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His Heart at Home? by Marianna
How many Catholic dads are actually
involved in their children's education? Should wives and
mothers expect interest and hands-on help from their husbands?
Is it God's plan that the educational job primarily
belongs only to mothers?
When it comes to
homeschooling, the question is sometimes raised about fathers'
involvement. Why are not more fathers present at support group
meetings, or why is it that they don't hit the road as
conference speakers, or write books and curricula for
My answer is just a personal
musing: Perhaps the Blessed Mother wants it this way. If this
is the threshold of the Age of Mary, she may be choosing
mothers as her visible army.
fathers of today, just like their fathers before them, are too
busy earning an honest man's living. For a practicing and
earnest Catholic man with a large family, providing for the
needs of his family - both temporal and spiritual - is his
Beside all this, it is the heart of the
home - the wife and mother - who is usually tuned in to the
detailed needs of the family. There is much the Church has to
say about parental primacy, responsibility, duties and
obligations. Both fathers and mothers leave strong impressions
on their children that continue years after the kids after
The Church Addresses
Familiaris Consortio, the Apostolic Exhortation of
Pope John Paul II, the Holy Father says it best when he speaks
on "Men as Husbands and Fathers," writing:
"Within the conjugal and
family communion-community, the man is called upon to live
his gift and role as husband and father." "In his
wife, he sees the fulfillment of God's intention: 'It is not
good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper
fit for him,' and he makes his own the cry of Adam, the
first husband: 'This at last is bone of my bones and flesh
of my flesh!' " "Authentic conjugal love presupposes
and requires that a man have a profound respect for the
equal dignity of his wife: 'You are not her master,' writes
St. Ambrose, 'but her husband; she was not given to you to
be your slave, but your wife....Reciprocate her
attentiveness to you and be grateful to her for her love.'
With his wife, a man should live a 'very special form of
personal friendship.' As for the Christian, he is called
upon to develop a new attitude of love, manifesting towards
his wife a charity that is both gentle and strong like that
which Christ has for the Church."
Children are observant and so a man's every day
attitude to his wife will be noted and absorbed by both his
sons and daughters. Little girls will one day be young ladies.
They need to know and expect that real gentlemen are
respectful to and protective of women.
This is not
just because women are physically weaker than men but because
woman was a gift from God to man - a gift which should be
cherished, as all gifts of love should be cherished. Husbands
and wives are gifts to each other. Little boys will become
men, who will work hard as providers in so many ways. They
will need a firm, well formed Catholic conscience to help
develop and strengthen their own wills and, God willing, their
own children's. Boys and girls need to learn that Dad loves
and respects Mom for herself, as another being created in
God's image, and as his wife and the mother of his children.
"Love for his wife
as mother of their children and love for the children
themselves are for the man the natural way of
understanding and fulfilling his own fatherhood. Above all
where social and cultural conditions so easily encourage a
father to be less concerned wit his family or at any rate
less involved in the work of education, efforts must be made
to restore socially the conviction that the place and task
of the father in and for the family is of unique and
Children need their fathers and this has been
true since the beginning of time. Boys especially look for
their father's firm guidance, just as little girls need a
feeling of protection from their fathers. These little boys
may well be the head of a family someday, and these are
lessons they not only need to know but to excel in!
Girls and young ladies need positive attention from
their fathers - not only negative attention as rule enforcers.
Both boys and girls also need to know that God created women
as "helpmates" to their husbands, not footstools, and they
will learn this by observing their parent's marriage. Good and
loving parents will be very careful in the way they treat each
other and their children.
Men, as husbands and fathers, also need to know
what kind of man they are. It appears there are three types of
fathers - the 'existent,' the freestyle,'
and the 'familiar.'
The first type is
the the father who just simply exists. This is a man
who likes to gripe that he can't go boating or bowling or
camping alone anymore because he "has kids" - they "cramp his
style" - they cost money that he could have used for "other
things." This kind of husband and father never has a smile or
warm greeting for his wife and children at the end of the
He makes it a point to show his
frustrations when his family wants to welcome him home. He
doesn't want to be bothered, neither then nor later. He thinks
he has "done his duty" to his family - after all, he went to
work that day - and doesn't want to expend any more energy. He
believes he has the the right to sequester himself from the
family, by going to his den, plopping in front of the tv, or
hanging out in the garage, leaving all other cares and
responsibilities to his wife. He may be physically present but
in all other ways, he is an absent father.
"As experience teaches, the
absence of a father causes psychological and moral imbalance
and notable difficulties in family relationships, as does,
in contrary circumstances, the oppressive presence of a
father, especially where there still prevails the
'phenomenon of 'machismo,' or a wrong superiority of male
prerogatives which humiliates women and inhibits the
development of healthy family
Is such a man truly
Catholic? Does he remember his marriage vows
promising he and his wife "would accept children joyfully"?
And what of his promise he would willingly sacrifice for his
wife and their children? Is he so simple a person that he
believes working every day is his sacrifice?
Tragically, this kind of man is neither a freestyle
nor familiar father - he's simply a biological one. He
tolerates his family though he is convinced he loves them. He
is not committed to his children, and probably not to his
wife. This means he is really not committed to his sacramental
marriage. Why he ever got married is a real mystery.
Yet this man feels he is a responsible husband and
father because he works every day and pays his bills on time.
He still hasn't learned that there is more to being a husband
and father. He doesn't know he is wounding his wife's love for
him, because he has trampled on the respect and trust she once
had in him. His children fear him and don't approach him with
their confidences and troubles.
Sacrifice is just a
word to this kind of husband and father, for it is neither a
duty nor an obligation of love. He doesn't realize - and
perhaps wouldn't care if he did - that he is further
alienating his wife and, in time, will alienate his children
if he doesn't sincerely and quickly mend his ways. The damage
to those in his home will carry affect future generations of
his family. As for the activities of the children or
their education, he isn't interested unless he gets most of
the credit. He may even tolerate homeschooling but he has no
real interest in the children's well-being, their interests or
The younger children still try to
attract his attention, but the older ones have learned to
"leave Daddy alone." They may approach him on a subject of
common interest but that's as far as the relationship goes. As
for is wife, she no longer asks for his assistance because he
makes it clear that his outside job is his one and only duty.
The freestyle comes in many shades and colors,
but certain traits show up in all the varieties. This is the
most common of types. All men lean toward their own interests
much too quickly, dividing their lives into neat little boxes:
faith, wife, children, work, his interests like sports and
hobbies, etc. Sometimes they don't keep those little
compartments in priority order.
In the beginning, God
had infused this ability to compartmentalize for a man to
spiritually and temporally protect the family. Weakness, the
lot of both sexes since the Fall, has also changed this
natural ability of the man, just as it has weakened woman's
natural abilities. Often a man's concerns lean toward the
temporal: the bills, the lights left on, the chores that were
done or not done, the fact that Jr. may not easily join
Varsity Football if he is homeschooled, or that the children
will be "different" if they are homeschooled. He worries too
much about externals and his own interests; he focuses on them
a bit too much.
He may get easily irritated when wife
and family want or need his attention. He'll give it to them,
but it's done grudgingly. He's not as self-centered as the
existent father. It comes down to the bald fact that, on some
level within himself, this man still hasn't accepted the fact
he is not a single man anymore.
The freestyle father
does love his wife and children but he still hears the call of
the world. His interests remain first and it will show in many
ways: by juggling the family's finances for what he wants (not
needs), running off to this game or that event with friends,
and feeling no compunctions whatsoever that his family is
waiting for him. When he comes home, he may toss the baby,
chuck a child under the cheek, or start talking about where
he's been and what he's done. It doesn't even dawn on him that
his wife and children had their own eventful day. He had a
nice day and all is right in his world.
certain type of freestyle father who thinks his children and
homeschooling are just great, but he is not quite wholly
committed to all the duties of fathering - yet. He may get a
thrill out of a child's scrawlings just as he did from his
child's first steps. This dad begins to ask, "How'd the
homeschooling go today?" He's not quite involved and may still
consider "all that home stuff" as his wife's job. This kind of
father may slowly become convinced of the importance of his
own role as both husband, father and educator, but it will
take time. He's on the road, and that's an important step.
When addressing fathers further in Familiaris Consortio, the
Holy Father wrote:
"In reliving on earth the
very fatherhood of God, a man is called upon to ensure the
harmonious and united development of all members of the
family; he will perform this task by exercising generous
responsibility for the life conceived under the heart of the
mother, by a more solicitous commitment to education, a task
he shares with his wife, by work which is never a cause of
division in the family but promotes its unity and stability,
and by means of the witness he gives of an adult Christian
life which effectively introduces the children into the
living experience of Christ and the
Then there is the man who who doesn't put too
much stock into any material things and is firmly committed to
his family. He cares for both his children's spiritual and
temporal well-being. He is involved as much as his schedule
allows...and he is what I call a "familiar dad." He knows his
children because he is familiar with their very essence - and
he likes them as well as loves them.
remember when I first began homeschooling and read advice that
said, "Involve Dad." I thought, "You've got to be kidding!" My
husband worked very, very long hours - six days a week - at
his "day job." In addition, he had a side job of delivering
papers from 2:30 a.m. to 6 a.m., every day of the year. How
could I expect him to actively get involved with the
We were fortunate because my
husband was supportive and enthusiastic about the
homeschooling from the very first. So the children brought
their papers to him, or informed him of what happened that
day, as I tried to get my two cent's worth in with him, too!
His involvement wasn't perfect or idyllic from the beginning
of our homeschooling days- it chugged along in fits and starts
- and I'm sure we made a hilarious picture as we all
simultaneously ran for Daddy at the door. (Although he did
tell me once it made him feel like Mr. Popularity with
everyone scrambling all over him.)
By the time our
eldest entered high school, Daddy had taken over the math
courses, the night reading, and the religion review for "all"
the kids. He also began helping me with the laundry during my
fifth pregnancy. He has learned how to make a simple hot
breakfast, and there was a time when breakfast not made by Mom
always meant cold cereal.
As the wife and
mother, I had to fight off the guilties and remember once
more, that the lives of homeschooling families are completely
different in many respects. Our children are home with us all
day and it's impossible for one person to clean up after every
one else. Our lives are very hectic and demanding, and we need
all the cooperation and help we can give each other. Everyone
pitches in - Dad, Mom, and kids.
From One Dad to
As time passes, then, men will find how imperative their
interest and involvement is to the children. Even if Dad wants
to give more time to his children but is inhibited for one
reason or another, there are small but consistent ways to get
around that trouble. For those who want to learn from one
Catholic father how to be a more familiar father, the
following are a few ideas:
- Changing shifts or schedules, if
possible, so that more time with the family is allowable;
- Making a phone call during break
time to see how things are going at home; this can be a
happy time to look forward to but can also be a disciplinary
measure ("An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure).
Let's face it, kids obey Dad much better than Mom, though
we've yet to figure out why!
- Looking over the work from the
child's most difficult subject (for each child) in order to
drive home the importance of diligence in a hard subject;
- Praising for work accomplished and
- Backing Mom up in disciplinary
decisions by first discussing and agreeing on such matters
privately beforehand, presenting "home rules" to the
children as a couple, and consistently enforcing them;
- Preparation to "shift gears," when
necessary, if a plan is not working after consistent
utilization of it;
- My ever-famous suggestion for years:
"Family Night" This is the night when everyone gets
together, talks, plays a game (no television or phone or
electronic games allowed!), and then discusses what is
working and what isn't in the family. This could also be the
night when dinner is ordered out, so everyone looks forward
to Family Night.
- Make it a point to attend Mass
together as a family. There are times when this is not
possible, due to sickness, a new baby, recuperating wife,
etc. But when everything is going well, it's a wonderful
thing to bring the whole family together before Jesus in the
- Be sure everyone gets up and gets
moving on Sunday morning, reminding them it's time to get
ready for Mass! Don't just "help" your wife get everyone
ready (after all, she's your helpmate, not the other way
around). Be the prime mover and shaker, making sure the
children are washed, dressed correctly, hair is combed,
prayer missals are ready, etc. Don't leave it all to your
- Move aside, like ushers do, so that
your wife and children can walk in front of you as they
leave and enter the pews, and as they go up to Holy
Communion. It's the act of a gentleman and leader, sets a
good example for your sons on how to treat women and
children, and shows your daughters the "respect to expect"
from a young man.
- Watch your wife faint with happiness
when you remind everyone, every night, "It's time to pray
our Rosary." Continue to behave like a gentleman and ask
your wife to help lead the family Rosary, too, and then have
the children takes turns, either with Hail Mary's or entire
decades, according to the children's ages and capabilities.
Help the children say the words slowly and correctly. (Hold
the wiggling baby, too, who will surely act up during family
- Take the children into the
confessional line and be sure to avail yourself of some
graces at the same time - go to Confession yourself.
- Remain sometime after Mass and offer
your thanksgiving. Teach the children how to offer theirs
and be sure it becomes a habit.
- Give the children the appropriate
change in your pocket so they can light candles in churchv-
and help them light those tapers. Kneel in front of the
Tabernacle with them afterwards and offer your petitions
with theirs. Show them that the faith is not for women only!
In other words, husbands and fathers, lead the children not
only for example's sake but because you believe in God, too!
May St. Joseph guide all Catholic fathers
today, and may all Catholic fathers ask for his
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