Fathers are different from mothers. God has created us differently, we think differently. We have instincts and attitudes and physical strengths that empower us for tough-minded, sacrificial service to those people who count most in our lives, starting with our families.
All the special features of an adult male’s personality, developed from boyhood–our muscles, willpower, stamina, competitive drive, aggressiveness and assertiveness, mathematical and abstractive powers of mind, love for strategic planning and manipulating physical reality, strong sense of fairness and ethical conduct–all coordinate toward a single great purpose in life: protection.
God has endowed us with the physical and mental powers we need to protect our loved ones. The instinct to protect from harm lies at the core of our masculinity. Men are hard-wired–in their minds, muscles, and tough aggressiveness–to protect women and children from harm.
Related to this physical protection, here’s another aspect of a man’s protectiveness, one that fathers today often fail to understand. A man permits no one to threaten or upset his wife–and this includes their own children. A hugely important part of a father’s job is to defend his wife against their children’s rudeness, insolent disobedience, and impulsive aggression. This protection counts most to his wife when the kids are small (under 7) and later when they enter adolescence. A man will permit no one to disrespect his wife, including–and even especially–at home.
Moreover, he protects his children from forces that threaten them here and now: drugs, bullies, criminals, unjust aggressors of all types, and potential disasters arising from their inexperience and impulsive mistakes (like dashing out into traffic or playing with matches). For instance, if a father glanced out his living room window and spotted a male stranger chatting with his small daughter, coyly beckoning to her, he would swiftly lunge into defensive action. He’d race out the door, stride aggressively toward the stranger, then confront the man and demand to know what he wanted. With muscles taut, he would stand between his daughter and this potential aggressor, physically shielding her from harm.
Another example: When his teenage daughter is being picked up for a date, a father goes out of his way to size up the young man she’s going out with. He wants to meet him–insists on meeting him–to look him in the eye and intuitively size up his intentions and his worth. A father senses a duty to assess any young male who approaches his daughter. An unspoken message seems to pass between them: “She’s my daughter. Treat her nicely, kid, or else.…”
But most of all–and this is crucially important–a father protects his children by strengthening them so they can later protect themselves. In the lives of his children, he asserts loving leadership toward responsible, competent adulthood. It is a father’s mission, the challenge that brings out the best in him, to form in his children the powers and attitudes they will need to succeed in life, to strengthen them so they in turn can later protect themselves and their own loved ones. So, in his children’s eyes a great father is a lifelong leader and teacher. His protective, empowering lessons about right and wrong live on in the inner lives of his children, long after they’ve left home for good, and indeed long after he has passed to his eternal reward. A great father never stops being a father, for he lives on as a great man in the hearts of his children.
So how does a man protect his children long-term? What sort of lifelong strengths does a smart, effective father teach?
• A father strengthens his children’s competence. He forms lifelong healthy attitudes to work, along with serious habits of work. Without a father’s leadership in this arena, his kids can have trouble grasping the connection between effort and results, between standards and achievement. If he fails here, his children may never outgrow the dominant attitude of childhood–that life is play–and remain stuck in a permanent adolescence. This can later destroy them, their careers, and their families.
• He teaches respect for rightful authority. He insists that his children respect and obey him and their mother. His wife sets most of the moral tone for the household–what’s right and wrong in family life–and he enforces it. Being smart and far-seeing, he knows that when children fail to respect their parents, they can later clash with all other forms of rightful authority–teachers, employers, the law, God’s law, and their own conscience.
• A father teaches his children ethics and gives final form to their lifelong conscience. That is, he shows his sons and daughters how to comport themselves justly and honorably in the world outside the home. In his children’s eyes, he is an expert on fair dealings and personal integrity in the workplace and community. He shows his kids how their mother’s moral teachings carry over later to life outside the home: telling the truth, keeping one’s word, putting duty first, deferring to others’ rights and feelings. By his example and correction at home, he shows how responsible adults respect each others’ rights and assert their own.
• A father builds healthy self-confidence in children. His presence around the home as a physically strong man leads his children (daughters especially) to feel safe, securely protected, and therefore self-confident. As a father, he corrects and encourages, and he helps his children to learn from their mistakes. In this way, he leads his children to form a realistic sense of their strengths and limitations. Youngsters who receive this protective fatherly love, along with self-knowledge and experience with problem-solving at home, eventually form a lifelong self-confidence.
• A father leads his children to adult-level sound judgment and shrewdness. He helps them to use their brains like responsible adults: to frame questions and answers logically, to think ahead and foresee consequences, to assess people’s character and values, and to know malarkey when they see it.
• A father provides an attractive example of responsible masculinity. He acts as a model for his sons’ growth into manhood. And he conveys to his daughters (most often unconsciously) the traits they should look for in judging the character of men their age, especially suitors for marriage. In countless subtle ways, Dad forms a pattern for manly character in each of his sons and, indirectly, for the kind of man each daughter will someday marry. (This may explain why great fathers so often get along well with their sons-in-law.)
If you talk to elderly Catholics, and ask about their regrets, they have one reoccurring theme. Their #1 regret is that they did not do enough to evangelize their kids. There is a lesson here! Your role as a catholic father and protector includes making disciples of your kids. You must teach them how to live in this world without becoming of this world. Your fatherly example of faithful parenting will provide those you protect with the knowledge of the pathway to eternal life. Something our creator God did for all of us in sending his only Son to us to free us from sin. Emmanuel, God with us, until the end of time. Now that is good catholic parenting!
This article draws in large part from the work of James B. Stenson, educational consultant: ParentLeadership.com.