Forget the dads you see on Television: selfish, workaholic, lazy, absent, bullying, pushover dads. They do not deserve the name. Real dadness is bigger than that. It’s as big as Our Father who art in Heaven.
The call to be a Catholic dad is a call to suffer—as a husband, as a father, as a Catholic. As Christ is the head of his Church, the Catholic dad is the head of his household, and his is a head crowned with thorns. This is not a chance to blow your own bugle. This is a chance to lay down your life for your family. Fatherhood is frightening. But it’s also fabulous, and that’s why we need to showcase Catholic fatherhood to a world that’s forgotten what a dad is for.
God invented fatherhood for a purpose. He has affirmed this purpose time and again, from Adam to Noah to Abraham to David to St. Joseph to our Father in Heaven. The Catholic dad is called to do four things, in particular: to worship God, to proclaim the Gospel, to teach and maintain the Faith, and to administer means of grace. In other words, a dad’s job is liturgical, evangelical, doctrinal, and pastoral. Whew! That’s a mouthful. Let’s take em’ one at a time.
Liturgical. Dads, lead your family in worship. Your children were created to enjoy the most adorable Trinity through worship. And God designed the family as a special place for us to worship him. Liturgy comes from an old word that means “public work,” and by it Catholics usually mean the form to which worship is conducted. Do not think that the liturgy of the Television, or the liturgy of late nights at the office, or the liturgy of endless extracurricular activities, is not forming your children’s souls. People are always worshiping something, and your family is no exception. What is being worshiped in your home? Is it success and entertainment, or is it God? As a father, your first job is to give form and direction to the worship in your home. Build a little oratory, remember the dinner table and keep it holy, and fill your home with the liturgy of prayer. Get whole family together and revel in God’s glory.
Evangelical. Preach the Gospel to your family. If necessary, use words—and remember that words are almost always necessary. The strong silent type might make for a good cowboy, but not for a good dad. A silent dad is a crime against God and man. God spoke the world into being, Christ proclaimed the Kingdom with his mouth, and those lips God gave you were not made for spittin’ seeds or swilling whiskey. People cannot worship God unless they know him. So the second job of the Catholic dad is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Preach the Gospel by how you live and with spoken words. Hark! The eternal Son of God has become a Son of Adam, born of a daughter of Eve, died, and is risen again, to save us from the power of sin and death, to make us partakers of God-life! Dads, evangelize your family. Tell them the amazing story of Jesus every day. Act on the assumption that no one else will.
Doctrinal. I know, I know. You’re not a theologian, it’s best to leave doctrine to the professionals, you’re a busy man. These are cheap excuses. If you can be a salesman or an auto-mechanic, if you can follow baseball stats and read the daily newspaper, you have what it takes. Are you baptized? Is the Holy Spirit growling within you, like a bear just waiting to come out from hibernation? Your children have been baptized, but now they have to be taught what that Baptism requires—what they must renounce, believe, and do. So the third job of the Catholic dad is to teach the faith. You have the privilege of teaching your children what is to be believed and what is not to be believed. Dads, lead your family in knowing God. Show them that doctrine is a delight. Open up the Scriptures and the Tradition. Trumpet the great truths of our Catholic faith.
Pastoral. Your family needs grace, and the fourth job of the Catholic dad is to administer that grace. The sacraments are committed to the ministers of the Church, but every Catholic has some responsibility for the means of grace. It is in you—not in the neighbor guy, but in you—that your wife and children will taste and see that God’s forgiveness is a reality, that God’s love sets them free, that they are beloved. Ask them how you can pray for them. Tell them what you are praying for them. Call them out for sin in their lives, and be ready to forgive them as God forgives them. Bring them to the Holy Eucharist, to Catechism Class, to the Adoration Chapel, to the Confession Booth. Be the first one on your knees and the last one off your knees. Keep your home office door open, answer your phone, and be ready to give a big bear hug and a scratchy dad kiss. Only you can be the pastor of your home.
Look, you’re the papa bear, the patriarch, the paterfamilias. God is calling you to roll up your sleeves and to get to work. Will you yawn and crack open another beer, or will you heed the call?
Dude, this whole dad thing was not the idea of some dead white bigot from the late Bronze Age. Patriarchy, “dadness,” is God’s bright idea—and it is meant to be bright. As a husband, you are called to radiate the cruciform love of the Son to your wife. As a father, you are called to reveal the love of the Father to your children. There are at least three indispensible skills every Catholic dad must master: listening, leading, and being vulnerable.
Listen. The Catholic dad does not stomp around making proclamations and giving soliloquys. He doesn’t make everything from the kids homework to the family vacation be about himself. The most handy skill any dad can master is the skill of listening. Hear what your wife and children are trying to tell you. Ask questions. Query the stories of their day. Celebrate their gifts and interests. Be slow to speak, and quick to listen.
Lead. The Catholic dad is not pushed this way and that by every whim of fashion or every random desire. He leads. Good leadership does not abuse power, but uses power to serve. Gird yourself like a real man, and do the dishes. Remember why God gave you muscles, and take out the trash. Honor your wife and serve her. Adore and cherish her, body and soul. She is your queen, and you owe her everything. Work tirelessly for your family’s welfare. Your job is to provide food, shelter, clothing, fatherly love. Get alone with God and pray. Offer yourself up for your family, a living sacrifice. Above all, lead your family in prayer.
Be vulnerable. Most of the time, when people say “be vulnerable” they mean be honest about your weaknesses, open about your pain. That kind of vulnerability is good, but there’s an equally important kind: the vulnerability of joy. It’s a scary thing to let others see what you love. It takes guts to stand up and say, “Whoa! This is beautiful!” The number one reason why kids don’t go to Mass is because their dads don’t go to Mass, and even when they do go they don’t let their happiness hang out. There is no room in the Kingdom of God for stoic dads who keep it cool. One of the best skills for the Catholic dad is vulnerability. Be honest about how much you love the triune God. Be open about how much you adore him in the Blessed Sacrament, how much you love his Mother, how floored you are by amazing grace. Dads, risk joy.
God invented fatherhood for the same reason Thomas Edison invented the light bulb—for light. Dadness is meant to be a lighthouse to the world, a torch of love and authority, a candle of devotion to our one true Father in Heaven. So don’t keep this light under a basket.
People are binging on cheap forms of love. Their hearts are starving for love, and it’s (mostly) because dads are not giving the love they were made to give—to their wives, to their children. The kinds of dads pop culture showcases are cheap, disposable, cruel, or shallow. They do not deserve the name. It’s time to display what real fatherhood is all about: the Cross.
Think you’re the man of the house? Think you’re the boss? Then get on your knees like a slave, like the Son of God, and start washing your family’s feet. This is not a chance to talk about your happiness and your freedom, as if you were the center of attention. This is a chance to decrease so that your wife and children might increase. This is your chance to lay down your life. And this is why Catholic fatherhood is frightening. But it’s also why fatherhood is so important, and why we need to showcase it to a world that’s forgotten what a dad is for.
Headship is not a license to use or abuse. Headship is a crown of bloody thorns. You are the head of the household, as Christ is the head of the Church, and that means you get to wear a crown of thorns.
This crown is what dadness is all about. The Catholic dad is called to be an oblation, a self-donation, a living sacrifice. Your vocation is to suffer—as a husband, as a father, as a Catholic. And that’s a good thing. He who would seek to save his life will only lose it, but he who gives up his life will find it. Fatherhood is your Cross.
Dads, Jesus is looking you in the eye and saying: “Follow me.”
The only question is, will you pick up your Cross?