Go (Father) Figure

Like many other households, my wife and I post a bunch of stuff on the side of our fridge.

Pictures of our children and relatives, key reminder notes and many themed magnets can be found plastered along the fridge panel, nearly covering the entire surface.

One of the magnets features a man holding up his boy, with a declaration from American writer and theologian Frederick Buechner included underneath:

When a child is born, a father is born.

I can appreciate this statement first-hand, now for a third time, as my wife and I welcomed our daughter Naomi into the world three months ago today.

Love Quote Newborn Valentine DayNot only has God blessed me by bringing Catherine into my life and joining our hearts, but He has given me three jewels as fruits of our love together: our sons Isaac and Hugh, and now a baby girl.

While our kids certainly are true blessings at whom I marvel in wonder, they are also a giant responsibility and one I don’t take lightly whatsoever.

In an increasingly secular society, raising our kids the right way is not easy, nor will it ever be. In fact, nurturing them so they can come to know, love and follow God in a fast-paced environment filled with demands and distractions is likely going to be my greatest test in life.

Come to think of it, fatherhood will undoubtedly be the hardest job I ever have – and the most important one, also.

As our children’s father, I must model for and mentor them, showing and teaching the right way to live, assisting them on their way to realizing God’s will in their lives.

I find myself reflecting on this so often these days.

In the midst of this thought, I am reminded of how much our children are treasures to me.

Father 1It could be a point of pride when Isaac makes a basket while playing basketball in our driveway and says he wants me to coach him when he’s older. It could be a feeling of joy when Hugh takes me by the hand and marches me to the barbeque, wanting to make dinner together. Or, it could be a huge burst of fulfillment when Naomi reveals a smile from ear to ear when recognizing my voice and face as I pick her up.

Each day when I leave for school or arrive home from teaching, I am so inspired by our kids’ running to the door to give me a hug or their yelling “Daddy!” with such enthusiasm. Each time we read stories, take a neighborhood walk or watch a video, it is so gratifying to have them understand items pointed out, soaking up every bit of a life lesson passed on to them.

Hoisting them on to my shoulders, admiring a craft they made at daycare or preschool, or hearing them tell someone something with kindness and compassion, I experience some of my greatest happiness from our children.

Father 3Indeed, raising these gifts from God gives me indescribable energy and delight, and I have come to quickly appreciate the extreme privilege of parenthood over the last few years.

For this reason, I will often take a moment at Mass each Sunday just to admire our kids – their innocence, curiosity and enthusiasm.

I will also give thanks to God for my wife, to whom I am deeply grateful as she serves them completely and beautifully in her role as their mother.

But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t also feel tremendous pressure, as I experience a sense of worry and insecurity at times, too.

So, I will often look up and ask God for strength and guidance, knowing I am weak and fearing I am not up to the task of raising them how a father should or how they need me to do.

As the family is the foundation of a society, it is up to my wife and me to ensure our kids are properly taught and equipped to both navigate and flourish through the many challenges life will present.

Truly, this is an immense responsibility bestowed upon us in providing the very best for our children, and one we cannot handle on our own.

While we have a network of support around us in family and friends, who better for me to seek help from than God our Heavenly Father and Joseph, Jesus’ surrogate father?

Unconditional love, limitless patience, endless compassion, tireless and responsible work ethic, and honest, righteous living – all of their qualities are ones I strive to display in my marriage, my friendships, my teaching, and, especially, my fatherhood.

And so, in this month when we celebrate Father’s Day, I give praise to God for blessing me in becoming a father.

I ask God, in turn, to continue shaping me in my fatherhood, so that – with my wife – I can love and lead our children however they need, being the man and dad they can look to as an example for how to live their lives.

Flexing our Muscles

I always get a kick out of when our boys flex their muscles.

The two of them, aged three years old and a year and a half, bring their arms close to their chest and let out this menacing growl while displaying a determined look on their face.

It is both hilarious and cute, really, but also very gratifying for me as their dad.

You see, when I was a youngster, you’d be hard pressed not to see me pose in a similar fashion each time someone would try to take my picture. So, I’m proud the custom is living on for another generation.

Hugh, the younger brother, likes to take matters one step further.

While playing in the basement, he will often ambitiously head over to where we keep our exercise equipment and, with both arms together, put all his might into lifting one of our 5-pound weights.

Watching him walk with the dumbbell, I observe carefully as Hugh grimaces and utters a few sounds of “oooh, oooh” while he carries the weight a few steps away.

Yes, they’re still so young and their bodies still understandably so frail, but our sons truly believe they are strong beyond measure.

And why shouldn’t they? After all, they’re children of God, made in the image and likeness of a perfect and omnipotent Creator.

In fact, sometimes when our eldest son Isaac flexes, I’ll ask him where he gets his strength.

His answer? “Jesus,” he’ll reply with no hesitation.

At church each week, Isaac will often remark our Lord on the cross and point out how Jesus has owies. So, after Mass, we’ll occasionally approach the altar to adore the crucifix.

Jesus Carrying ManThere, I assure him that Christ is super strong and that His owies don’t hurt Him anymore. I’ll also remind him that Jesus gives him – and all of us – His strength so that we can heal from our injuries and bounce back each time we get hurt.

Certainly, I don’t set out to misguide our kids into thinking they can do anything too risky or irresponsible, and I’m not meaning to paint a picture here that I have our young children on some obscene workout regimen.

I do, however, want our children growing up knowing God is their supreme force and motivator, and that He will lead them to achieve all kinds of heights in their lives, strengthening them during times of trial and helping them overcome when facing obstacles.

But while little kids such as ours learn that with God, all things are possible (Mark 10:27), how many of us believe this teaching and apply it in our daily living?

St. Paul encourages us to draw our strength from Jesus, who enables us to do all good things (Philippians 4:13).

Strength in God 3Yet, to whom do we turn when faced with adversity?

Do we soldier on confidently in prayer during the stressful times of studying for school final exams, or do we buckle under the pressure, in despair over our academic predicament?

If battling addiction, how many people turn to God for help in recovery, recognizing powerlessness and seeking assistance from a rehabilitation center, sponsor or support group?

In moments of feeling unworthy of an opportunity, do we call on Jesus to give us a boost?

When feeling anguished or exhausted going through life difficulties, how many people yield to God’s grace-filled presence to give them renewal or rejuvenation? (Isaiah 40:29-31)

Strength in God 1In God, we can find refuge and strength (Psalm 46:1), pushing us past our hardships.

By laying His life for each one of us, Jesus promises He will see us through any bout of weakness or storm of suffering. (Isaiah 53:5)

With such a guarantee for His children, may we all flex our muscles unabashedly and pose for pictures with ease.