Q. Why did God make you?
A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven. (Baltimore Catechism, No. 1, First Lesson: On the End of Man, Question 6)
I think that this is also true in a child’s relationship with their father. Children want to know and love their dad. These desires to know and love one’s father may fluctuate during different periods throughout a child’s life, but the basic desire to know and to love remains. As human beings, Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas remind us, we must first know something before we can love it. Father-love is a very important aspect of knowing, loving and serving God as well. So, in order for our children to love us and God better they must first know who we are as their fathers. To love and be loved by a father helps a child to reach thier full potential.
What are we as Catholic men doing to make a sincere gift of ourselves to others in order to help them reach their full potential? By the will of God manifest in the Sacred Scriptures, all men are born to lead as followers of Jesus Christ. Adam is the first archetype of the man born-to-lead failure. A leader is someone who can form and guide others under their authority to reach their full potential. It’s easy to give material gifts, or to pay for education, or to change the oil in a car, but it is more difficult, sometimes for men especially, to make a gift of ourselves so that our children can begin to know us, and then love us.
As a young boy I had a deep desire to please my father. He bought me many gifts throughout my life from G.I. Joes to Honda dirt-bikes, but those are not the gifts that touched my heart and shaped my manhood. My favorite gifts from my father were stories of his life; jobs he had, pets he owned, his favorite TV shows, his favorite sports, and most of all his religious experiences. How many dads talk to their sons about their religious experiences? This is a basic necessity of a father-child relationship that seems seriously lacking in the culture of our American families.
Perhaps men are just inarticulate, or maybe we are afraid to be vulnerable with our own children. Neither of these are valid excuses. It seems to me that our inability to communicate ourselves to our children can become a stumbling block in the child’s spiritual and human development. We as fathers should simply take for granted that our children don’t know things! They have never lived before! They are desperately looking for a role model of how to be happy in this life, and they turn to the obvious God-given leader of their families. If we do not tell them what we have learned about life and about God, they will probably look somewhere else to other role models who may not have their best interests in mind.
Besides the obvious fact that a human child cannot love what it does not know, it seems clear to me that we as men shoot ourselves in the foot by not being vulnerable with those who are closest to us. Vulnerability can be intimidating, but as men we are called to lead others in appropriate sharing of ourselves. And as Gaudium et Spes from the Second Vatican Council reminds us, “Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” (paragraph 24) Sharing our life stories and lessons with our children is not only helpful for their human and spiritual maturation, but we too begin to understand our own lives at a deeper level when we reflect on our experiences with those whom we love.
If you are a quiet man who communicates very little with his children and family then you might reconsider the benefits of learning how to talk about your life experiences, and how God has moved in your life for the good of those you love and for yourself. Perhaps it’s time we start telling more stories, telling our stories.