Soon after Father’s Day 2018, my dad called to share the news of his stage 4 cancer diagnosis. Four months later, I was standing at his graveside, praying for his soul and thanking God for his life and the role he played in mine.
Father’s Day is a chance for every man to reflect on his father’s legacy — and his own. As Knights, we should strive to hand down to our children our most precious possession, the fullness of the Catholic faith. According to researchers, 56% of kids whose relationship with their dad is “warm and close” will share his degree of religious commitment. If that relationship is weak, the child is 20% less likely to follow his father’s faith. I was blessed to be close to my dad and experience his outsized influence in this area. Only as an adult did I learn how close he came to rejecting faith.
Growing up as the son of a Protestant preacher, my dad chafed at his own father’s aloofness from the family. Instead of playing catch in the backyard, his dad often holed up in the study, preparing his next sermon. By the time he reached college, my dad was angry at God and at his parents, and he nearly flunked out. Yet rather than blame others, he began to read the Bible cover to cover. Years later, he told me that despite his academic failures, he found the pearl of great price: a “personal faith” in Jesus Christ that I would witness throughout my life. He forgave his father and set out on the path to becoming a man of faith and service.
As a child, I often found my dad reading Scripture or spending time in prayer on the front porch. To this day, I treasure one his Bibles, filled with his own marks of various words and verses. My experience reflects social science research, summarized by Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix in his apostolic exhortation “Into the Breach”: “If a man’s children see him read the Scriptures, they are more likely to remain in the faith.”
Dads are works in progress and, we pray, saints in the making. Throughout my childhood, I saw my dad’s shortcomings and his struggles with his temper, impatience and bouts of depression. But his faith, his love of God, was the through line of his life. Attending church was a priority. His spiritual leadership in the home — marked by a deep love for my mom and us kids — set the tone. On our kitchen wall, a framed cross-stitch cross read, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Citing a 2000 report in the journal Population Studies, author Eric Sammons observes, “Only 2% of kids whose fathers don’t practice the faith will end up practicing that faith!” While many studies highlight the significant influence of mothers in other areas, research points to a distinctive edge that dads have on their children’s religious outlook. If dads disengage from faith, their kids are prone to dismiss it.
This Father’s Day — a Father’s Day like no other in the confinement of the pandemic — is a fitting time to reflect on our spiritual influence. Living in close family quarters for months, you have a unique opportunity to build a house of prayer and peace, based on an awareness of life’s bigger issues. In 20 years, your kids will no doubt tell stories about the pandemic of 2020; what you do now will determine whether they look back with a roll of the eyes or fond reminiscences of a loving dad who humbly led with faith.
Picking up my dad’s Bible recently, I came to a verse with dark red underlining. “You are my beloved Son,” he had marked, “with you I am well pleased.” I stared long and hard at the words and gave thanks for my beloved dad, for the legacy he gave me, and for the opportunity I now have to guide my children heavenward.
SOREN JOHNSON is a member of Holy Family Council 6831 in Leesburg, Va. He and his wife, Ever, are founders of the Trinity House Community, a ministry that helps families live together with God.
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