I thought to humbly write my thoughts about my own vocation as a father. It's not something you hear much about as compared to other issues. There are plenty of blogs and articles out there on how to apologize for the faith, on the purity of liturgical form, or on why Atheists are wrong, or in defense of marriage, against abortion and contraception, et cetera. Even plenty on motherhood. Noble endeavors, let no one doubt it. However, on the vocation of fatherhood, there does not seem to be much. And if it is not so rare, it does at least seem as well hidden as St. Joseph himself. As if to say to us," Man up, and figure it out."
So, permit me to speak humbly about what I have learned from my own fatherhood, and indulge me if I speak confidently on the vocation of fatherhood. I am a father of four children. I speak to you not as someone who has seen his shoots bear fruit. Let me tell you that my children are young, aging from nine months old to seven years old. Three daughters, and one son. I myself am young, a mere 28 years old. Someone may rightly say," He hasn't been a father long enough to know what he is saying. His experiment is not complete." But if you will receive from Solomon, who had 750 wives and fell away into idolatry, instruction on how to avoid impurity, perhaps there is a possibility you may receive some things from me, and will allow me to call to remembrance in you what our Fathers have taught us, who are the Church, and the saints, even God Himself.
There is no point in me self-deprecating ad nauseum, or benumbing you with my testimony. Let it suffice to say that I am a man like you, and nothing that I have experienced in being a husband or father is uncommon to us. But I am confident in saying that I have experienced what is common, and do not lack in that respect. I think that this is probably what most of you believe, though it is not what we feel. We despair of our own faithfulness to the duties of our vocation. We can despair at the futility of our lives. Sometimes, the best thing to do is not despair, but build something new. And that, brothers, is precisely what I wish to speak to you about.
In the Holy Scriptures, in Genesis, we see that Father Isaac had a blessing he was to give his son. It was a special blessing. It was a blessing for a man, not a boy. See the scripture:
" Then his father Isaac said to him," Come near now and kiss me, my son." And he came near and kissed him; and he smelled the smell of his clothing, and blessed him and said: " Surely, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed. Therefore, may God give you of the dew of Heaven, of the fatness of the earth, and abundance of grain and new wine. Let the peoples serve you. Be master over your brethren, and let your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you."
Notice that he likens his son to a field which the Lord has blessed. It calls to mind the words of God to His son Adam," From dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." The rest of the blessing only makes sense if we understand this. And in communicating the blessing in this way there is also a haunting remembrance of the words," I shall curse the ground... you shall eat by the sweat of your brow all your days." Isaac implicitly reminds his son that he is but dust, instructing him to be humble and to remember his mortality so that he avoids vain pursuits. He also shows him that he is not like the other dust, the other ground that has been cursed; he is a field that has been blessed by the Lord. He therefore teaches him that apart from the Lord he is cursed, and like any other man.
Isaac continues his blessing by imploring God to give him the dew of Heaven, so that he may have the fatness of the earth, and abundance accordingly. This calls to mind the 127th Psalm, which is also about children and fatherhood:
"Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain."
No doubt you see the importance of the "Dew of Heaven" which is favor and grace. But as we read further, we see an admonition to fathers and sons:
"It is a vain thing for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; For so He gives his beloved sleep."
You can work all you like, and give your wife and children a better quality of life. Truly, there is something to be said for providing diligently for one's family; it is a duty. But what gives one rest is goodness. As it is written by the Apostle John," I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the way of the Truth." If you have failed to spiritually steward your family, I mean... really steward them, and you do these other things, what good do you do for them?"What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" or worse still, perhaps, to lose the souls of his wives and his children?
But you are a man of responsibility, and your family has basic needs, which brings to mind the words of Christ, lest anyone should try to justify serving mammon" Therefore take no thought saying,' What shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed? For the pagans run after all these things, and your Father in Heaven knows you have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." And this is the lesson that Jacob teaches his son. Namely, that providence is an result of remaining in the favor of the Lord by means of righteousness.
Spiritual goodness predicates temporal goodness, temporal goodness does not predicate spiritual goodness. Otherwise, hedonism would be a path to God. The Psalmist isn't admonishing hard working fathers. It is an admonition against serving possession, and seeking it apart from righteousness; it is against an unhealthy reliance on and appetite for possessions. The greatest gift a man can give his family is himself, and by this means you give them to God.
The Psalm ends saying: " Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, but shall speak with their enemies in the gate."
Is that how you look at your sons and daughters? I mean... really? You love them, but do you understand what the Psalmist says? Do you believe it? Are you like your Father Isaac? Do you have a blessing for your son that you bless him with? Have you taught him the 'Good Way' so that he can understand the blessing? So that he wants it, and believes in it? You should bless your children; they are the fruit of your own body. Blessing your children with such a blessing is like planting an olive grove. Your children's children will eat of the fruit, and their children will become rich through its yield. Don't waste a moment to bless your children.
Earlier, I said that the greatest gift you have the ability to give your children is yourself. That doesn't mean that you just lay down your life so that they can have bread. We know plenty of men who say of their own fathers," He always put food on the table." and they are men themselves of no particular value. The spoiled man is the epitome of that. How, then, can your gift be of any value?
We see the command in scripture," You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them to your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." Make no mistake, if you do not teach your children the world will. If you do not remind them, if you do not create a culture in your home of piety, these things will be forgotten. If you are not consistent, what good is it? It is your duty to protect them from the stranger's ways, and to teach the way of their fathers.
And are you amazed that your children don't get along? That they fight? That they don't seem to love each other? I mean, love each other dearly. Don't look at your children, and comfort yourself saying," All children are this way!" Is that really enough? Is that good enough for them? Will you one day say," You were children, so I let you be evil, and did not require of you righteousness. Training you to love one another did not seem reasonable, because it was good enough that were like other people's children." Will you stop at merely being amazed? Will you one day say to them," I did not stop you from hating your siblings, because I thought my amazement would be enough to shame you into compliance. I thought it would work itself out." Require them to love each other. Require them to forgive. Require them to apologize. And do so with consistency.
You are not training your children up to be good at being children when they're grown. You ought to teach them to be good men and good women. It is written," Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." This does not mean that there is no time for them to be children, but understand the purpose of childhood. You cannot understand your purpose of being a father if you do not understand the purpose of childhood. And you can't accept it if you obstinately say to yourself," It's all too serious for a child." and thereby excuse yourself from your duty. If you reject this you will raise fools, and God will require it of you.
And how do you train them? Where can you start? Teach them morals, teach them piety, teach them to be implacable towards injustice, teach them to be merciful and compassionate. Have them do things that requires them to master their bodies with their souls. Make them do things they don't want to do with their own will. The earlier you start this practice, the easier it will be. This isn't something you can start when they are teenagers. This teaches them continence, so that when they are older, such as teenagers, they are in control of themselves. Teach them chastity so that they never look at people as objects. Teach them modesty, so that a holy sense of shame prevents them from being immodest and perverse. By the means of continence, chastity, and modesty they will keep themselves pure. You will have children in control of themselves, who will do what they ought and not whatever they please. You will have sons and daughters who will seek what is good for them, and not whatever might give them pleasure. Which one of you would speak immodestly about women with this son? Or approve if he does the same? Or which one of you will give your virgin daughter over to the socially approved insanities of fashion, so that she can become an object for people to lust over, so that all the young men say in their own words," Let us look upon her with our eyes!"
Never let your sons or daughters stew in their anger against you if they don't like something. Don't send them away to stew. As St. Paul says," Fathers, do not provoke your sons to anger." If you do that, you send them away to build a wall of resentment. Bring the work of discipline to completion, diligently as a father, through love and reason, temperately. Never let your children doubt that you love them. Many people try to practice this, but fail. They may disapprove of their child's actions, even punish them, but in the end they require no change of heart and mind, which is the object of the exercise. They don't take the extra step to actually correct the problem, as if to say," I'll beat it out of them, and that is enough!" In so doing, the parent acquiesces to the interior disposition of the child, and reduces the fruit of their own body to the status of a criminal. They treat the symptom, but fail to cure the disease. That is why so many parents look upon their parenthood with despair, they look at discipline as an act of futility that is pushing their child away from them. It's as futile as our penal system, whose supposed purpose is rehabilitation. One of the best ways to solve this is closeness. I do not mean trying to become your child's best friend, which is another grievous error of many parents. I mean in proximity. Keep them near you. Keep them close with their family, with their Church. Get them to understand the true meaning of love, that is painful, and difficult, and good. Don't ever let them think they have been cheated by allowing the weeds of modern filth grow in their minds which says that love is merely a synonym with kindness.
The ancient Persians believed that gratitude was a great means of guarding uprightness. They saw ingratitude as the source of every evil. Ingratitude towards God the source of impiety, ingratitude towards country the source of treason, ingratitude towards parents the source of treachery. Gratitude promotes closeness of proximity, and from this an interior disposition is engendered. But if you stop at proximity all you have is enablement and entitlement, and the child will hate you as soon as you stop providing. This, too, we see often these days. Perhaps, the easiest way of teaching gratitude is consistently insisting upon good manners in all things at all times.
Which brings us to the next, problem of idleness. The Persians believed that idleness bred ingratitude. Perhaps, two of the biggest challenges today to families, especially children, is excess and idleness. Excess leads to idleness. I'm not saying that you must impose a spartan austerity on your children, but cultivating contentment in your children will promote the virtue of moderation, and thus decrease a proclivity to excess, thereby eliminating a propensity to be idle. As Diogenes said," Contentment is the wealth of nature." and as another philosopher said," Whoever is content with the least has the most." If you do your fatherly duty to your children, you won't feel the need to make substitutes and spoil them by giving them too many things, or the kind of freedom that is perilous to their virtue. You will have created a noble and upright heart and mind within them that is itself austere and virtuous. But even aside from this, it is important for us to occupy our children with noble tasks that actually teach them virtues and build good habits. Such things as learning, working, cleaning, talking about things worth discussing, problem solving, etc.
Our fathers used to teach their sons. Public education is a relatively new novelty. It is certain that Jacob took his sons into the fields and unto the flocks and taught them animal husbandry. He taught them the different systems of measurement of the peoples around them. He taught them mathematics, how to build a straight wall, where to find a suitable place to dig a well. He taught them how to pray, which feasts to observe. He taught them how to watch the stars, the times to bring in the flocks and the herds, and which times to take them out. With his own hands he showed them how to trim the hooves of the sheep. He kept them close and taught them everything worth knowing. He told them which women to stay away from, how to deal with the foreigner. He taught them their lineage until they could recite it. He taught them how to read and write the languages of those around them, perhaps. And into them he lovingly and diligently poured all his knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.
Is this the kind of relationship you have with your children? Are they learning in the context of family? Or are you letting strangers teach them these things, for the ends that they say are worthy? Are you letting other people teach your children morality? Are you letting them "find themselves" instead of telling them who they are as the man who helped create them? In our times, not everyone has the ability to home school, or lead such an interactive lifestyle with their children as Father Jacob did. However, it is no less incumbent upon you to not only augment what they are learning with good and godly things, but to rightly order what they have learned from others. It is your responsibility to teach them the truth about what others tell them. It's your responsibility to show them the right path. It is not their responsibility to find it. They may perish because they did not find it, and they will suffer, but do not doubt that God will require their blood of your hands. Just as it is written in the Book of Ezekiel:
"Son of man I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel, so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, 'You wicked person, you will surely die,' and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood."
Pray with your sons and your daughters. Pray with them with your wife, too. Teach them to pray the prayers of your people. Teach them also to pray their own prayers, so that they learn to cry out to God for deliverance and for thanksgiving. Take them to Church so that they know they have a people, and so that they can receive the sacraments. Take them before the Blessed Sacrament, because it is written," Let the little children come unto Me, and do not prevent them. For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these."
What do you think? If anyone does not water their plants, and they die, who is at fault? The plant or the dresser? Or if any of you have a dog, and you turn it out to come and go as it pleases, and it becomes emaciated because it could not find what it needs, who is at fault? The dog or the master? Children aren't supposed to be good at raising themselves. It is written,"Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child." What else do you enable apart from their foolishness, if you provide for them temporally, but do not provide for their souls? And what would you say about a man who goes around looking for his keys, when they are in his pocket? Or a man who looks for his hat while he is wearing it? Isn't he a fool? So it is with everyone who goes out looking for himself, because what else does he look with except himself? Teach your children to find themselves in God, Who is in them and Whom they ought to be in.
So, as fathers, don't permit your children to be sent on a fool's errand, "looking for themselves" as the fools tell us we must do... and neither send them on one yourself. They will stumble in their foolishness, and you will become guilty. Hear the words of Christ," If anyone causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." Sin crouched at Cain's door. Don't be foolish and think that it doesn't crouch at the doors of your children. Its desire if for them, and it prowls back and forth seeking to devour them.
Finally, let me speak about one of the greatest traps of fathers: Thinking that you can do all by being a great and good man yourself. Adam had Cain. David had Absalom. Solomon had Rehoboam. Marcus Aurelius had Commodus. John Adams had Charles Adams. Your greatness and your goodness are not substitutes to your duties as a father. Don't be foolish and think that your piety or your devoutness, your virtues will just rub off on your children and accomplish all the duties of fatherhood.
Yes, pray with your children. Teach them. Build with them. Show them the truth. Expose them to sources of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding that can be trusted. Take them with you when you minister to the poor. Observe the feasts of the Church, so that they might learn, and thereby build the framework of the orthodoxy up around them. Teach them charity, generosity, and compassion by involving them in your own works. Practice your righteousness with them. Read the bible to them. Above all, teach them to pray at all times, to pray without ceasing... and to never be ashamed of their faith. Impart unto them endurance, so that they never tire of doing good. This is what your children deserve from you, because this is what God has commanded us to do.
"Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and choice, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim." ~Aristotle~