Fathers, You Are Teachers

Dr. Jared Staudt, PhD, serves as the catechetical formation specialist for the Office of Evangelization and Family Life Ministries.

As dads we want our kids to be happy. We want them to be healthy, successful, and to have fulfilling relationships. But don’t we want more than that? More than anything else, we can help our kids to find a deeper and lasting happiness in coming to know Jesus and living a life with and through Him.

Fathers have more influence on the faith life of their children than anyone else—more than mothers, grandparents, teachers, and the parish priest. Studies have shown that if fathers do not practice the faith, children are very unlikely to do so in adulthood. If fathers do, children are more likely than not to attend church in the future. Fathers are called to lead their families in the faith and to provide a model of the Christian life for their children.

As fathers we are called to be the teachers of our children, primarily by providing an example for them. Parents are the primary educators of their children and this includes education in the faith. Fathers have to take a central role in this education, because, as we’ve seen, they’re so crucial in the religious formation of their kids.

There are a few things we can do as dads to be effective teachers. First of all, we need put God first, especially by prioritizing Sunday Mass. Everything else should be built around that central moment of the week. It speaks volumes when sports, recreation, and work fit in after worship and not before it. Making Sunday a special day also creates space for just for being together as a family and having the leisure to be active outside, play games, talk together, have a bigger dinner, and enjoy each other’s company.

Throughout the rest of the week, we continue to put God first by praying every day. Our kids need to be taught how to pray. It may be simple, but it’s not necessarily intuitive. It’s good to teach some of the simple devotions like the Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet, and the Stations of the Cross, but we also should help our kids to learn deeper prayer as well. Reading the Bible through lectio divina is an important way to learn how to pray. In lectio, we read a short passage of the Bible, where we listen to God’s voice. Then we think about it, trying to understand what God is saying to us in the passage. We speak back to God in prayer, responding to what we heard. Then we sit with God in silence, seeking union with Him and listening to His voice in our hearts. It’s a conversation with God and a two way street where we’re listening and responding.

Teaching our kids how to pray may be one of the most important things we do, but we have to do active things with them as well. James Stenson has noted that our kids don’t usually see us work, but only during our down time. It’s important to for our kids to see us at our best, by drawing them into our strengths and skills when possible, but also but working on family projects together. This is not just a matter of teaching them skills, but teaching them the art of life. We have to guide them through challenging tasks, model how to respond to mistakes, and establish common purposes and goals for the family.

The art of life includes prayer, work, character formation, and learning how to be strong in the face of difficulties. Right now one of the key challenges we face in the family is technology. Here we have to lead by example here as well. How can we be moderate in the use of technology, not allowing it to dominate us, but rather using it as a useful tool? Emphasizing prayer and family time over technology makes an important statement about priorities. Limiting technology is a major task for fathers today and a key aspect of our role as teachers.

Overall, our kids look to us to teach them what’s really important. Our actions teach them and guide them in the faith and prepare them for the adventure of life.

COMING UP: One year of fatherhood: a reflection

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It was on a day much like today, just over a year ago, that I became a daddy. I’ll spare you the finer details, but let’s just say that my wife woke up around midnight to a huge contraction, and five hours later, I was holding my beautiful baby girl in my arms, wondering what in the world just happened.

I remember the lead up into parenthood very well. The day my wife and I found out we were having a baby was a joyous day, indeed. We waited eagerly for the pregnancy test to give us the news we were hoping for, much like a teenager asking a magic eight-ball if their crush likes them, and when it flashed positive, fighting back the tears of joy was a futile attempt.

The nine months that ensued were quite an adventure. As our daughter’s nanny-nook came to fruition and pockets of pink permeated every cranny of our little one-bedroom apartment, parenthood was no longer just a far-off fantasy we had both dreamed of; it was becoming very real, and fast.

Fast forward to now, and honestly, this past year feels like a blur. I can hardly remember the time when my daughter weighed less than fifteen pounds and didn’t zip around the living room floor like Speedy Gonzales, and I reminisce about the times when I would set her down and she would stay put, as opposed to now, when I have to make sure our dog’s food dish is out of her reach, lest she decide to gorge herself on its contents.

Sure, fatherhood has brought some challenges with it. As it turns out, bringing a little human into the world who is 100% dependent upon you for literally everything sucks up all of your free time. Not only that, stalking your child around the house to make sure they don’t get into things they’re not supposed to could be a professional sport. However, I’ve also gained a lot of new skills along the way, such as Spider Man-like reflexes and the ability to change a dirty diaper in ten seconds flat.

Despite the ups and downs being a dad brings, one thing’s for sure: fatherhood brings me more joy than any words I muster could ever portray.

The Lord calls each of us to different vocations, and he reassures me every morning that I’m right where I’m supposed to be when I’m greeted with the prettiest smile you ever did see and a look that could turn even the most stone-cold of men into a pile of mush. My daughter is an ever-present reminder of God’s love for me, and more importantly, of the covenant I made with my wife on our wedding day. The fact that God would use our love to create such a beautiful, perfect embodiment of his grace continually blows my mind.

I am far from the perfect dad. I fall short every single day, and I’m constantly in need of an extra dose of grace. As my daughter grows older, it’s inevitable that she’ll begin to realize that I’m not all I’m cracked up to be, and that daddy is a flawed and broken man. My deepest prayer is that I might be able to show Christ to her by living the faith to the best of my ability and simply teaching her how to love others as Christ loves us.

Throughout my first year of fatherhood, there are two things I’ve learned that stick out the most to me. First, if there’s one thing a new parent can do within the first year, it’s make a conscious effort to truly enjoy every moment they have with their new little one. It is such a gift to witness the genuine innocence and curiosity a baby has day in and day out, and this past year has been proof for me that time is fleeting. The nice thing, though, is that each new moment tends to bring even more joy than the one before it.

The second thing is to remember that it takes two to raise a child, and that teamwork between you and your spouse is of the utmost importance. As such, don’t neglect giving your spouse the attention they need as well. As new parents, it’s very easy to be consumed with showering your little one with all of your attention, which is not a bad thing, but remember the intense exchange of love between you and your spouse that God used to craft that beautiful little life, and continue to foster and nurture that love. After all, marriage is the sacrament; creating new life is merely a byproduct of that grace.

Oh, and one more piece of advice for dads specifically: if, like me, you have a daughter, don’t fight the inevitable wrapping around of her finger that you’ll experience. Try as you may to not let her voodoo powers get to you, the first time she utters the word “dada,” you’ll be done. I promise you that.