other men do the same.”
Gregory Oatis writes from Perrysburg, Ohio.