I know a lot of Catholic dads, and I’m pretty sure the Father’s Day card makers don’t know the same dads I do. The problem is not just the clichés (neckties), and it’s not just the cheesiness (“For The Man I Love” in a font with lots of curlicues). They miss so much about these dads, and they’re not the only ones. The dads I know are living a severely counter-cultural life in a hostile world, and who’s noticing? I don’t expect Hallmark to notice. But have you noticed?
So the following is me noticing. It’s lots of us moms noticing. We do get it. You guys rock. And even though everything here won’t apply to every dad – it doesn’t even all apply to the one I know best – I hope it’ll come a little closer than all the references to fishing trips and bacon you’ll find in the greeting card aisle.
DEAR CATHOLIC DAD,
You might think I’m not aware of the battles you wage every day. Mostly you hide your scars and your weariness, but I know they are there, even though I don’t know what it’s like to be the soldier you are. I don’t know because so many of the battles you fight are fought on my behalf. They are fought to protect and enrich what you love – me and your children.
IT’S HARD. You are committed to providing for our family, but sometimes your work seems to drain more out of you than it gives you. Does the paycheck you get make up for the lifeblood the work seems to take away? You’re not where 20 years ago you thought you’d be in your career at this age. Because like the Fourth Wise Man more pressing calls have diverted you. Again and again, you chose the way that would nourish our family over the way that would nourish your ego. To others you look like someone who has made all his own decisions and is doing the job he’s doing – as much as you dislike it – because of his own free choices. But I remember the time you gave up on changing careers when you realized the toll it would take on our family. I remember when you didn’t pursue the promotion because the increased responsibility would disrupt our family life. I remember when the great job offer came up across the country, but you turned it down because it would have been too hard for us.
YOU’RE BURDENED. You don’t show it much, but sometimes you feel that the weight of all you bear will bury you. Work is demanding – more than I know – but what you do there is rarely rewarded meaningfully. You’re concerned about meeting all our children’s needs, because you’re tired. Occasionally a study touts the importance of fathers. Instead of being gratified, you’re worried. Are you doing all the stuff you’re supposed to do that makes these kids turn out right? The financial strain of raising a large family is incredible. Gone are the days when we could honestly say having one more isn’t that big a deal: “We already have all the baby stuff!” We do not already have all the college stuff, i.e., money. You can’t afford braces for the third kid. You’re afraid that the van will die or the furnace will finally give out. A thousand other things are on your shoulders, my Atlas. Thank you for holding up my world.
YOU’RE CROWDED. At the end of the work day you are so done. Your commute from work drags you down. Instead of being an opportunity to “shift gears” or pray a rosary, it’s another time when the cares of life have a chance to wreak havoc on your peace. On weekends, you’re loving the mental break from work, but with all the kids’ activities and upkeep of the cars and house it’s over all too soon. You wish it were possible to press the pause button on life so that you could STOP and take a breath. Instead you press on. A soldier doesn’t stop to wonder how he will renew his strength; he just presses on. My Champion, so do you.
YOU HURT. There’s pain every day. You still deal with hurts from your relationship with your dad, while trying to honor him in his old age and avoid repeating his mistakes with your own kids. And you’re not 24 anymore. Your body tells you that life is too much, but it doesn’t seem like there’s time to take care of it. You live with the pain in your back or from your old injury because after a bunch of doctor’s visits to try to figure it out, life takes back over and there’s just no time, no energy for your own health. The nine-year-old is being evaluated for a learning disability. The 12-year-old is still recovering from Lyme Disease. The five-year-old needs speech therapy. You decide to ignore the pain. You strap the armor back on and continue the fight.
YOU’RE ATTACKED. Every day. Satan’s weapon of lust lingers over nearly every moment you’re away from home. You pray, you avert your eyes, you go to confession. You fight the battle daily, but wonder when it will end. I don’t know what it’s like to be attacked this way, but I see that if Satan has so much success among our army with this particular weapon, it must be terribly powerful. Sometimes you fall. You get back up. You fight to honor me, because of the vows you made. Thank you, my St. George.
YOU’RE WORRIED ABOUT TROUBLES IN THE CHURCH. But you don’t allow these worries and troubles to keep you from relaying the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Church and its Captain to our children. You teach them about the Faith in your words but much more eloquently by your actions. You take them to adoration to place them in the presence of their heavenly Father. You take them to confession, being first in line yourself. You explain the world’s attacks on the Faith and defend the Church. You provide your children an image of the love of God the Father. You train your sons for taking up all the battles you fight, so that they too may wage this war. No matter where the attack on the Faith comes from, you refuse to move. My Thomas More, I know that even if it were I trying to persuade you to act against the Faith, you would refuse me.
YOU DEFEND ME. You love me and you are proud of our family, but the frequency with which you must defend us to critics is astounding. Deprecations of my choices as a full-time mom, of the number of children you self-sacrificially cooperated in creating, of our priorities… You’ve shielded me from criticism of our family size and so many other decisions. You’ve stepped into nasty gaps for me and for your family, my St. Joseph.
LITTLE THANKS YOU GET. The World’s desire to denigrate the role of mothers is surpassed only by its longtime commitment to the derision of fatherhood. And I, who should know better, too many times speak to you with sarcasm or disrespect, out of a place of self-pity and selfishness. Your children ask for more, without a thought for all you’ve given them. So do I. You keep giving anyway. Thank you, my Hosea, for your faithfulness to my sinful heart.
And now let me ask you for one more thing. As you raise your staff to hold back the Red Sea for us, my Moses, the Red Sea of the World – sin, financial strain, the burden of work, attacks on the family, troubles in the Church – let me ask for one thing. Your sister in Christ I am, but in this one way let me be your brother: let me be Aaron for you. Let me hold up your arms when you are tired. I can not hold up my arms in your place, because what you do is irreplaceable, but let me help in this way. Let me hold up your arms with my love for you. Let me hold up your arms with my respect for how you provide for us. Let me hold up your arms with my openness to the intimacy you share only with me. Let me hold up your arms by making our home a haven for you. Let me hold up your arms by my trust in you.
Let me hold up your arms, because without you I’d be lost. I’d be less than half of what I am, and I would have little defense against the World. Let me hold up your arms because as little as as it is against all the cares of the world, I give you my heart. Let me hold up your arms because I love you, my husband.