This Sunday we celebrate Fathers Day in South Africa.
“It is Easier for a Father to have Children than for Children to Have a Real Father” Pope John XXIII
On this Father’s Day, let us support all fathers (and here I include our grand fathers, spiritual fathers, celibate priests and step-fathers) with prayer and encouragement and blessing for the vital role they play in their families and in our society.
I think Father’s Day should be a useful time for men to reflect on what it means to be a father and so to kick off this reflection and on a very personal note, I would like to honour the Fathers in my own life:
- My own father who gave me life and whose influence continues to inspire me even since his passing 3 years ago!
- Christo, my wonderful husband and father to our 4 children, who lived out his calling as provider, protector and priest in more ways than I could have wished for
- Jack, the only grand-father I have fond memories of – who had a gift for making life fun
- The ‘Father’ priests who have profoundly influenced my spiritual life
So what does it mean to be a father?
For me, two of the greatest examples of what it means to me a father, comes from the heritage of dedicated and faithful fathers we encounter in Scripture:
Joseph stands out as an exemplary father who did what spouses are called to do : ‘die to self’. We read that despite the unusual circumstances of her pregnancy he marries Mary. Being the righteous man he was, he dares to take on the roles of husband and foster father trusting that God was working through him and Mary. He protects his family; he provides for them and he embraces the call of educator and role-model by imparting to his son, Jesus, not only the skills of woodwork but values and purpose of life and love. We can learn much about fatherhood from Joseph.
Another impressive father from the Bible is the one who had two sons, one of whom goes astray : the story of the prodigal son. The father in the parable teaches his two sons powerful lessons of love: the one who went astray discovers that his father’s care comes to him even when he had run away from it and the other who struggles to understand such pure, faithful love in the face of his brother’s failures and his own fidelity. The father in the story, like God, never gave up on either of his children.
What about today’s Fathers?
Alas, the task of fatherhood can seem burdensome at times and it’s no surprise that many choose to abdicate their responsibilities – especially when society at large seems to bless such irresponsibility. Sadly, these days, the media portrays fathers as the less capable and less responsible half of the parenting team as more and more we see that childcare has become the domain of mothers, and fathers have been reduced to ‘income-providers.’ Unfortunately, we see many fathers spend so much time in their profession that they overlook, indeed ignore, the fact that their primary calling is to their family. On the one hand, modern society has conspired against the traditional role of fathers, but on the other hand, let’s face it, fathers themselves have tended to abdicate their responsibilities as parents. Then again, is the “I-don’t-need-you” attitude of our so-called ‘liberated’ female gender partly to blame…? (another discussion entirely)
If you are a Christian father reading this, I invite you: do not accept this reduction in your role! Be guided by your faith and take your vocation as ‘father’ seriously. Fatherhood is a gift from God, and yes, with this great gift also comes great responsibility.
Read what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about the responsibility of Fathering:
1) Fathers must regard their children “as children of God and respect them as human persons.” (Cat, §2222)
2) Fathers must take responsibility for the education of their children, especially their moral and spiritual formation (Cat, §222), and “educate them in the right use of their reason and freedom.” (Cat, §2228)
3) Fathers must evangelise their children. (Cat §2225)
4) Fathers must exercise their right to “choose a school…which corresponds to their own convictions” (Cat, §2229), especially one which “will best help them in their task as Christian educators.”
In a nutshell:
Healthy parenting is never the role of one parent only; it is the result of a partnership of both a father and a mother. Fathers have different ways of parenting to mothers.
For fathers to be effective parents, spend time with your children. This way, you will be able to forge real bonds of love with them that will last into their adult lives. Of course, with a little imagination, time spent together can be both a source of fun and a source of education and formation.
The home is the perfect environment for educating children in preparing for the wider community; it is the perfect training ground for learning tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service for others. Children learn these virtues best by observing the good example of their parents. The example of fathers makes a particular impression upon young children, especially in matters of faith, prayer and Mass attendance. It is truly said that the virtues are ‘caught, not taught.’
In the domestic church that is the home, fathers in particular have to play the role of ‘priest.’ Fathers have a pivotal role in teaching their children to pray and in leading them to discover their vocation as God’s children.
Finally a challenge for you Dads: make this your mantra and make it happen: “The family that prays together, stays together”
And for a little extra, I thought I’d add this by Dr Greg Popcak (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithonthecouch/2015/06/for-fathers-day-15-reasons-dads-matter-15-will-shock-you/)
For Father’s Day, 15 Reasons Dads Matter
Fathers’ interaction with babies (engaging in cognitively stimulating activities, emotional warmth, physical care) reduced their infants’ chances of experiencing cognitive delay
2. Children whose fathers are involved in rearing them (“sensitive and responsive fathering”) fare better on cognitive tests and in language ability than those with less responsive or involved fathers.
3. Fathers who are involved in their children’s schools and academic achievement, regardless of their own educational level, are increasing the chances their child will graduate from high school, and perhaps go to vocational school, or even to college.
4. A fathers’ involvement in children’s school activities protects at-risk children from failing or dropping out.
5. Positive father involvement decreased boys’ problem behaviors (especially boys with more challenging temperaments) and better mental health for girls.
6. Fathers who are more involved with their children tend to raise children who experience more success in their career.
7. Fathers being involved in their children’s lives protects against risk factors that pose harm for children (such as problematic behavior, maternal depression and family economic hardship).
8. Father involvement is associated with promoting children’s social and language skills.
9. Involved fathering is related to lower rates of child problem behaviors, including hyperactivity, as well as reduced teen violence, delinquency, and other problems with the law.
10. Father involvement is associated with positive child characteristics such as increased: empathy, self-esteem, self-control, feelings of ability to achieve, psychological well-being, social competence, life skills, and less sex-stereotyped beliefs.
11. Children in foster care who have involved fathers are more likely to be reunited with their families and experience shorter stays in foster homes.
12. Children who grow up in homes with involved fathers are more likely to take an active and positive role in raising their own families. For example, fathers who recall a secure, loving relationship with both parents are more involved in the lives of their infants and more supportive to their wives.
13. Both men and women who remember having loving, supportive fathers had high life satisfaction and self-esteem.
14. Educational programs that successfully increased father involvement produced positive changes in children’s behavior.
15. Most importantly, when it comes to passing our faith and values on to our kids it is critical for fathers to take the lead. When mom and dad are regular churchgoers, 33% of their children will be regular churchgoers and 41% will at least attend irregularly. BUT SHOCKINGLY WHEN DAD ALONE IS A CHURCHGOER, FAITH RETENTION RATE ARE EVEN HIGHER! It turns out 38% of children with irregular churchgoing mothers but active fathers grow up to attend church regularly and 44% of children with non-active churchgoing moms but faithful dads grow up to go to church regularly.
Obviously that doesn’t mean moms shouldn’t go to church with their families, but it does mean that the more committed and active dads are, the more likely it is that the children will follow his lead with regard to faith and values even when mom isn’t involved. By contrast, if the father is an irregular churchgoer and the mother regular, only 3 percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59 percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be lost. LIKEWISE if the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2 percent of children will become regular worshipers, and 37 percent will attend irregularly. Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely to the church!
The bottom line? Dads matter. A lot.
About Marie-Anne te Brake
Happily married to Christo for 35yrs, mother of 4, grandmother of 3. Enthusiastic Catholic, Lay Counselor, Sexuality Educator, Theology of the Body enthusiast and Chairperson of Foundation for the Person and the Family