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    Guide and Protect

    Fathers must safeguard their children from modern dangers with loving discipline and spiritual leadership

    By Gabriel Somarriba 9/1/2021

    YEARS AGO, I saw a U.S. Marine Corps poster that showed a drill instructor glaring at a recruit under the words: “We don’t promise you a rose garden.” That poster could apply to fatherhood in the 21st century. As a clinical psychologist, I see many fathers struggling to balance marriage, children and a career. They are stretched thin and worn out, dazed and confused. Is there anyone out there who can serve as a guide?

    Fortunately, Catholic dads have a model more effective than any drill instructor; we have St. Joseph, the prayerful warrior. The Litany of St. Joseph acclaims him as “Joseph most prudent,” “Zealous defender of Christ” and “Terror of demons” — titles that remind us, as modern fathers, of the need to lead wisely and protect our children.

    It is easy to misunderstand the Old Testament admonition, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent and disciplines him” (Prv 13:24). This is not an endorsement of corporal punishment. A good shepherd uses his rod not to punish his sheep but to protect them from wolves, and he uses the crook of his staff to retrieve them when they wander.

    Today’s predators are even more dangerous than actual beasts. For example, harmful social media apps, pornography, excessive time spent on video games and dubious companions all can corrupt the soul. Yet some fathers today throw their kids to the wolves by not paying attention to what they are doing online or with their friends.

    Children and teens are not prepared to handle the toxic aspects and constant peer-to-peer interaction of social media. They need parents to set limits like “no calling or texting after 8 p.m.” No one should have access to your children late at night. This is when the “I hate you” texts are often sent — stinging barbs that wound vulnerable psyches while parents sleep.

    Video game marathons bring their own problems. I frequently hear from parents that online gaming is the only way their sons “see” their friends — a common excuse before the pandemic that’s even more prevalent now. But online gaming is different from playing in person. Profanity-laced communication is the norm, and the virtual environment encourages binging, disrupting schoolwork and sleep.

    Perhaps fathers themselves play too many video games or spend too much time on their smartphones. Or maybe they spend too much time at work: A 2013 study found a correlation between men working more than 55 hours a week and sons being more prone to disobedience, aggression and poor emotional regulation. Here, too, St. Joseph gives us an example — not only of the dignity of work, but also its proper role in our lives. Work hard, yes, but don’t neglect your family.

    Dads cannot expect their teens to mature without spiritual guidance and loving discipline. While drawing boundaries and enforcing rules will draw immediate backlash, young people benefit when such guidelines are applied with consistency. The child will pass through a withdrawal phase toward better behavior and a healthier emotional state.

    Leaving your kids’ spiritual formation to your wife, the Catholic school or the parish is to pretend you can outsource a father’s most pivotal role. Children need to see their dad actively involved in their lives and praying regularly with his family.

    Ultimately, a strong relationship with God will help us build strong relationships with our children. Developing this close relationship takes consistent time and effort, and there are many obstacles. We can begin by curbing heavy exposure to media and negative peer interactions. Guiding our children through such cultural and social minefields is a crucial step in fulfilling our ultimate mission as fathers: guiding them to heaven.


    GABRIEL SOMARRIBA, PSY.D., is a clinical psychologist and a member of Potomac Council 433 in Washington, D.C. He lives in Cleveland with his wife, Mary Rose, and their four children.



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