Pater Familias: 5 Tips (+1) to Grow in Your Role as Father and Husband

Sophomores really think they know everything.  I remember being a sophomore in high school and in college, and we all really thought we were the top, the most awesome, the hardest working, stuck with the most work.  We really thought we could tell freshmen what they needed to know.

I’m a sophomore husband.  June 29 is mine and my wife’s wedding anniversary, and this year marks two years of marriage.  Second year means that I’m a sophomore husband.  So, being a sophomore, I feel that I can dispense some advice to the freshmen husbands out there (Congratulations! by the way).  Naturally, my advice will be incomplete, so take what works and ignore what doesn’t.  That leads to my first point:

1) Not all advice is created equal.

You’ll find that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, will want to give you some advice on how to live your married life.  Your parents will.  Your married friends will.  Your single, teenage sister will.  Everyone on the Internet will.  Your first task, as a married man, is to sift through the mud and find the gold.  I hope there is some gold here, but if not, ignore me.  Well, don’t completely ignore me.  See, a person might be wrong or give bad advice now, but that does not mean that he or she will do so in the future.  Never, never, NEVER think that you can do the marriage thing on your own.  You need the advice of your loved ones.  Just don’t feel obligated to follow all of the advice that you receive.

But while you’re filtering through all of that helpful, or not so helpful, advice, remember that. . .

2) Neither you nor your wife is always right.

Too often we hear one of two views about marriage: A) The husband is always right, and the wife should submit to him or B) The husband is an idiot and thank goodness the wife is there to save him.  One is a more literal interpretation of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians chapter 5, the other the obvious message of most television and movie families.  The fact is, there are times when you as a husband defer to your wife’s understanding, intuition, or common sense.  To be honest, that will work in most circumstances.  At the same time, there will be times, and these will be relatively uncommon, where you put your patriarchal foot down and make the decision for the family, for better or worse.  See, the thing is, you are one flesh now.  Remember that bit from the wedding?  You and your wife are one.  So you work together.  Sometimes you will be right; sometimes she will be right.  But neither of you will always be right.  You need each other.

Which leads me to . . .

3)Communicate with your wife. 

This one is SO IMPORTANT!  If you don’t tell your wife what you think about something, then how can she know what you want?  Your wife is smart (and pretty, and clever, and funny. . .) but she isn’t psychic.  Sure, you’ll be able to tell each other some things without saying a lot, but even such silent communication requires some sort of look or nod or Morse code blinking.  Most failed marriages don’t shatter in an explosive, tabloid-exposed episode.  Most failed marriages shift and split, each small piece falling apart over time, thanks to failed communication between spouses.  Delaying those hard conversations does not make them easier to have, and not having them could be disastrous.  So communicate somehow.  Use email, or text messages, or carrier pigeons, or heck, even talk to her face to face.  You could leave a note, if you’re that nervous about something.  Remember that you and your wife are one flesh, and that union can’t work if you don’t communicate.

That reminds me. . .

4) Express your love to your wife.

You obviously love your wife.  I mean, you wouldn’t be married if you didn’t love her, right?  So tell her.  Or rather, show her.  Think about this: When Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother (wonder if Andrew was listening in. . .), Jesus responded that we should forgive seventy times seven times (or seventy-seven, depending on your translation).  So if we should forgive that many times, shouldn’t we try to show our love at least as many times during the day?  I don’t just mean saying “I love you,” although that is an important part of this whole married deal.  I mean doing things that show your love.  Kiss, hug, leave love letters, compliment her, or do what works for you.  Be you, no matter what you do.

Of course, the ultimate thing you can do is . . .

5) Pray together every day.

This one sounds like the most obvious (and most simple) piece of advice here.  However, let me tell you that it is a lot harder than it sounds, and of course, it is the most important piece of advice I can give you.  At first, it will be easy to say prayers together: morning offerings, rosaries before bed, grace before meals, and of course, Sunday Mass.  However, as time crawls on, and your marriage matures, your prayer life could suffer.  You might find yourself saying rushed prayers in the morning, or forsaking them entirely, as you hurry to work.  Your family rosary might consist of half mumbled Hail Marys as you drift off to sleep.  Your mealtime prayers might be ignored, because your meals need to end faster.  Even Sunday Mass might feel like a chore . . . at the risk of being abandoned, especially when you face the daunting (and sometimes heroic) task of balancing babies and hymnals.  Persevere.  Remember your two goals in marriage: to bring life into the world and to do what is best for your wife.  As Bl. Karl of Austria said to his wife Zita, “Now we must get each other to Heaven.”  Prayer is an essential part of that mission.  Make time, in all the bustle of life, to pray with your wife and your family.  When, as time hurries ahead, you pray with your growing little family, make sure you set time aside to pray with your wife, just the two of you.  It could be as simple as saying a short prayer when the kids go to sleep, or a Glory Be in the car.  Remember what St. Paul urged husbands in Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the Church.”  You have as a responsibility in your marriage to be the spiritual head of your family, just as Christ is the spiritual Head of His Mystical Body, the Church.

And speaking of the Mystical Body of Christ . . .

BONUS ROUND) Ask for help from married men saints.

We have a wealth of Heavenly helpers in our Catholic faith, and there are plenty of patrons for frustrated fathers and helpless husbands.  There are the go-to guys like St. Joseph and St. Joachim (Mary’s father, and thus Jesus’ grandfather), as well as more obscure saintly husbands and fathers, like the previously mentioned Bl. Karl of Austria, St. Therese of Lisieux’s father, Bl. Louis Martin (to be canonized in October), St. Thomas More (famous for educating his daughters), St. Stephen of Hungary (a kingly saint), and St. Peter (remember, he had a mother-in-law, mentioned in Matthew 8:14).  There are many more married men saints (check out Secular Saints and Saintly Men of Modern Times, both by Joan Carroll Cruz, and Married Saints and Blesseds Through the Centuries by Ferdinand Holbock for more potential patrons).

I hope this list will encourage you men as you continue this life-long adventure that is marriage.  May you and your wife find in Christ, who is the Bridegroom from whom our vocation gets its meaning, a deep reservoir for your spiritual life.

Ad Multos Annos!

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Matthew B. Rose received his BA (History and English) and MA (Systematic Theology) from Christendom College. He is the chairman of the Religion department at Bishop Denis J. O'Connell High School in Arlington, VA. Matthew also runs Quidquid Est, Est!, a Catholic Q & A blog, and has contributed to various online publications. He and his family live in Northern Virginia.

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