Fathers facing their children

Taken from communio.stblogs.org

My children are now between 13 and 18 years old. Time is not on my side. After my marriage, my vocation to fatherhood defines who I am in ways I can’t even articulate. Though I’ve had many fatherly successes, I also have many regrets. At the top of the list is having squandered precious time. A very fatherly priest once told me, when our children were small: “Remember, Tom, children spell love t-i-m-e. So be extravagant in your investment. Spend time on what they’re interested in. Time spent talking with them, not just at them, is gold. Play with them. If they know you love them by your time-investment, your influence grows exponentially.”

Pope Francis made a similar point recently:

The first necessity is in fact this: that the father be present in the family. That he be close to his wife, to share everything – joys and sorrows, efforts and hopes. And that he be close to the children in their growth: when they play and when they are busy, when they are carefree and when they are anguished, when they express themselves and when they are silent, when they risk and when they are afraid, when they take a wrong step and when they find the way again. A father that is present, always! But to be present is not the same as controlling. Because fathers who are too controlling override the children, they do not let them grow.

In my experience, it’s very true that dads often claim work as a reason for their distance from home. It can be so subtle. How many times I’ve done this. A colleague of mine in Florida shared with me a comment his wife’s best friend made to her: “Boy your husband is away from home a lot doing his work!” His wife heartily agreed, and added: “Yes! And even when he’s home, he’s away.” He said to me:

I love my work and my family, but she was absolutely right. It stung me to the heart. My work’s much easier to get lost in and feel productive. I’ve used the “I’m supporting my family” line to justify my frequent absences. But I knew deep down I was running from the challenges of family life. The tedium, the conflicts, the cold prickly stuff. A few months ago, after having an argument with my wife, we prayed about it. I asked God to help me die to myself and live for my family first. After that time, when I came home, I was much more “home.” It’s not always easy, but graces come. The other night my daughter said, “I love your face, daddy.” I lost it. If I’d been away, I would’ve missed that.

O God, be their Father through me

Jackie Kennedy said, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.” How often I say to myself, “Why can’t I get another shot at this? — I’ve finally gained enough wisdom to do it better.” Each night I fall asleep with a Kyrie eleison, and each morning I awaken with fresh hope.

After my 4th child was born, a priest said to me in Confession: “Isn’t it wonderful God has entrusted His children to you for a such brief time?” I thought, “Wonderful? Stressful!” Then he offered some powerful advice:

Your mission is to help them know and love Him … God wants parenting to be a joint venture, which means you have to ask Him all the time what He wants for them. Ask why He created them. What gifts He’s given them. How best to remedy their sins and weaknesses. Teach them how to hear His voice. The best way to do that is to be a good son of the Father. Listen to His voice. Be close to Jesus who shows us the Father. You don’t possess your children. They’re not yours. They’re His. Your greatest act of love is to lead them back to their Father … The best news you could ever hear on Judgment Day is that, when you children finally see the face of God, they blurt out: “You remind me of my Dad!”

Be close to your children, dads. They need you.


My family.


20 comments on “Fathers facing their children

  1. Ben says:

    Great stuff Tom. Thanks

  2. oneview says:

    Thank you…and all this applies to mothers, too 🙂

  3. Paige says:

    What a good looking family!

    Thanks for this post, Dr. Neal. Happy St. Joseph’s day. May God bless your every effort at fatherhood.

  4. Sherri Paris says:

    Wonderful article, beautiful family! Bless you and yours…..☺️

  5. Mark says:

    Wonderful reflection on this “should be” Father’s Day. St. Joseph, Pray for us.

  6. Dismas Dancing says:

    My Dear Professor:

    For starters–absolutely love the photo of your family! The soft tones of the B&W photo evoke a collective sense of love, trust, and happiness that color could not possibly enhance. Blessings to you all.

    I so enjoy your posts. They always spark a flame that illuminates and forces recall of many memories. I include herein a reply I might have added to one of your posts on family a year or so ago. Over the past several days as I have worked on some of my writing projects, this particular response kept “popping up” and for no apparent reason–until I saw your post today. It speaks for itself and so deliciously cements for my wife and me a solid confirmation of your Ybor City priest friend’s comment that “children spell love: t-I-m-e!”

    During our career in the Corps, our commitment to both quality and quantity time often waded upstream against the very popular belief by a majority trying desperately to assuage their feelings of guilt about a lack of time spent with their children. A wonderfully satisfying conversation over milk and cookies will never trump 60 minutes of tossing a baseball with a son or a mother’s opening up to a teen daughter about things the young lady has done that are a source of intense pride to her Mom. At one duty station in the mid-70s, we had a heart-wrenching experience with a couple of neighbor kids who were not given keys to their own home. They were unbelievably shut out of their home for hours after being dropped off by the school bus with no place to go to the bathroom, change clothes to play, get a snack, etc. ad nauseam. Fortunately, my wife and a couple of others took pity on these 6 and 7 year old kids, allowing them to become “other” family until their parents finally came from work. We, along with those other helping parents, attempted to get the couple to change their behavior and give their kids a key. We even promised to supervise the kids until the parents got home. Officials seemed unwilling to intervene. When I was transferred a year or so later, the situation still had not changed. Through the every day mannerisms of these two young children, one could see the intense hurt and embarrassment to which they were subjected by being almost persona non grata in their own home. Fortunately, in today’s world, such parental activity could rise to the level of criminal neglect both in a physical and spiritual sense.

    With sincere apologies for the length of this reply, I include the mentioned post as follows:

    “On the Treasure of Time (Spent with loved ones)

    You’ve seen me post a few times about my career in the Marine Corps. It is often said by us Marines that the toughest job in the Marine Corps belongs to the Marine Corps wife. And, by extension, the kids. The truth of that can never be averred sufficiently to describe the wealth of sacrifices that most spouses make because it is what they committed to when they took on the responsibility of saying “I do” both to lover and to his baggage we “old-timer” Marines call Uncle Sam’s Gun Club. Because “real” time is priceless to us who understand its timeless value, my bride and I committed early on in our lives with children to give as much “real” time to our kids as we possibly could. Such was critical throughout my career, but most especially in the 70s and 80s when our kids were young and I was gone from the home front a great deal, because I was the SLJO. You can figure that one out without too many hints.

    How I groan for the lost moments when the kids were young, learning to walk, talk, grow in wisdom and strength. Oh! But there were so many moments we were able to capture in memory that will never die: of performances, counsels, tears, hugs, and a million smiles painted by God on our family’s canvas that could never be purchased or replaced by anything of this world.

    Thanks be to God that my bride and I didn’t buy in to the common garbage that “the amount of time didn’t matter. It was the ‘quality’ time that counted.” We wanted as much “real” and actual time as humanly possible given the exigencies of my career commitment. And, sometimes at great sacrifice (perhaps of things that were never actually a sacrifice), we gave our kids (and each other) the time they deserved. And Our Beloved Lord has repaid us always in great measure. Never in the junk the world counts as treasure; but what lifts the heart and soul to the magnificent heights He offers us if we but “Let go and let God”. Perhaps that seems hyperbolic to some. But, in the quietest hours of the early morning when one can hear every beat of the heart’s life-giving rhythm, sleep has given up, and the spirit calls to prayer, my eyes close, and on the screen behind the lids the Lord plays the videos He took of the events shared with those I love. His gift is priceless. He made it all worthwhile. Time. We are given so little. I thank Him for allowing me to enjoy it all with gusto!

    Great post! Brings back wonderful memories.”

    Happy St Joe’s Day to you and your lovely family; and a multitude of thanks for your beautiful post!


    • Jennifer says:

      This is as beautiful as Dr. Tom’s original post. Thank you for sharing this beautiful reflection!

    • DD, I echo Jennifer — wow. You are an exceptional writer and man of deep faith and of real character. With many years of experience that has brought wisdom in abundance! Thank you. Semper fi. Dr. Tom

      • Dismas Dancing says:

        Thanks, kind sir. You are always gracious; and that is appreciated. As a bit of lagniappe with the St Joseph theme: my Dad’s confirmation name was Joseph. When I was asked what my confirmation name would be, since I am a II, aka Jr., I also chose Joseph. It not only honored my Dad, but, in so doing, I gained a patron I have only come to know better within the last few years. As with Augustine’s lament, “Too late have I loved Thee…”, I am saddened that I did not turn much earlier in life to this magnificent role model. “Better late than never” is a truism that certainly applies to me! St Joseph, most chaste spouse of the Queen of Heaven and earth, loyal guardian of the King of Kings, pray for us!

      • Yes, yes. Better late than never! And we have benefited here from the fruits of your life as they are, not as they could have been. O felix culpa! Deo gratias!

  7. Dismas Dancing says:

    Yes, “O felix culpa”, indeed; although it is hard to evaluate one’s journey in that sense because of an irascible pride that simply refuses to turn us loose and into the Hands of God to be immersed in the ultimate joy pouring forth from the first note of “Exultet!”

  8. Sherri Paris says:

    I almost missed this post!! Thank you so much for such heartfelt and inspiring words! Blessings to you and your precious family! ♥️

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s