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.