IT DOESN’T SEEM like that long ago that my wife and I welcomed our first child into the world. Just two months shy of our first wedding anniversary, we were still figuring out how to be husband and wife, and now we were parents too.
More children would follow —lots more. We’d find that parenting, like marriage, involves much on-the-job training. Then, just when I felt I was getting the hang of this fatherhood thing, we became grandparents as well. Now the eldest five of our 11 children have married, and each has started a family. Grandchild No.17 is due soon.
Grandfathering is also a learning experience, but what fascinates me most is observing my children, particularly my two married sons. They’re navigating the same waters I sailed a generation ago, and from my perspective they’re doing it better than I did. I always told them, “Don’t imitate my faults; outdo me in virtue.” They got that message.
Changing times and cultural shifts bring considerable new challenges, but the fundamental principles of parenting remain the same. When I consider my mistakes as a young father, I realize I sometimes failed to live these principles as faithfully as I should have. Here’s some key advice I’d give my sons — and young husbands and fathers anywhere — based upon what I’ve learned from my own past missteps.
Establish family prayer early. Legendary coach Vince Lombardi, a member of the Knights, said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” For Catholic fathers, the practice of the faith is not the only thing, but it’s the basis of everything else. Aside from Mass attendance, it took a while for my wife and me to get in sync about how and when to pray as a family. My married kids are figuring it out early, and it’s bearing fruit in their children’s lives. Raising kids to become mature, responsible, faithful adults is the whole point of Catholic fatherhood, after all. This begins with making the family a “domestic church” and “a community of grace and prayer” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1666).
Give them your time. No father ever died wishing he had spent more time at work, but many die wishing they had spent more time with their children. While work is necessary to support the family, it can assume a life of its own with burdens that negatively impact family time. Maintaining that work-family balance is difficult. Nonetheless, being an attentive husband and father is Job No. 1, and it might require pushing back on career demands. I am happy that my sons, both hardworking professionals, dedicate intentional time to their children.
Proceed with patience. I’m a fairly mellow guy, but I do have buttons that can be pushed to the point that I “lose it.” Fathers must keep such buttons in check. It is our responsibility to guide our children to greater holiness. But, like us, they are far from perfect. We must be long-suffering in teaching our children faith and virtue — a process that can help us become holier too.
Exemplify service. Christ washed his disciples’ feet as a sign of humble service. Fathers must do likewise — in the way we sacrifice and show respect for our wives, take on household and other tasks without complaint, and serve our parish and community. I wish I had modeled this last form of service better for my kids. I stressed service mainly in words, yet my married sons and sons-in-law joined the Knights of Columbus while still young, and they have assimilated the truth that service begins at home and extends far beyond its doors.
Catholic fatherhood brings immense joys. It is also a joy to observe the growth of my sons and sons-in-law as Catholic fathers themselves. As a grandfather, I can be confident that my grandchildren are in exceptionally good and capable hands, and that’s something for which I thank God every day. Happy Father’s Day to all.
GERALD KORSON, a veteran Catholic journalist, is a member of the Knights of Columbus in Indiana.
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