Monday, January 3, 2011

I Don't Know How to be a Dad!

It's easy loving babies - I do that extremely well. It's a gift. Youngsters - I just find it so easy to gush. But older children, adolescents, etc., that, to me, seems to offer a far greater challenge: giving advice, not theoretical, but practical, moral advice. I am an academic, so the theory is fine; I hate b.s., so practical advice has to fully convince me before I can pass it on. But I have not experienced everything my kids will or are currently experiencing. I won't tolerate platitudes and silliness, though, when it comes to the arch-importance of guiding my children. I experience the same sort of taciturnity in the classroom. I don't pretend to be certain about what I'm not.

I loved and adored my father, but he was slow on the advice-giving. Obviously he cared a great deal for veracity too, and wasn't content with passing off folk-wisdom without having arrived at apodictic certainty. But his hesitancy, sparked probably more than anything by uncertainty in himself, cost me a great deal, and in no way more significantly than a model to emulate today. He didn't exactly recognize an objective moral code, at least one with mosaic specificity, but that wasn't why he advised so little. The tragedy of secularism. Yet there exists, contrarily, the error of over-certainty, the pharisaism that infects even (or especially?) convicted Catholics. In any case, how to guide another soul in these life issues is no easy thing. I feel it heavily.

It's about connecting with another in an intimate manner. We sign on to this form of discipline when we become parents, whether we know it or not. Bearing one's soul to another does not come easy to us all. It is a good thing when one has become able to do so with one's spouse, but what about to some extent with one's own children? Some adults cannot confide or be self-revealing with anyone - those people should definitely talk to a professional, because this is a form of imprisonment. Being open with my children emotionally, becoming a mentor, or spiritual father, is not easy, but I will put myself into it because the cost of failing to do it is unimaginably high. Yes, I am a theology professor, but I am hesitant in claiming any moral authority. I know I have it; I know I have signed on for it when I accepted this professorship, but I consider these big shoes to fill. I am heartened by what one of my friends said about me in her post. She described me as: wise, easy-going and tell-it-like-it-is friend. I'll accept the friend part, but the wise part? The only thing wise about me is that I appreciate how great the task of spiritual and moral mentoring is.

At one time I considered being a priest, sometimes I think about the diaconate, but never have I thought about becoming a spiritual director - although this seems implicit in the other two vocations. I guess I never thought about the heavy element of this in fatherhood, or maybe when it crossed my mind I was young, naive, and far more self-assured.

In the case of my father, God gave me that circumstance so that I might recognize how important overt guidance is. Fathers are too quick to settle for the strong, silent kind of guidance. I don't believe it's sufficient. Again, some fathers are know-it-alls, but I think the former one is our more common fault.

Please, pray for me!


  1. I was serious when I called you wise. Perhaps your wisdom comes from your humility, in acknowledging that you still have lots of room for improvement. Sounds kind of Socratic to me...

    I know exactly what you mean about over-convinced Catholics when it comes to parenting. I experienced such a dearth of that even when I was still engaged; people taking me under their wing to 'mentor' me. It was all a little freaky.

  2. I know you were serious - that's why you are so sweet!

    As for Socrates, I love telling my students that I am their midwife... they think it's kind of freaky.

  3. I don't know anything about socrates except for the socratic questioning thing. but, you do know how to be a father, Colin. you seem to be doing a darn fine job and will continue to do so. and, not trying to sound platitudinous (word?), but AM will show you how: her own motherhood will call out the fatherhood in you. you do wonderfully with little ones and why worry about the next stage? you're not there yet and therefore have no grace to be there. you'll have it when you need it because you are humble and pray before the blessed sacrament late at night. i think that God notices these things. i had a really long comment about my own dad written but i won't post it. the essence of it was that my dad is a man that has battled depression all his life as well as difficulties in social situations. few people know the hidden gem that he is. (I think that he is holy, really, I do.) and , he is a fabulous father and came through at all the right times and still does. what did he do? he always (any hour) listened, he was 'overly' strict, he was always interested in what interested us and he prayed and fasted (more than I will ever know). My point? his personality, his complete unreadiness for fatherhood and his life experiences set him up for failure but his reliance on the Lord made him a holy father. and he ran, a lot...hee, hee.

  4. one more thing: your heart aches for your children and their well being. that is everything.

  5. thanks Elena. My dad, I realize, must have suffered from depression too, covered up by, or treated with alcohol. I appreciate absolutely everything he did for me, though. I, yes, just ache for their wellbeing. All of this is worry about Isaiah still. I hate everyone who is not Isaiah. :(

  6. I've been thinking about this post since I read it yesterday. I think that men have it harder than women when it comes to parenting. We women have the benefit of hormones, intuition, and our inborn tendency to nurture, even if we have to work at honing the latter. Men on the other hand, are pretty much left to their own devices and the grace of God to guide and instruct their children. The greatest gift you can give your kids, moms or dads, is the gift of presence. That will go further than just about anything. Presence helps to build a relationship, day in , day out, and when the opportunities to instruct and guide present themselves, the foundation will already be laid. My two cents.

    I really like what Elena said about having the grace for the children you have at the ages that they are at now. God indeed gives the grace and wisdom for the present moment, and not for five/ten years down the road.

  7. Sue, I think that we should all heed your advice as you are years ahead of the rest of us in parenting. Plus, we all love Bethany. I also remember Archbishop Gervais saying that a child knows its mother and is known to its mother just by virtue of pregnancy and birth while a father must reveal himself to his children. A mother helps by presenting the child to him and encouraging him by her own motherhood to better reveal who he is to his children. That thought has remained with me for years.

  8. Gee thanks Elena :). I'm glad we can share Bethany - she is a very special young lady.

    I have to be honest though, the presence thing does not always come easily. Some days I'd much rather "do" something for one of the kids than sit and listen, or play the umpteenth game of whatever. I keep telling myself I'm putting deposits in their love banks in whatever way they need.

    Great thoughts from the Archbishop, and pretty accurate I'd say.

  9. I am looking forward to having Bethany in my classes next year, she seems like a nice kid.

    I think Sue is right about the time thing. I feel close to my kids, and I know it's because of the time we put in, so that's good thing.