To be like our Father, we must be heroic fathers.
Like far too many men, I do not have a heroic father to look to. My dad tried his best, I think. And that, in and of itself, is heroic. In some ways, I’ve modeled my own fathering after him. I cannot count the number of times my mom told me that my dad was “doing the best he could” and “he’s a lot better father than his own father was.” And I tell myself that often about my own fathering. But just being better than my father was isn’t being a heroic father.
I’ve written about the dark night of my life before. After I came out of that, married She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, swam the tiber and finally started to dive deep into this ancient dance of love with our God, I began to realize that I was having trouble connecting to the whole Abba, father, dad God thing. I treated my wife terribly. And I was angry with my children. I knew there had to be a better way. This wasn’t the man I wanted to be. But I didn’t know where to turn.
It isn’t always easy to be a faithful Catholic man. Sometimes we feel alone. But our children deserve a pillar of a man to look up to, a heroic father. So I asked my friends from all walks of life what they believed heroic fatherhood looked like by posting this video on my Facebook page. I started to read what the Church has to say about fatherhood. I dove into Bishop Olmstead’s apostolic exhortation Into the Breach.
With all of that reading, listening, and talking, I’ve come up with what I think is a useful list of traits. I try to embody these traits and I think y’all should, too. If you think I’m on point, go ahead and share this post on Facebook, Twitter or even email so others can benefit.
Men, especially Catholic men, who want to be heroic fathers, should:
- Love their children’s mother steadfastly;
- Be weird because the saints are weird, the Church is weird and God is weird;
- Willingly and repeatedly sacrifice their time, bodies and dreams for the sakes of the children’s moral and spiritual education (Gravissimum Educationis, 2022);
- Be thoroughly able to defend – violently if needed – themselves and their families (Evangelium Vitae (25 March 1995) | John Paul II, 1995); and
- Usually reserve themselves from engaging in violence (Confronting a Culture of Violence: A Catholic Framework for Action, 2017).
To love the children fully, you must love their mother.
Yes, I know, there are a million fractured homes out there. I’m not saying that you’re intrinsically horrible person if you aren’t married to your children’s mother. I am saying, though, that you need to love her, regardless. And I’m talking about Christian love. Sacrificial love. When St. Paul tells our wives to be subordinate to us, many people stop there (either in anger or triumph). But read on. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Chapter 5, Verses 25-33 (Douay-Rheims):
(25) Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church, and delivered himself up for it: (26) That he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life: (27) That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish. (28) So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife, loveth himself. (29) For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, as also Christ doth the church: (30) Because we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
(31) For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. (32) This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the church. (33) Nevertheless let every one of you in particular love his wife as himself: and let the wife fear her husband.
How did (and does) Christ love the church? By teaching, and guiding, and commanding…sure. But ultimately by laying down his life and giving every last ounce of his mortal and divine being for our salvation. If we want to be heroic fathers and lead our children, we need to give everything we have to their mothers. That’s it. There’s no choice here, men. We must.
Do we fail? Yeaup. I fail at least weekly. But even Christ fell on his way to his sacrifice. You will, too. Get back up. Sometimes we need a stranger’s help. Or we need to look to our mother – or Our Mother. Perhaps our wives sometimes gracefully hand us a cloth to wipe the grime of the world off our faces and encourage us to get back up. But. We. Get. Back. Up.
And love like there’s no tomorrow. Because there might not be.
If the world is normal, don’t be afraid to be weird. God is.
God spoke as a wrestler, a burning bush, through a donkey, through prophets that didn’t want to acknowledge him and through a wildman who wore camel hair. I love God. He’s awesome. But if you can’t admit that those are weird, we need to talk.
So it is no surprise that his Church is weird, too. Alexandrian, Armenian, Byzantine, Chaldean, Latin (Roman), Maronite and Syriac rites are exhibits A-G. But it doesn’t end there. The risen God in the accidents of bread and wine. Incense. Bones of really cool brothers and sisters inside our altars. Kissing feet. Special municipal laws allowing our priests to have a sink that runs straight into the ground, instead of the sewer.
And the saints that are produced by that same Church? They fly, have stigmata, heal tumors, appear in two places at once and encounter apparitions of Our Mother. Some of them live weirdly normal lives. Some live extraordinarily outrageous lives.
So be weird. Go to daily Mass when you can. Go to Adoration. Get your kids to pray the Rosary with you. Purposefully chose your family over the world. Pick your wife up from work and surprise her with fries and a shake. Or come home early and send her out with her best friend. Pray all the time. Pray all the time. Do it. Pray all the time.
Your job, after serving the Lord and dying for your wife, is to get your midgets into Heaven.
Heroic fathers teach, teach their children well. That means making sure they learn the faith. Bring them to the summit (the Mass) every week. At least every week. If their school is pulling them away, do something about it. Catholic school isn’t available for everyone. And homeschooling doesn’t work for every family. But something can be done.
We’re homeschooling most of our kids, but one of them is going to a private non-denominational Christian school. Because of the Protestant-centric education she will be getting there to at least some degree, I’m working on an after-school Catholic program for the dads who want to be heroic, but can’t put their kids in a good Catholic school, or homeschool them. Check back later, please. It’ll be awesome.
Make sure they know you love them as they are and as they will be. Wrestle with them, go on walks, hug them, bless them, pray with them, love them. They need to know that a man can love deeply.
And they need to know that a man will defend fiercely.
My dad was a championship wrestler. He could handle himself in a fight. I assume. But I can’t recall a single time I ran to him because I was afraid: of a bully; of a bee; of anything. My grandpa (maternal), on the other hand, once sat at the top of his driveway with a shotgun at his feet, two dogs on each side and a baseball bat in his hand as some local rednecks came up the driveway, looking for my then teenaged uncle. Granted, I’ve heard the rest of the story since, and their anger was righteous towards my uncle. But that’s not the point. My mom’s sisters and brothers knew that their dad would defend them always and no matter what.
My children know the same thing. To such a degree that my oldest daughter once complained that no boys in town would want to date her because they were all afraid of me. While that isn’t quite true, I told her that some boy will be afraid of me and still want to date her. And a boy that wants to date her despite being afraid of me is a boy who is at least worthy of considering for marriage.
But being willing to physically defend them is not good enough. You need to be able to. To that end, every man can be better prepared. And, as this column grows, I will be sharing ways to do that (because, if you remember, I’m also a strength coach). But in the meantime, start going to the gym. Live longer. Live stronger. Treat your body right. It is the only chance you have to do it right.
With me, violence is always hinted at in the background.
But it is never actually on the menu.
I’ve been in countless fights in my life. Some for fun, some for competition, some to defend the innocent, some because I was backed into a corner and had to fight my way out and some because I was running my mouth. But I haven’t been in any at all since shortly before I was received into the Church. And even that one fell squarely into the “defending the innocent” category.
But, as I’ve said before, you must always be willing to fight to kill. I don’t say that in a macho kind of way, or in a strategic way. I say that in a cautionary way. Let’s say you punch a guy in the face because he was kicking a puppy. Little did you know that this puppy kicker had a really bad day and always carries a knife. If he turns on you with his knife drawn and backs you into a corner, what are you going to do? You are now in a potentially fatal fight that might not end until one of you is dead. Are you willing to die – or kill – over a puppy getting kicked? Perhaps you are. But if you’re not, you should probably use the shadow of violence as a tool that stands behind your words instead.
And for heroic fathers, this means letting your kids see you exercise this restraint. Obviously they shouldn’t be around violence or near-violence as a matter of course. But the implied violence that is often behind righteous anger can and should be reeled in right in front of them. They need to see that their father is willing to defend the innocent and the righteous, but also that he values human life more than any of that.
Go forth and be heroic.
Your sons and daughters deserve heroes. Be that hero.