Recently, my five year old announced that he wanted a different haircut. The minimalist, efficient buzz-cut given to him by his mother was no longer sufficient. He instead wanted a longer, more shapely cut so he could wear his hair like mine.
Around the same time, my four year old announced that he was hopeful that he could grow a beard like me soon. While poorly attempting to conceal my laughter, I assured him it was unlikely for a four year old to grow a beard, but left him with the hope that someday he might be capable of growing one.
A Father’s Attraction
As a father, I am always astonished at how much power I wield over the lives of my young boys. It is not so much a power of command or control as it is a power of attraction.
It frankly never occurred to me that my haircut or facial hair was desirable for a little boy, or that either of them were paying attention to my grooming habits. Yet, they want to be like me. I am the pattern they follow, the model they imitate. They watch with careful observation everything I say and do; what I wear, how I treat others, where I spend my time, how I pray, and how I treat my wife.
It is no use telling them to be kind and compassionate if I am cruel or insensitive. It is no use telling them to share and be generous if I am selfish and greedy. It is no use telling them to love and serve God if I barely pay attention to him myself. What I do, they will do, no matter what I teach them or what they hear from others.
The Best Catechesis
When we think of catechesis, we often think of catechism classes or parish programs. And while these have their place and their value, children learn far more by watching and listening to the ordinary choices and patterns of life than they do by formal training.
Our habits and behaviors of parents comprise a catechesis all their own, and everything we say or do is shaping, to a large degree, who our children become.
If we say our faith is important, and yet we skip Mass for a football game, it sends important signals to our children about what is really important in life. If we tell our children they should be pure and chaste, and yet we spend our free-time watching entertainment filled with sexual immorality, it catechizes our children on what is morally acceptable. If I teach them we should love others, but I am much more interested in my phone or the show on TV than in them, they will learn from this.
As fathers, we must assess our priorities. How do spend our time, our money, and our energy? What do we invest in? What do we say yes to and no to in our personal lives?
With every choice we make, we are catechizing our children about what is important. We can say all the right things and teach them the catechism, the commandments, and the precepts of the church, but it will not matter if we do not live these truths ourselves. And live them we must. The greatest legacy a father can leave his children is a life well lived.
Fathers, our example is a catechesis that will last a lifetime, for good or ill. Realize that your children love you. They look up to you. They want, in a very real way, to be you. You are their model. You are their guide. You are their chief educator. What will you do with this great power?The Catholic Gentleman.