In many police departments across the country, the four-to-midnight shift is known colloquially as the “four-to-four.” Get it? You work the first eight and then imbibe until the wee hours of the morning at your (quite often divey) establishment of choice. This was a schedule I kept up for a good portion of my twenties as a police officer in the Bronx. Years later, my reversion to the Faith – accompanied by marriage and child-rearing – has found a novel purpose for this traditionally bachelor-laden shift: Classical Catholic homeschooling. The education of children at home is an undertaking that does not often include the direct involvement of fathers. It’s also a sacrifice in more ways than one. But I’ve found it infinitely rewarding, and recommend it to any Catholic father whose schedule permits it. Bankers Hours guys probably won’t be able to pull it off. But cops, firemen, medical professionals… I’m looking at you.
And I have words from our own Holy Father (yes, that one) for encouragement. In a General Audience given on May 20, 2015, Pope Francis does not suggest homeschooling per se, but he speaks of a rift that has developed between parents and educators and that has led to a lack of trust between the respective members of those institutions. He deplores the situation of parents who entrust their children to educational experts, and risk “excluding themselves from the lives of their children.”
The Catechism also teaches us that “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children.” It continues, “The home is well suited for education in the virtues” (2223). Maybe it’s time for more parents to consider handling the rest of their kids’ curriculum as well. Between the ridiculous and hypocritical mask mandates in schools, our educational establishment’s open contempt for parents, and culturally Marxist ideas and sexual dysfunction being foisted on our students at increasingly early ages, I’ve lately noticed homeschooling taken up by even religiously indifferent parents. And the prospect of having the father involved might help an otherwise hesitant family make the decision to do so.
When I reverted a dozen years ago, it was through the TLM. When my wife finally began attending with me (choosing the three hour Palm Sunday liturgy as her first Solemn High Mass remains one of the worst face plants of my marriage – it took her six months to return), and frequenting the weekly coffee hour afterwards, we started meeting parents of older children who’d been homeschooling for years. When our eldest reached school age, we’d already written off public schooling due to the already-burgeoning cultural and moral issues I just mentioned. And when we visited one of our local diocesan Catholic schools, we were struck by how uninterested the staff members were in the faith life of our family. Our son’s prospective future teacher administered an entrance exam for him, told us he’d passed, and rather dispassionately informed us that he was in the clear to be enrolled the following September – it was as if he’d successfully brought all of the necessary documentation to the DMV.
When my wife received an email from a fellow parishioner informing her of the establishment of a branch of a Catholic hybrid homeschool academy in our area, it was a Godsend. (The contrast with our experience at the diocesan school couldn’t have been more stark – since my wife was going to be assisting with teaching during the two in-school days, administration made her swear an oath to the Magisterium). After a tuition hike several years later, we decided to do straight up homeschooling while sticking with the curriculum we’d been using at the hybrid, along with the music and language material we supplement it with.
But regardless of the system we used, I’m not sure if we would have decided to homeschool at all – let alone kept at it – if it hadn’t been for the peculiarities of my schedule. As former ethnic Catholics, the authentic Faith was new to both my wife and I (a subject I’d discussed previously here). Going against the zeitgeist in any meaningful way was thus new to us as well; becoming TLM attendees and then homeschooling on top of it landed us firmly in weirdo territory. So I don’t know if it was a decision we would have arrived at if we weren’t able to do it together and support each other.
Household needs going unaddressed is one difficulty often cited by homeschooling parents. But with both mom and dad home to tackle those dishes or laundry while the other teaches a lesson, it’s less of an issue. Having two parents teach may also allow them to compliment the strengths of the other, and bring their strong points and interests into their childrens’ education. My wife has an excellent math mind, whereas I’m hopeless with math. I’ve been able to incorporate a more musical upbringing and college Russian into our kids’ lessons (in the wake of Traditionis Custodes, it may be wise to have their ears primed for some Old Church Slavonic in case we end up at an Eastern Rite). Furthermore, having two pre-teen sons and a red headed daughter has left us invoking the Fourth Commandment more frequently these days, I think that being home during the day has facilitated a unified front when disciplinary issues arise.
As I said, homeschooling – under any circumstances – definitely involves some sacrifices. One parent will inevitably have to stay home, which means being limited to one bread earner while the other carries the brunt of the educational duties. Most of my days off are thus spent picking up extra duty work and overtime. I could probably count on one hand the number of times per year we eat out as a family. My wife doesn’t have the free moments to herself that she might if our kids attended a conventional school. (She’s been a cancer patient for almost a decade, and her decision to take on homeschooling after her diagnosis was truly heroic.) And teaching my kids before I go into work means that my days are pretty well packed. Remaining on the evening shift instead of departing for days like many police officers who have achieved seniority means evening leisure time spent watching my beloved Mets and Rangers with my sons is a special occasion for days off. So too are family meals and movies with my wife.
I’ve just written here of preoccupations with leisure and our capacity to perform household tasks. In his foreword to Joseph Peiper’s Leisure: The Basis of Culture, Rev. James Schall, S.J., reminds us that “leisure” is a Greek work from which we get the word “school.” Father Schall continues “[Pieper] recognizes that when everything human is defined in terms of utility or pleasure, the enterprise of knowing what we are loses centrality in our lives” (p. 11).
The way I typically spend the first half of my work day might be closer to what properly spent leisure time looks like than those evenings watching the game on my couch I sometimes pine for. Some of my most treasured moments these past several years have occurred during the warmer months, when I indulge in a selection from my humidor while going over my kids’ Russian, Latin and Greek flashcards, early readers, or their Baltimore Catechism lessons on the back deck. (Churchills work best, as they tend to last through all three kids’ lesson plans for that block of the day.)
Seeing my sons make their Sacraments together at the Easter Vigil a few years back, and their little sister her First Communion Gaudete Sunday of 2020 – the clouds of dad’s stogie smoke being replaced by the Thurifer’s incense – were two of the spiritual fruits of the catechism lessons I mentioned. My wife and I properly learning the Faith by teaching it to them – we both had Spirit of Vatican II-style formations – is an additional one.
Since we use a classical curriculum, we’re also getting exposed to some of the great works of poetry, literature and history that we should have come across during our own school years, but didn’t. (I like when my homeschool day bleeds into my work day; pursuing a fleeing suspect with lights and sirens gets the adrenaline going. Pursuing a fleeing suspect with lights and sirens while the stanzas from your child’s recitation of The Charge of the Light Brigade are still fresh in your mind is amazing).
The morning coffee I used to enjoy over the New York Tabloids or a cable series I’d recorded, I now consume whilst helping my oldest through his classical piano pieces, or teaching guitar to all three of our children. I’ve also found that being responsible for my childrens’ education affects how I choose to spend the genuinely free hour or so I have when I get home from work. Fear of God might be why we chose to homeschool – we’re conscious that helping get our children to heaven is our ultimate goal in doing it. But fear of looking like a semi-literate putz to those same kids is also good motivation to be well-prepared for the undertaking. Maybe that Netflix series I wanted to catch up on can wait while I pore over a Chekov play in the mother tongue (have to stay a few steps ahead of my budding Russophiles) or arpeggiate some of those seventh chords they might want to learn when the triads start getting dull.
My middle child just worked his way through an intricate seventies guitar coda – patience and fortitude are two virtues string instruments are particularly well-suited to forming. It was difficult enough, but I one-upped him with a chord solo through a well-known thirties pop standard many jazz greats have used as a framework for improvisation. I got a thrill when he responded “Can you teach me how to make the chords sound that way?”, recalling that when my guitar teacher nudged me towards jazz and classical music – and thus harmonic complexity – he awakened a longing for beauty that ultimately led me back to the Faith.
In his book The Disappearance of Childhood, Neil Postman contrasted the immediate and all-revealing powers of television with the way the attainment of written literacy gradually unveiled the adult world to children. My wife and I didn’t decide to homeschool because we’re Catholic Puritans. But by opting out of the American educational grind we are better able to reveal the fallen world and fruits of secular culture to them at a pace we deem appropriate. Educating them at home means the lanyard-adorned social workers and administrators aren’t around to enforce the latest diktats of gender theorists. Absent too are the activist teachers who would fill their heads with racial guilt, and the busybody parents who might whisper if my daughter’s clothing occasionally smells of Nicaraguan tobacco.
By taking control of our childrens’ education, we’re reclaiming our rights over them from an educational establishment that appears to need clarification on that issue. And that’s worth much more than those nights away from my teams and Netflix specials. As the Holy Father explains in his aforementioned address,
It is time for fathers and mothers to return from their exile – for they have exiled themselves from their children’s upbringing – and to fully resume their educational role. We hope that the Lord gives this grace to parents: to not exile themselves from the education of their children. And this can only be done with love, tenderness and patience.
And, as a veteran Catholic homeschooling father might add, it can be done also with Cigar.com’s 95+ Rated Showcase Sampler.
Sean McClinch is a police officer and a homeschooling father. He lives with his wife Kristin and their three children in Connecticut.