He’s Daddy, Pop, Dad, Old Man, Papa: ages and stages of fatherhood

Father’s Day is Sunday, June 15. Below three men at different phases of parenthood—a new dad, a father of five and a grandfather of 10—share their perspective on the vocation of fatherhood, and what it means to them.

James Murphy and his 2-month old son Casey, last October during Casey's recovery from open heart surgery.

James Murphy and his 2-month old son Casey, last October during Casey’s recovery from open heart surgery.

Love on the spot
When his son Casey arrived in the world last August, James Murphy, 38, was introduced to a new kind of love: instant.

“You have other relationships in your life but none as instantaneous or concrete as with a child,” he said. “It happens instantly, the first time you see them.”

He and wife Tracy were overjoyed to meet Casey after more than three years of trying to get pregnant and grieving the loss of a child to miscarriage.

“The first couple of days were amazing,” he recalled. Then after they had been home from the hospital for just three days, Murphy noticed that the skin covering Casey’s feet seemed “really tight,” swollen. Not wanting to take any chances, they called the pediatrician. Ultimately doctors diagnosed a serious problem: a congenital heart defect.

“‘Someone Upstairs’ was really telling us (to pay attention),” Murphy said.

Days later, Casey had a five-hour open heart surgery to repair coarctation, or narrowing, of his aorta.

“I’d just met him 10 days earlier, but couldn’t imagine not having him in my life,” Murphy said. “You’re 100 percent attached, it’s an amazing experience.”

Casey’s heart was repaired and he made a complete recovery. Murphy, who works as a sales engineer, is grateful every day.

“No matter how bad a day I’ve had,” he said, “I come home and he’s smiling and reaching for me.”

Murphy, a parishioner of St. Catherine of Siena Parish, takes the obligation to raise Casey in the faith seriously.

“The best way I can do that is to lead by example,” he said. “It’s very important and it’s what we ‘signed up for’ when we became parents.”

When asked about advice for new fathers, Murphy responded without hesitation: “Marry the right woman.”

“It’s amazing what mothers do,” he continued. “It doesn’t always come as naturally for fathers. Dads don’t always do everything right. Take the lead from your wife.”

The Paredes family, from left: Jorge Luis, dad Jorge, Francisco, mom Viviana, Mariana, Juan Pablo and Alejandro.

The Paredes family, from left: Jorge Luis, dad Jorge, Francisco, mom Viviana, Mariana, Juan Pablo and Alejandro.

Love compounded
Before Jorge Paredes, 45, became a father he imagined what it might look like: changing diapers, taking his children to school or to Mass, doing homework together. With the birth of each of his five children—now ages 14, 12, 8, 5 and 3—with his wife, Viviana, another picture became clear.

“Fatherhood has definitely changed the way I appreciate life … but most importantly, my capability to grow and love,” Paredes said. “With each new child I feel that it is not possible to divide my heart in more pieces to share my love, but instead I feel that my heart expands and is capable to love more and more.”

To be a father, he said, means to love and shape children in a way that they can become the men and women the Lord wants them to be.

“My children are a great blessing, however sooner or later they will leave the house and we as parents won’t be present all the time to give them advice, a word of encouragement or support,” he said. “For that reason it is very important for them to develop a personal relationship with God and teach them that God has a special plan for them.

“That provides better chances for them to make wise decisions in the future.”

To help pass on the faith, Paredes, who heads up a visual communications firm, leads his family in spiritual reading, such as a children’s Bible or lives of the saints; and in prayer before meals, in the car, and at night in “the prayer room.”

“There we give thanks to the Lord, we sing, we ask for our needs, for forgiveness and finally we share a big hug of peace, as a symbol of unity and forgiveness,” he said. “I hope they treasure these special moments and understand how important it is to invite God into our home and our lives.”

When it comes to the roles of husband and father, he feels comfortable and proud, and at the same time it’s demanding and calls for great responsibility.

“The Lord provides his grace, peace and guidance to become a good father,” he said.

Deacon Brian Kerby, center, with his wife Dee, at Christ the King Church in Evergreen on the silver anniversary of his diaconate May 25 with his four grown children, their spouses, and his 10 grandchildren.

Deacon Brian Kerby, center, with his wife Dee, at Christ the King Church in Evergreen on the silver anniversary of his diaconate May 25 with his four grown children, their spouses, and his 10 grandchildren.

Love that elevates
Deacon Brian Kerby’s grandchildren don’t call him “Grandpa,” they call him “Papa.”

“There’s an intimacy with ‘Papa,'” said Deacon Kerby, 60, a deacon at Christ the King Church in Evergreen who celebrated his 25th anniversary in the diaconate last week. “I call God the Father ‘Papa.’ To me it’s a very intimate relationship … everything the Church does and teaches is about relationship.”

As father of four grown children with his wife of 39 years, Dee—and now grandfather of 10 and one on the way—he has worked to reinforce that lesson in his family.

“I teach them how to have a personal relationship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” he said. “And when you do that, amazing things come out of your life. I teach that to the grandkids all the time.”

The family prays together and he explains what’s going on during Mass to them, particularly to his two grandchildren that are now altar servers.

And since he is a papa, he also spends his fair share of time playing.

“My favorite thing is the look in the kids’ eyes when they drive up to the house,” he said. “They’re jumping up and down, so excited to see us—then they say: ‘Papa, can we wrestle now?'”

He’s happy to oblige.

Deacon Kerby feels fortunate to be a father and grandfather, in particular in his role as the family’s spiritual leader.

“Let kids live it, and be alive with their faith,” he said. “I am a very lucky man that all my kids practice their faith.”

When asked about advice to help fathers as spiritual leaders, he said: “Don’t preach (the faith), just live it. Be it. Everything comes out of your relationship with God. When you live it, you will leak it.”

“The single most important thing I can give my kids and my grandkids—and back to the Church, the laity and the faithful,” he said, “is doing whatever I can do to get them into the kingdom.”

COMING UP: Father and son, deacon and priest: Deacon dads and priest sons share special bond as both serve God’s people

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The bond between a father and son is one of God’s greatest designs; however, when father and son are both called to serve the Church as deacon and priest, that bond takes on a whole new meaning. Just ask these two dads and their sons, all of whom answered the call to serve the people of God at the altar.

Deacon Michael Magee serves at Our Lady of Loreto Parish in Foxfield, while his son Father Matthew Magee has worked as the priest secretary to Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila for the past several years and will soon be moved to a new assignment as parochial vicar at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Boulder. Deacon Darrell Nepil serves at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver, and his son, Father John Nepil, served at several parishes within the archdiocese before his current assignment as a professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.

However different their journeys may have been, all four have something in common; mainly, that far from seeing their vocations as a reward from God, they have received them as an uncommon gift of grace that has blessed their families and individual relationships with each other abundantly, knowing that God acts in different ways to help us all get to Heaven.

Interwoven journeys

Deacon Michael Magee was ordained in May 2009, at the end of Father Matt’s first year of seminary. Little did they know that God would use both of their callings to encourage each other along the journey.

Deacon Michael’s journey began when a man from his parish was ordained a deacon.

“I simply felt like God was calling me to do something more than I was doing at the present time,” he said. “I had been volunteering for a number of different things and was involved in some ministry activities and in the Knights of Columbus. And I thought the idea of being a deacon would be simply another activity for which I could volunteer.”

He didn’t know what it entailed at the time. In fact, he believed it was something a man could simply sign up for. To his surprise, the diaconate was more serious – and it required five years of formation and discernment. Yet he was so drawn to it, that he decided to do it anyway. But as he learned more about the nature of the diaconate during his formation, he became more nervous and unsure about whether God was really calling him to that vocation. 

While his doubts remained all the way up to his ordination, Deacon Michael was faithful to his studies, trusting that God would lead him in the right path. 

And God did — through the calling of his own son to the priesthood.

Deacon Michael didn’t realize that his son Matthew had paid close attention to his father’s faith journey and had found in it a light that gave him courage to discern the priesthood.

Father Matthew Magee (left) and his dad, Deacon Michael Magee (right), were both encouraging to one another as they each pursued their respective vocations. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

“Seeing my dad, as a father, growing in his relationship with the Lord was really influential for me on my own desire to follow Christ,” said Father Matt. “Looking at his courage to discern his own vocation and follow God’s plan in his life gave me the strength and courage to be open to the same thing in my life… He played a very important role, whether he knew it or not at the time, and whether I knew it or not at the time.”

On the other hand, Father Matt didn’t know that his dad was in turn encouraged by his own response to God’s calling. 

“As I went through all those doubts, I watched Matthew’s journey in seminary and listened to how he was dealing with that in his life. And, as he just articulated very well, I also saw those same qualities in him,” Deacon Michael said. “Seeing a young man in his 20s willing to consider following God for the rest of his life also gave me the courage to continue on in my own journey, to see it through.”

God’s way of uplifting them in their vocations through each other’s journey is something they are very grateful for. 

This unusual grace impacted Father Matt during his first Mass, when his dad, as deacon, approached him before the Gospel reading and asked for the traditional blessing by calling him “father.”

“It was a really special moment for me. He’s certainly my biological father and raised me. But then there’s something different when we’re at the altar in a clerical capacity — there’s a strange reversal of roles when we’re giving spiritual nourishment to the people — a father asks the new father for the blessing,” he said.

In both of their vocations, Deacon Michael and Father Matt see God’s Providence and the unique plan he has for all of us.

“We all have a vocation, even if it’s something we may not expect,” Deacon Michael concluded. “You may feel anxiety or worry about what it’s going to look like, but trust in God. He will take care of things as he always does.”

A bribe for Heaven

For Deacon Darell and Father John Nepil, the journey was different, but not any less providential.

While he grew up Catholic, Father John wasn’t interested in setting foot on any Church activity during his teenage years. His saving grace was perhaps what many parents have to do to get their teenagers to Church: bribe them.

“His mom and I basically bribed him to go to the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference,” Deacon Darell said with a laugh. “He didn’t want to go, but we’d heard so many good things about it, that we said, ‘We’re going to make this happen, whatever it takes.’”

So the Nepils came up with a creative idea.

“He owed me some money for a uniform that he had needed for a job in the summer. So, I said, ‘Listen, if you go to the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference, I’ll forgive your debt. And he did, he and his brother went. And John especially came back a different boy. He literally was converted with a lightning bolt at that retreat.”

To this day, Father John marks his conversion to Christ from the summer before his senior year in high school when he attended that conference. 

As it happens with stories worth telling, the details of how much money he owed his father have varied over the years, and it’s a matter of debate among them, but Father John remembers it was close to $500.

“That’s subject to each one,” Father John said laughingly. “But what matters is that they offered to forgive my debt if I went to this retreat – it was money well spent.”

Besides this important event, Father John said that his dad influenced him in many ways by the simple fact of who he was as a father.

“My dad’s faith and moral character were a rock for me during some difficult teenage years,” he said. “He’s a great example of a man who was always faithful and lived a really outstanding moral life, but then as he deepened in love with Christ, he decided to give of himself in a more profound service.”

Father John Nepil (left) and Deacon Darrell Nepil (right) both had rather roundabout ways to their respective vocations, but they both say serving God’s people together as brothers in Holy Orders is a great joy. (Photo provided)

Besides his desire to serve and follow God, the seed that would eventually lead Deacon Darell to the diaconate was planted by a coworker, who would also take holy orders: Deacon Joe Donohoe.

“One day he said to me, ‘You should be a deacon.’ And, of course, I laughed at him and said, ‘I don’t have time for that. My life is too busy.’ But it only took him to suggest it for the idea to keep coming back to my head, and God kept nudging me. Eventually I decided I really wanted to do that,” Deacon Darell said.

The ability to share at the altar during the Mass has deepened the natural relationship of father and son and given Deacon Darell and Father John new opportunities to grow closer to God. 

One of the most meaningful times came when Deacon Darell had a massive stroke in 2018. While he was in the hospital, Father John was able to visit and celebrate Mass at his bed and pray the rosary with him every day, as he had come back from Rome and was working on his dissertation.

“It was probably the most privileged and intimate time I’ve ever had with my father,” Father John said. “It was an amazing gift that really changed our relationship.”

“I feel like that’s a huge reason why I healed and why I am here today,” Deacon Darell added.

“It’s a real gift to have my dad as a deacon and a brother. It’s a tremendous honor. It’s one of the great joys of my life.” Father John concluded. “That’s really what has bonded our relationship together: the sheer desire to serve Jesus, especially in holy orders.”