The Gift of Fatherhood

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6/1/2014

 

The real joy of being a father lies more in giving than receiving

by Archbishop William E. Lori

Bishop William E. Lori

Archbishop Bishop William E. Lori

As Father’s Day approaches, fathers might be asking themselves what kind of gift they would like to receive. The answers will vary: a new set of golf clubs, home tickets to see a favorite sports team, or a new grill on which to burn hamburgers to a crisp. Or maybe it’s time for another new necktie. Hardly.

There are a lot of things that dad might want on Father’s Day, but the question of what gift to get is all wrong. As June 15 draws near, fathers should be thinking not about what gifts they want to receive, but rather about the gifts they should be giving. After all, Father’s Day is a time for taking stock of one’s fatherhood.

GIVING FROM THE HEART

What is it that fathers give to their families? It used to be that the father was the sole breadwinner. That is still the case in some households, but in many, both husband and wife work outside the home. Fathers should share with their wives a keen sense of responsibility to ensure that their family has the basic necessities of life.

Of course, that’s just the beginning. It is not enough to provide a decent standard of living for one’s family. Rather, a husband shares with his wife the responsibility of providing a secure, loving home for their children. It is important for children to know that they are loved. When a father and mother love and respect each other, even in those inevitable times of tension and hardship, children tend to feel more secure. When dad and mom love each other, their children are more apt to believe that mom and dad love them.

One thing a father might ask himself about on Father’s Day is the quality of his loving partnership with his wife. What might he do to strengthen that fundamental relationship of love? What gets in the way of loving his wife and family? Are there serious problems that urgently need to be addressed? Or is it simply a question of accumulated foibles that irritate the daylights out of one’s family? Addressing these things honestly is one of the greatest gifts a father can give his family.

What else can fathers give their families on Father’s Day? I suggest a strengthened resolve to show a deeper interest in what is important to their wives and children. That means putting down the paper, shutting off the television, and turning off the smart phone, computer and other electronic devices. Only in this way can a husband and father really interact with his family and show them that he is deeply and personally interested in the ups and downs of family life — with what goes on at his children’s school, with the challenges and opportunities his wife is experiencing at work, with the questions his adolescent child may have.

The list of fatherly responsibilities is endless. And that’s just the point. Being a father does not fit into a job description. Rather, the joy of being a father can simply be summed up by a loving smile toward his child.

FATHERS OF FAITH AND JOY

A father’s involvement in the life of his family is essential, but it has to be the right kind of involvement. A boy is not helped when his dad is always yelling at the Little League coach or telling off a teacher who is doing his or her best. A father has to be involved in all the activities of his family so as to bear witness to what is truly good in God’s eyes. A father should always be ready to help his children find the way to achieve what is authentically good in every situation and help them grow in virtue amid the practicalities and stresses of daily life. He should also lead the way in helping them go beyond their personal desires by extending themselves in charity to those in need.

Still more is called for. Fathers play a crucial role in helping their children become men and women of faith. When dad goes to Mass every Sunday, leads the family in prayer before meals, and spends time each day praying and reading the Scriptures, he not only provides a good example, but also equips himself to be a better spouse and father. Prayer has consequences. All of them are good.

Venerable Michael McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus to help husbands and fathers provide for their families in the event of death. But he also wanted to help husbands and fathers grow in their relationship with Christ and the Church so that they could be good husbands and loving fathers. He recognized the need for an organization that would support men in taking their faith seriously and living it each day. Today, the Knights of Columbus continues this mission.

So, what happens when husbands and fathers approach Father’s Day with the question, “What should I be giving to my family?” The Prayer of St. Francis tells us that “it is in giving that we receive.” In giving of themselves in love, husbands and fathers discover what gifts really matter. Yes, it might be nice to receive some extravagant gift, but truly valuable gifts don’t cost much money. I’m thinking of the joy of going to Sunday Mass with one’s family, of sitting down to a meal where everyone actually talks to each other, of receiving a card from a young child or grandchild drawn with crayons, or the promise of prayers from loved ones. Experiences like these reveal the true joys of fatherhood!