I read somewhere that people that get rich quick, such as professional athletes or movie stars, buy their mother a house and their father something related to work, such as a car, truck, or tools of their trade. In our hearts, we have what may be a stereotypical view of our parents, but we do tend to see our mothers as nurturing homemakers and our fathers as hard-working providers. It doesn’t matter much what they actually do; it seems we naturally just see them that way.
I have observed this at funerals. When adult children speak of their mothers, it’s all about what a welcoming home she had and how she sewed them beautiful Halloween costumes when they were kids. The last forty years were nice, but what means the world to them is the mommy years. When they speak of their dads, it is generally about how hard-working he was and of fine character. They often share something special from childhood, such as a great vacation or perhaps something like building a skating rink or treehouse in the back yard. Again, it is the childhood years that define the relationship.
Maybe it’s a generational thing. Maybe Millennials will see things differently. I don’t know. Today’s fathers are portrayed as bumbling fools, almost like another child that Mom has to manage. I can’t imagine that flies too well in real life. Fathers are the head of the family and we tamper with that at our peril, I think. That’s not to say that the father is the boss or the dictator, but the buck stops with him. “Just wait till your father gets home!” still packs a punch, doesn’t it?
Fathers are probably the most powerful influence in our lives. In an article a few years back, Barbara Kay observed how a father’s attendance at church determined whether or not his children would attend as adults. Here is the money quote:
The detailed survey indicated that if the father attended church regularly, and the mother was non-practising, then 44% of their children became regular church-goers. But if the mother attended regularly, and the father was non-practising, then only two per cent of their children became regular church attenders.
That’s kind of killer information for all the moms who pour themselves into their child’s faith formation (or for those of us who spent years as catechists) but the truth is, children look to their fathers for the real deal. Mothers have their own particular role and they influence their children in other ways. Dads lead by example more than anything else. Eyes are always on him for cues. There are many lessons that he imparts, explicitly or implicitly, but the father that teaches his children the importance of putting God first, who attends Mass weekly with his family, prepares his children for life in a fundamental way.
When fathers understand that this is a job only they can do, even if they have been unenthusiastic so far, most will be proud to assume the leadership role that is proper to their vocation. And on that note… best wishes for a very happy Father’s Day to all fathers!