March 20, 2017 – The Solemnity of Saint Joseph
March 19 (March 20 this year because the 19th fell on a Sunday) marks the Solemnity of St. Joseph, foster father to Jesus and patron saint of fathers. Perhaps this is a good time to re-post these thoughts on being a Dad in today’s world:
I used to participate in an annual poker game with about a dozen of my old high school friends. This went on from the time we were in college, until we all had too many kids to make it work.
Only a few of us still lived in Indianapolis, so the rest would drive or fly in from all over the country. We would play cards for 5 or 6 hours, then shake hands and promise to get together the following year.
My wife, Carol, would grill me with questions when I came home:
Carol: Is Steve dating anyone?
Me: I don’t know.
Carol: How is Bob handling the divorce?
Me: He seems OK.
Carol: Did Pat and Stephanie have their baby yet?
Me: Pat and Stephanie are pregnant?
Carol: Did Dave talk much about his Dad?
Me: Why would Dave talk about his Dad?
Carol: Has Gary found a job?
Me: It didn’t come up.
Carol: You guys played cards all night and none of your friends talked about anything important going on in their lives? That would be like you not bringing up the fact that your son fractured his skull 5 weeks ago.”
Me: Yeah…it would be kind of like that…(Note: My blank stare gave away the fact that my son and his skull never came up in conversation that evening.)
Carol: Oh, my God! What did you guys do all night? What did you talk about?
Me: We played cards. We talked about sports. We talked about the cards we were dealt.
Then she made fun of us in a mocking voice:
Carol: Hey, how about those Colts? Pass me another cigar so I can make the house even smokier. Hey look, I have the 10 of Clubs – what a great card!
Other than Carol thinking that the 10 of Clubs was a great card, she was pretty much on target. I spent 6 hours with these guys and there had been no personal conversation.
Carol goes to the grocery for 20 minutes, talks to Sally, the cashier – someone she has never met – and learns that Sally is getting a divorce and going through a messy custody hearing. Not only that, she gets her phone number so they could get together for coffee later in the week.
So on this feast day of the patron saint of fathers…how does this story connect to fatherhood?
Being a parent is hard work. We may tell our kids how much tougher it was back in our day; but I think deep down we all know it was easier. The problems we faced as kids pale in comparison to the problems facing kids today: drugs, alcohol, sexual predators, teen suicide, school shootings, broken families, explosive and out-of-control technology, cyber-bullying, and on and on. Our kids need us now more than ever.
The role of a Dad has changed. To help combat the many problems facing our children today, Dads are challenged to be more loving, nurturing, comforting, and supportive than they have needed to be in the past. This super-dad image is tough to live up to and it makes many men feel uncomfortable and incompetent. Men are wired differently. We are hunter-gathers. We provide and protect. We take care of business. We certainly do not have the time or inclination to build relationships.
Message to Dads: Being a non-communicative hunter-gatherer won’t get it done these days. It’s different today, so you need to be a different kind of Dad. In the past, your role may have been to handle the non-relational aspects of parenting. If the relational, touchy-feely stuff is challenging for you, you need to get over it. You need to tell your kids that you love them. Don’t cop out by saying “They already know I love them.” They need more.
Your kids are going to mess up – it’s what kids do. And at times they will really screw up. They need to know that there is nothing they could ever do that would make you stop loving them.
Finally, you need to show your kids that you love them. If you are not a hugger, become one for the sake of your kids. A well-timed hug from Dad can pay big dividends.
St. Joseph, pray for us!