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.