What it Takes to Be a Good Dad
By Carl E. Olson
It's tough being a man. It's very tough to be a Catholic man who is serious about his love for God, the Church, and his family.
That's not a complaint, but the observation of many Catholic men who struggle to live holy lives in a culture that is often unfriendly to both Christianity and authentic masculinity. It also echoes the observation of Pope John Paul II, whose 1992 "Letter to Families" contrasts the Christian civilization of love with the godless culture of death.
The latter, the Holy Father explained, is marked by utilitarianism and a "culture of use," in which "woman can become an object for man, children a hindrance to parents, the family an institution obstructing the freedom of its members."
This culture of abortion, abuse, and pornography continually attacks boys and men, seeking to destroy authentic masculinity and fatherhood.
Popular culture is saturated with skewed and false notions of fatherhood.
Consider how many movies and television shows portray fathers as harsh, distant, detached, and abusive--as if that were the norm.
It is also becoming common to see fathers portrayed as weak, even emasculated, men who try to win over their children through manipulation and by giving them whatever they want--regardless of the consequences.
These two portrayals of fatherhood have something in common: the fathers fail to take responsibility for who they are as men.
Recently, a priest was asked what he thought was the most serious problem among Catholic men today.
"Many men are failing to be spiritual leaders," he replied, "They need to ask themselves if they are really doing enough and if they are doing the right things."
A significant and related problem, he added, is that some men see themselves primarily as breadwinners, not as spiritual leaders of their families. "They often disappear when it comes to spiritual growth, whether being attentive to their own spiritual growth or to that of their wife and children," he said.
Long, hard look|
Danny Abramowicz, former star of the New Orleans Saints and author of Spiritual Workout of a Former Saint (OSV, $12.95), concurs.
"Guys want to change their lives," he said, "but don't know how to go about it," he said.
That's because "we're ignorant of our faith. Secularism has taken over and changes the role of men in the family," he said.
Abramowicz stresses that spiritual growth for men comes from taking a long, hard look at their priorities and their view of God.
"One problem is that quite a few men aren't in awe of God," he told Our Sunday Visitor.
"They think that spirituality is something that their wives will take care of. The devil has sold men the lie that admitting their need for God and spiritual growth is a sign of weakness. But it is only when we see God for who He is that we can start to become the men He wants us to be," he said.
In Familiaris Consortio ("On the Christian Family in the Modern World"), Pope John Paul II writes that men are called to reveal and relive "on earth the very fatherhood of God."
This is true of all men, whether they are priests, married, single, or widowed. All men are meant to be fathers in a vital way.
The Pope goes on to emphasize the father's need to be responsible and to take a central role in the education of his children. He states that a father is to give witness to "an adult Christian life which effectively introduces the children into the living experience of Christ and the church."
Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, husband and father of four, is founder of the apostolate Aurem Cordis-whose name comes from the opening line of the "Rule of St. Benedict": Obsculta, O fili, praecepta magistri, et inclina aurem cordis tui ("Listen, O my son, to the precepts of the Master, and incline the ear of your heart").
Aurem Cordis focuses on male spirituality, lay vocations, and family life.
"Both men and women look to Christ for spiritual growth," Deacon Burke-Sivers said, "but they are uniquely different. They have a complimentarity and they have different gifts."
The deacon believes that it is Christ the servant who should be at the heart of a man's spirituality.
"Men are called to serve [as heads of their families]," he explained, "not because men are better than women, but because they are called to lead and serve their families."
The paradox, he said, is that it is through headship that service is shown.
"Who is the greatest in the Kingdom?" he asked rhetorically--alluding to Jesus' question, put to his disciples.
The answer: "Those who serve."
Pope John Paul II mentions this service often in Familiaris Consortio and quotes from Pope Paul VI, who exhorted men in this manner: "And you, fathers, do you pray with your children, with the whole domestic community, at least sometimes? Your example of honesty in thought and action, joined to some common prayer, is a lesson for life, an act of worship of singular value. In this way you bring peace to your homes . . . Remember, it is thus that you build up the church."
This reference to prayer is notable since some men admit how difficult it is for them to lead their family in prayer and to openly share thoughts and feelings about their spiritual life with others--even with their spouse.
"Men need to make time for prayer," Abramowicz insisted. "Men must make a commitment to prayer. They need to make and keep an appointment with the Lord every day. Prayer is conversation with God and it is through that conversation that we get to really know who God is and how much we need Him."
In Redemptoris Custos ("Guardian of the Redeemer"), Pope John Paul II states that, "Joseph's fatherhood - a relationship that places him as close as possible to Christ, to whom every election and predestination is ordered (cf. Rom 8:28-29) - comes to pass through marriage to Mary, that is, through the family."
In considering of Jesus' birth and early childhood it is easy to sometimes forget the prominent place of St. Joseph, who was not a father in name only but was given "fatherly authority over Jesus."
St. Joseph's fatherhood, the Pope explains, is exercised by his dedicated service to "the person and mission of Jesus."
In a similar way, fatherhood for Catholic men is exercised through dedicated and loving service to their Savior. Fatherhood means embracing the Cross of Christ and dying to selfishness, impatience, and pride. It involves listening to God with attentive hearts, not shrinking away from the obedience of faith, which is the true path to spiritual growth.
Nobody said being a man is easy--and being a man of God is a tremendous challenge. But the civilization of love requires men who love, sacrifice and serve, men who daily "put on the Lord Jesus Christ," the Son who became a Servant, and seek to do the Father's will.
WALK THE TALK
A father's four tips for faith growth
What are some actions that men can take to grow spiritually and become men of God? Here are some suggestions.
- Pray. Each day should begin and end with prayer. Men should spend a few minutes each day in private prayer and then spend time in prayer with their families. Pray with your spouse and children at family meals and before going to bed. Pope John Paul II encourages family rosary as a devotion and time of prayer that will bring the family together and establish a spiritually nourishing habit.
- Fellowship. Get together on a regular basis with other men to talk openly about your relationship with God, your love for Jesus, and your growth in the Catholic Faith. Perhaps have a Bible study or a series of informal classes and discussions about Catholic teaching. Begin with prayer, be accountable to one another, and encourage and support each other.
- Learn and Educate. Find ways to learn more about Catholicism faith and then pass it on to your family and to those around you. There are many excellent Catholic books and tapes of all levels of knowledge available. Make time to study Church doctrine and to understand more deeply what Catholics believe and why they believe it.
- Lead and Serve. Prayerfully examine your priorities, your weakness, and your strengths. Then ask God for help in discerning what changes you might need to make in order to be a better spiritual leader and servant of your family. Emulate Jesus by seeking God's will and orienting your priorities around it.
Carl Olson, a regular contributor to Our Sunday Visitor, is author of "The Da Vinci Hoax" and "Will Catholics Be Left Behind?" (Ignatius, $15.95 each). He writes from Oregon.