It has been my practice for some years when meeting with parents in preparation for the Baptism of their child to ask the father to give me a word or two that describes the experience of the birth of his child. I have heard many responses yet one that stays with me is of a young new dad when he thoughtfully responded, “There are no words”. Inevitably parents are overwhelmed by the miracle of the birth of their baby.
In recent times, the relationship a child has with a father has been the focus of much debate and research. In earlier years not much attention was paid to a father’s role in parenting; usually the mother’s role was considered primary. Today it is more clearly understood that both parents hold a unique and crucial role in parenting a child. The complimentarity of each role seems to be understood more clearly. It is not “either – or” rather “both – and”. Research seems to verify that each parent has a particular influence in shaping a child’s values and choices.
For example, it is thought that a child whose Dad is involved, playful, nurturing will enter school with a higher IQ and learning readiness. Involved fathers, playful and nurturing will have children with greater emotional development and higher tolerance to stress and are less prone to depression and anxiety. And as a child’s mother and father interact in the raising of their child, the deepest and perhaps most long-lasting impact on a child is offered.
Research as well as common sense confirms that as a father shows loving respect and care for his wife, he is teaching the child – modeling behavior – of how men appropriately respect women. Furthermore, as spouses create an authentic loving environment for the home, this more than anything has profound positive influence of the development of a healthy child.
In the daily life of many children, however, Dads may not be present. I think about recent deaths of police officers and firefighters whose children will grow up fatherless. And for whatever other reason, single Moms are raising a child alone. We recognize the extra challenges they face and this, in itself, is good reason to ask how a parish and community can be especially responsive to the needs of such families.
In our community of Charlestown, the norm seems to be that in one or two parent families parents are working and often working a lot! Families have less time to share as a family unit than ever before. It seems that modern telecommunication devices are allowing more communication between individuals and, at the same time, diminishing the time people spend together. In one sense, this piece of research confirms what every family in Charlestown knows: everyone is too busy to get together. Especially families – it is rare to find the time when everyone in a family is able to sit down to a meal together. Add to this reality, the importance of a father in a child’s life and that many fathers work 60+ hours a week.
It is not easy to set priorities and for a family to chose to forego some things in order to have time for more important things. The pressures to earn, multiplied in this difficult economy, and to gain security for self and family can make family life especially stressful. I know many Dads who push themselves hard to earn money and feel they are making this sacrifice for their family. Searching for balance is difficult yet not seeking and finding balance for the sake of the family might be very costly.
On this Fathers’ Day, perhaps we all can pause to thank God for the gift of our fathers, living and deceased. And maybe that is not enough. Maybe we need to ask, within our families and our parish and community, what we can do, concretely, to appreciate the role of the father in a family and household. And when a father is absent from a family, in what ways can our parish community be especially supportive.
In God’s mysterious plan for us all, we are born into a family. There is no such thing as a perfect father or family. And yet, there is the possibility that we can work each day to appreciate and support our family and all families.