Catholic Activity: How to be a Good Father
The father's role in our modern society has dwindled to almost nothing. But as a Christian the father's role is important in molding and giving example to his children, especially to his sons.
Probably nobody denies that the typical father exercises less authority in his home today than at any time in history. Reasons for this decline probably are of no interest or help in the present discussion; but the effect of it cannot be overlooked. For evidence accumulated by psychiatrists, social workers and similar experts proves unmistakably that when children lack a strong father to guide them, they suffer serious damage in many important ways. Consider these facts:
There is a startling growth in homosexual tendencies among the young, and most authorities agree that the boy who develops feminine characteristics usually has had unsatisfactory relations with his father in one or several important respects. Increases in juvenile delinquency — a headlined trend in every part of the country — are also due to the weak position of the father; the lack of an affectionate and understanding relationship between father and son is a prevalent characteristic in the background of boys charged with criminal offenses. Many authorities also blame the shocking rates of divorce and marriage breakdowns to this cause. The fathers of those who cannot succeed in marriage often never gave their children a realistic example of how a man should live with his wife in this relationship.
The importance of the father as an example of manhood to his son and daughter probably cannot be overestimated. For example, one day your son may marry and have a family. To be a successful father, he should know how to train his children; how to treat his wife and their mother in their presence; what to discuss with them about his work; how to show them manual skills, such as repairing a chair or painting furniture; how to perform in countless other important areas. The best way to learn how to act as a father is to observe one in action.
What ideals will he display as husband and father? To a large extent, that answer will depend upon those he has learned from you, his father, in your own home. What part will he play in the religious education of his children? The answer will largely depend upon whether you have led the family to Mass each Sunday, whether you say grace before meals in your home, whether you take an active part in the spiritual life of your parish. How should he act toward his wife — aloof, affectionate, domineering, docile? Here too the answer will mainly depend upon your example.
The adage, "Like father, like son," is firmly based on fact. No matter how much he may resist your influence, your son will be like you in many different ways. If your influence is wholesome, the effect upon him will be wholesome. If you are a bad father, you will almost surely corrupt him in some significant way. Remember also that you represent God before your child because you are — or should be — the figure of authority in your home. He will be taught that he can always depend upon the mercy and goodness of the eternal Father; but it will be difficult for him to grasp the full importance of that teaching if he cannot rely upon the goodness of his earthly father.
It has been said that, in addition to giving wholesome example, a good father follows four fundamental rules in his dealing with his children. First, he shows himself to be truly and sincerely interested in their welfare. Secondly, he accepts each child for what he is, and encourages any special talent which the youngster possesses. Thirdly, he takes an active part in disciplining his children. And finally, he keeps lines of communication open with them at all times. Each of these rules is worth detailed consideration, because the typical American father often ignores one or more of them.
1. Show an interest in your child's welfare. You can do this by devoting time to him, every day if possible. Try to discuss with him his experiences, problems, successes and failures. By giving yourself to him in this intimate way, you give him the feeling that he can always depend upon you to understand and help him in his difficulties. In a large family, it is especially important that you find time for intimate moments with each child. Every youngster should know that his father is interested in him as an individual, and is sympathetic with him and devoted to his welfare.
Modern fathers may find it more difficult to make their children an intimate part of their lives than did men of a few generations ago. Today's fathers often work many miles away from home. They leave for their jobs early in the morning and do not return until late in the evening, perhaps after the children are in bed. Unlike the men of an earlier age who often worked close to their homes, today's fathers may seldom see their youngsters during the week. To offset this condition, they should try to devote as much of their week ends to them as possible. This does not mean that you should be a "pal" to your children or that you must act like a juvenile, when aging bones may not permit this. But at family gatherings, picnics, trips to the ball park or even visits to the school, you are sharing leisure moments with them.
2. Accept your child and encourage his talents. One man hoped for a son, and found it impossible to conceal his disappointment when a girl was born. He now spends much time trying to inculcate masculine virtues in her and berates her constantly because she is not proficient at sports. A successful lawyer prides himself upon his intellect and once hoped that his son would achieve great scholastic success. But the lad, now in high school, has shown no pronounced ability in academic work; however, he is skilled at working with his hands. He must face unending sneers from his father about his "stupidity." A third man married a beautiful woman and expected his daughters to be beauties too. One girl is extremely plain, however. Even at the age of ten she knows that she is a complete disappointment to her father.
All of these examples indicate ways in which fathers display a lack of acceptance of their children. It is a fact that the qualities a child inherits — his physical attributes, aptitudes, and many other characteristics — are the result of chance. He may be a genius or an idiot: you should not claim credit if the first possibility occurs any more than you should feel ashamed for the second. The moral is plain: your children are a gift from God, and you should always accept each of them in a spirit of gratitude. In fact, the saintly father will accept a defective child with greater gratitude, for God has offered him an opportunity to provide more love, affection and direction than the ordinary youngster might need.
Remember also that your child is an individual, with talents which you perhaps cannot appreciate. Let him develop them in the best way possible. In attempting to learn why many gifted children do not go to college, researchers have found that their parents often have actively discouraged them. In a typical case, a father became wealthy through real estate investments and could easily afford college for a son with a strong aptitude in science. But the father accused the boy of trying to "put on airs" whenever college was discussed. Thanks to him, the son is now a misfit.
3. Don't shirk unpleasant tasks of parenthood. "See your mother; don't bother me" is a remark commonly made by one type of father. He returns from work, eats his dinner and then settles down to an evening behind his newspaper or before the television screen. When his children seek his aid with their homework or when they become unruly and require a strong parental hand, he is "too busy" to pay attention. Such an attitude tells a child that his mother is the true figure of importance in the family, while Dad is only the boarder who pays the bills.
It is not fair for fathers to enjoy all the pleasures of parenthood — to play with the children, to boast about their growth — and to give mothers all the painful duties. A father should discipline as often as the mother. If he fails to do so, he gives the children the idea that he does not stand with the mother in her efforts to instill proper manners and acceptable forms of behavior. As a matter of fact, in major matters the good father is likely to be the court of last resort. This is as it should be for his authority is more impressive and its effect more lasting than that of the mother.
4. Keep lines of communication open with your children. Teenagers often say that they cannot talk to their fathers about questions which disturb them. This breakdown in communication usually stems from one of three factors, or a combination of them. The father may be so severe in his discipline that he appears as a dictator in the youngster's mind; in the past he has always been "too busy" to keep on close terms with his boy; or he has not given his youngster the respectful attention he should have.
Stalin-type fathers fortunately are on the way out in America, for most men have learned that it is easier to train a child with loving kindness than with brute force. But some stern unyielding fathers remain. They may beat their child into patterns of behavior that offend no one, but in the process they often create a bitter adult who is never able to confide fully in another human being.
The second and third possible explanations for a child's unwillingness or inability to confide in his father may have even worse effects than the first. In the first instance, unless the father is a calloused brute, his child may at least discern evidence that his father is interested in his welfare. But when a father does not even care enough to concern himself with the child's upbringing in any serious way, he evidences a complete absence of love or interest.
There are many things that human beings prefer to keep to themselves, and it is probably good that this is so. Your child should not feel that he must lay bare his innermost thoughts and desires. But he should know that in times of stress and strain he has a sympathetic and loving adviser to turn to. You will fulfill that role if you strive always to treat him with courtesy and sympathy, and with an understanding based upon your memory of the difficulties, problems, fears and aspirations of your own boyhood. Never ridicule him: it is the opposite of sympathy and probably locks more doors between father and son than any other action.
Activity Source: Catholic Family Handbook, The by Rev. George A. Kelly, Random House, Inc., New York, 1959