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The Catholic Father:

         Is His Heart at Home? 

by Marianna Bartold

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 Catholic homeschoolers?

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.  

Good Catholic 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 life.  

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 left home.
The Church Addresses Fathers
In 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 irreplaceable importance."
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.

 The Existent Father
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 working day.

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 relationships."
 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 their learning.

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 Father
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.

There's a 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 Church."
 The Familiar Father
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.  

I well 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 homeschooling?  

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 Another
   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 well done;
  • 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 Blessed Sacrament.
  • 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 wife.
  • 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 devotions.)
  • 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 assistance.


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