See the first installment of my commentary about The Ways of God
by Thomas Aquinas (Sophia Institute Press
) as applied to fatherhood by clicking here
Thomas Aquinas writes:
In God there is a primary perfection, which is that He never changes His nature. ... Let us strive therefore to acquire a stability of spirit...
God does not change. His 'anger' or 'wrath' we sometimes read about in Holy Scripture is not really God changing His mood or His feeling for us, but is really a reflection of our actions breaking relationship with God.
So how about us? Well St. Thomas points out:
Ah, how suddenly we pass from good to bad, from hope to groundless fear, and from fear to hope, from joy to unreasonable grief, and from sadness to vain joy, from silence to loquaciousness, from gravity to trifling, from charity to rancor or to envy, from fervor to tepidity, from humility to vainglory or to pride, from gentleness to anger, and from joy and spiritual love to carnal love and pleasure.
In this way we never remain one single instant in the same condition, unless, alas we are constant in inconstancy.....
Not a pretty picture, but pretty true for a lot of us. So let's examine our constancy as it applies to our vocation as father. (Let us not forget that a whole book could be written with the same outline for our vocation as husband.)
Where do we especially need a stability of spirit as fathers? Well, two areas seem to leap out at us immediately: discipline and love.
We will be spending time with discipline more than once in this journey as later we contemplate God's justice, forgiveness and mercy. But discipline is so much a part of raising children that is should be considered a primary area of fatherhood in terms of constancy; the details we can work out in later chapters.
First principles-is our style of discipline consistent or variable depending on my moods? If I am tired, stressed or weary are my reactions and punishments the same as when I am well-fed, well-rested, and at ease? More than likely most of struggle to be as fair and patient with misbehavior when we are tired, stressed, or weary. And the punishments we dole out may be too harsh. Then what happens? In a quiet moment we realize we overreacted due to weariness or stress and rescind all punishment. What is a child to think?
Children are constantly testing to see where the fences are and where the weakest link lies. This testing is initially not out of some devious gene they are born with. No, children are naturally curious-even about rules. Further, whether it always seems to be the case or not, they crave known boundaries. The more inconsistent we are the more they will test to figure out where the real boundaries are-because we are confusing them. Eventually we teach them by our inconsistency to play a devious game. Unfortunately for them we teach them this game of manipulation which doesn't necessarily work in the world and certainly doesn't work with God.
At this point I am not recommending one form of discipline over another-just we must be as consistent as possible and not change our discipline style with every mood change. This will also help them be consistent in their behavior-helping them model God's attribute of spiritual stability or constancy in their own lives.
Now of course, we will fail at times. There will be a day here or there where we fail. But if these days are the exception most children will be able to distinguish this as an exception and not part of a moving target. Yet beware. At every failure on our part the child will probe our resolve again. It is part of their nature to learn.
While constancy in discipline is of critical importance, there is a more primary and fundamental area where we must imitate and try to achieve this attribute of God. And of course I am talking about constancy of love.
In every family there are their are three primary relationships for the father. In descending order of importance: the first is the father with God; the second is the father with the mother; the third is the father with his children.
Constancy in love: Dad must pray every day-on his own and with his family. Dad must love God and show this love in his actions and priorities. The children must know Dad's first love and relationship is with God. Now this doesn't mean he neglects his vocation as husband and father to spend 5 hours a day praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Our vocation is as father. We may be called to be contemplative in the world-but in the world not in a monastery. We aren't called to live as monks. This probably is not the temptation most of us have-but occasionally it may crop up.
At one point of my life I decided to try attending daily Mass every day. It involved leaving the house every morning at 6:45 to get to Mass and then of course to my job. This was great, and I derived a wonderful spiritual benefit from this. However, after hearing some of my wife's travails on getting everyone going every morning I realized I wasn't helping her at all even if I seemed to be progressing spiritually on my own. We weren't journeying together because I left the house every morning before anyone else was up. After a little prayer, I decided I would go to morning Mass once week and soon discovered there was a noon Mass on Wednesdays 5 minutes from my job. I also found a noon Mass 20 minutes away work that I probably could make once and possibly twice a week most of the time. Thus, that I didn't have to play God against my family. Our Lord provides.
A story from a former pastor: As a boy Fr. Mike lived in an apartment with his folks and his 7 brothers and sisters. The bedrooms were off the kitchen. Every night after everyone was in bed Fr. Mike's father would kneel on the kitchen floor in prayer for 15 minutes. The kids didn't see this every night because sometimes they were sleeping. But they knew it happened because there he would be when they woke up needing a drink of water or a trip to the potty-on his knees. What a powerful sight. (And two of this man's boys became priests.)
One more story related by Brother Charles Madden OFM Conv. in Giving Up Stealing for Lent:
Pop and Mom believed, practiced, and handed on to us our Catholic Faith—often in subtle ways. For instance, Pop never knew we younger ones were watching from a third floor window as he would begin his morning prayers by making the Sign of the Cross as he started up the street on his way to work each day.
Our kids will know if we pray, gentlemen. Our prayer life will tell them of our commitment and consistent love of God.
Constancy of love: Ephesians 5: 25-28 instructs us:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church, and delivered himself up for it: That he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life: That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any; such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish. So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies.
Pretty powerful. How did Christ love His Church?-by pour out all His precious Blood for her. This is how we need to love our wives. Further we need to sanctify our wives so they can be presented unblemished (by sin) to God when they die. This will take constancy in love. It is our vocation.
On a practical level, our children will give more respect to their mother if they sense this constancy of love. Bickering and power struggles, and worse, all out drag down fights destroy a child's spiritual stability to one degree or another especially with respect to love and to a right understanding of what love is. Our children need to know we respect and love our wives on a daily basis.
This love is practically carried out by prayer, sacrifice, and simply an attitude that Mom comes first. She gets the best seat. We turn off the game when she wants to talk. We have date nights. Little things that show love every day.
My wife and I didn't always and still don't always have a date night. But for two and one half years circumstances allowed that we did have a date night almost every week. We went dancing to the Big Band sounds of the Helms-Boyd orchestra on Thursday nights from 6-9. The kids knew that Thursday night was ours. A few years later we moved to the country and the Big Band sounds were too far away. So Mrs. Curley and I started a new tradition. Practically every day after one of our meals we "repaired to the living room" for tea or cappuccino (for her) and Instant Postum (for me). We sat and talked. The kids know that for this 15 minutes everyday we will only be interrupted for true emergencies. Splinters, spiders, arguments, broken toys, science questions: they all can wait. They leave room and go about their business, and we talk.
Another story from Fr. Mike about his father. Whenever Fr. Mike's father wrote his wife a note-even if it was simply a 'thanks for making lunch' when he left for work before she was up, he always signed the note: "I love you more than I love myself." It reminds me of the next line from Ephesians 5:29-30:
He that loveth his wife, loveth himself. For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, as also Christ doth the church: Because we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
It is hard, almost impossible, to be a good father without being a good husband.
Constancy in love: our children. How does God love His children? We have just seen Him send His Son to pour out His precious Blood for His spouse the Church. But we are both spouse in the sense we are part of the Church and God the Father's adopted children by Baptism. We read that:
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should ... have eternal life” (Jn 3:16)
We want eternal life for our children. It's okay to want football scholarships for them and good jobs and all the other good things which are possible on God's earth. But first we want them to have eternal life. Willing the good (and there is no greater good than Heaven) for our children is true love. And this will is more than a thought-it needs some action on our part.
Now we probably won't be asked to give our life in blood for our children-but we will be asked to make little but daily sacrifices without regard to our own comfort and leisure. This love must be unchanging no matter what our children do. Of course this doesn't mean they run roughshod over us. That isn't love. Sometimes love is telling and enforcing a hard truth. Always love is praying for and sacrificing for our children. Not a day should pass with out a prayer for the well-being of the souls of our children. Not a day should pass without a sacrifice made for our children-sometimes they may be small, but they must be there. Suggestions: a cold shower, a night without a pillow, a day without coffee, and extra helping of baked carrots-but always prayer for them.
In some particularly difficult cases (and I forget where exactly I read this) fasting for our children has been known to turn them back on the path to God when they have strayed.
But even when our children aren't in trouble we need to make unknown and unheralded sacrifices for them.
From these unknown prayers and sacrifices will blossom visible love. Sometimes we men think that we show our love by working at our job each day to shelter and clothe the family. And we show our love by spending Saturdays and evenings mowing the lawn, fixing the door handles, working on the car; you know the list. This is true. But our children are usually not mature enough to understand that this is love. (Hopefully their Mom tells them it is.) Our children need more. They need us to sing with them, talk with them, play with them, work with them. That trip to the hardware store (and ultimately the door handle repair) will be much quicker without Bobby tagging along asking questions in each aisle and begging for candy bar at the checkout. But this is what he needs-and maybe what you need.
Our children also need us to pray with them. Not just as a family, but with them individually. There are not many moments in life so intimate and remembered as those when we pray alone with someone we love. (This is something you need to do with your wife too.) Say a decade of the rosary for Aunt Gertrude on the way back from the hardware store with Bobby. Say a Memorare with Teresa on your walk through the neighborhood.
Listen, praise, tell stories. Time is love to a child. Don't try to show love with gifts to replace the time you don't spend with them. Not only does this not work because it isn't true, ultimately it makes a bad connection between material gifts and love-especially for your daughters.
Constancy in love is the most important way we can imitate this primary attribute of God. We have lots of work to do.
Note: In reviewing my notes, I see a glaring weakness in retelling them to an audience. I have no stories, no anecdotes to personalize or illustrate my points. Makes for dry reading. Thus as I go forward I am striving to include some stories as they seem applicable.
Okay for Chapter 1. This is longer than I expected from looking at my sparse notes. But writing this is making clear where my own failings are.
Our Lady of Joyful Hope-pray for us! ... Oremus pro invicem!